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The Great Fraud Attempted In The Presidential Election Of 1864 Wherein The Misplacing Of A Single Letter Led To Its Detection

The Presidential election of 1864 was then upon us, and indeed it was

most momentous. The issue was to determine the life of this Union. Mr.

Lincoln was renominated, and General George B. McClellan was nominated

to run against him. And quite fittingly, Horatio Seymour, who was to

have been leader of secession in the North (according to my

information), who had lent his whole influence towards obstruction, was

made chai
man of the convention that nominated McClellan.

A resolution of the convention read:

"Resolved, that this Convention does explicitly declare, as

the sense of the American people, that after four years of

failure to restore the Union by experiment of War * * * the

public welfare demands that immediate efforts be made for a

cessation of hostilities."

In the convention Mr. Wickliffe, of Kentucky, said:

"The delegates from the West were of the opinion that

circumstances may occur between noon of to-day and the 4th of

March next (inauguration day) which will make it proper for

the Democracy of the Country to meet in Convention again."

What could he have referred to? Solve the riddle if you can. Ponder on a

"Northwestern Confederacy"; the Sons of Liberty, and the seizure of

their arms; and also on Lincoln's assassination, only a few days after

March 4th, 1865.

All of this leads me to what I am about to tell about that election,

wherein the same influences that failed with bullets to disrupt the

Union were now trying to accomplish the same purpose with ballots.

I will not charge McClellan with disloyalty, yet I can not help asking

why did he lend his name to the disloyal movement? There were disloyal

Northerners, but not one of them voted for Lincoln.

I do not claim that all who voted for McClellan were disloyal, but that

all the disloyal, including all blockade-runners and bounty jumpers,

voted for him.

On the 21st of April, 1864, a law was enacted in New York State called

"an act to enable the qualified electors of this State, absent therefrom

in the military service of the United States, in the Army or navy

thereof, to vote."

This law provided for a power of attorney appointing a proxy who would

present his (the soldier's) sealed envelope, addressed to the election

inspectors in his home or residence district. The ballot was to be in a

sealed envelope, and to be opened only by the inspectors; this envelope

was to be enclosed in another, outer envelope addressed to his proxy.

The outer envelope was to contain also the power of attorney for the

proxy to so present the sealed ballot.

And now I will tell you how merely the misplacing of the letter "L"

betrayed one of the greatest crimes of the period, entirely defeated its

perpetration, and helped to save our Union.

On Thursday afternoon, October 20th, 1864, General Wallace came to my

office with Mr. Orville K. Wood, of Clinton county, New York.

Mr. Wood had a blank or partly blank document which he had found in

possession of a soldier from his county. It was a blank power of

attorney, such as were provided for voting under the law of April 21st,

1864. The jurat was signed in blank:

C. G. Arthur

Lieut. 11th U. S. Cavl.

--and their conclusion was that this officer may have signed a number

of such papers in blank, and passed them out, to be used by any soldier,

perhaps to facilitate voting; an illegal act in itself; but upon

examination I pronounced the officer's signature a forgery. My

conclusion was based on the fact of the letter "l" in "Cavl." I assumed

that no officer of cavalry, more especially in the regular service,

would abbreviate in any way other than Cav. or Cavy.

General Wallace saw the force of my reasoning, and a new light was

thrown on the matter.

Had the one letter "l" been absent I should have concluded as General

Wallace and Mr. Wood had, i. e., that the fact of such a document,

entirely blank except the officer's jurat, being in public hands, was a

wrong merely laying the officer liable for having attached his name to a

blank paper.

The point then was to find out where the work was done. Mr. Wood had

visited the New York State agency office in Fayette Street and I

arranged for him to go there again the next morning (Friday), he to tell

the representative, Mr. Ferry, that some friends would call to be

assisted in preparing their votes. We agreed that my name would be

"Phillip Brady," from West Chazy, Clinton County, New York.

Friday morning I equipped myself as became a private soldier, in a

uniform much worn and shabby. One of my men, Mr. Babcock, accompanied

me, he was similarly attired. We provided ourselves with "2 hour"

passes from the Camden Street Hospital, and sicker looking convalescents

never were seen outside of a hospital. When we arrived at Ferry's office

we appeared much exhausted. Mr. Wood introduced me, and then I insisted

on Mr. Ferry's reading my pass so that he would know exactly who I was;

I told him I wanted to vote for Mr. Lincoln, because he was the

soldier's friend.

He went in an adjoining room and brought out one of the same powers of

attorney that Mr. Wood had shown me the day before, for me to sign; the

jurat was executed and the ink was not yet dry on it. To give myself

more time to examine, I hesitated in signing my name, I was so sickly

(?) and weak, I had Mr. Ferry help guide my hand. I had by this time

located Mr. "Arthur" in the next room.

Mr. Ferry then discovered he had no Lincoln ballots, but said he

expected them from the printer. He volunteered, if I would leave it to

him, to put in a proper ticket, and mail it for me, to which I

consented. I told him I did not know when I might get another pass.

Ferry gave me a plug of tobacco and a pair of socks, to illustrate, I

suppose, the Empire State's interest in her volunteers.

Babcock then went through the same process, which gave me all the time

needed to survey the surroundings, whereupon we left.

Mr. Wood remained, but came out afterwards and met me by appointment, on

Charles Street. He was startled at the condition of affairs in the State

Agent's office, where a corps of men were engaged in forgery, and did

not want to return there, but was persuaded to go back and put in the

day. The character and magnitude of the crime prompted us to great


The next day (Saturday) General Wallace went to Washington. A Cabinet

meeting was held to consider the election frauds.

Next morning (Sunday), the following order was issued by General

Wallace, personally, and is in his handwriting:

Headquarters, Middle Department,

8th Army Corps.

Baltimore, Md., Oct. 23, 1864.

Lt. Col. John Woolley,

Provost Marshal.

You will immediately arrest the following persons: M. J.

Ferry, Ed. Donohue, Jr., and such clerks, assistants, &c., as

they may have in the office of the New York State Agency in

Baltimore. You will also seize and take into your possession

all books, papers, letters, &c., which you may find on the

persons or in the rooms and baggage of the persons above


The prisoners you will take to the City jail and confine them

separately, allowing no visitor to have communication with or

the prisoners to have communication in any manner with each



Major General Commanding.

(You will also station a guard at the door of the office of

said Agency. L. W.)

Upon my request to be allowed to conduct the arrests and seizures in my

own way, the General ran a pen through the words that are bracketed.

It was my desire to kidnap the parties, so that warning might be given

to other places, such as Washington, Harper's Ferry and City Point, to

look out for similar crimes, to accomplish which it was desirable to

leave behind each person, at his home or office, a reasonable excuse for

his absence for a few days, and to keep the State Agency office open to


I employed a hack and a confidential driver, one used to me, and who

would carry out instructions to the letter.

With one of my men I drove to near the State Agency Office. We entered

and were met by Donohue, who was alone (it was early Sunday A.M.) and

was pugnacious when he was made aware of his dilemma. I arranged with

him, that for friendly appearances, we would walk out arm in arm to our

carriage. Then we were whisked away to my office. I left Mr. Kraft, one

of my men, in the office to run it and tell callers that Donohue had

"gone out."

I learned from Donohue that Ed. Newcomb was stopping at Barnum's hotel.

At the hotel I found Newcomb's room number, went to it and rapped on the

door. I informed him there was a party from New York at the office, and

that Donohue wanted him at once; he accompanied me out the private

entrance and into my carriage. After a while he remarked that the driver

was not going right. I told him I was a stranger but I guessed the

driver knew the way; finally I told him of his position, that he would

meet Donohue, but not at the State Agency office.

When we came near our office I changed hats with him to prevent

recognition. An Albany regiment, the 91st, was guarding our

office--Newcomb was an Albany lawyer. I placed him in my office with

Donohue, but with officers both inside and outside the door. I took his

pocketbook, room-door key, and papers, and I returned to Barnum's to

"put them to sleep."

Shawls were commonly used then, especially by Northerners. I searched

his room, muffled myself up in his shawl, presented his key at the desk,

asked for and paid his bill, putting the receipt in his pocketbook, and

told them that Mr. Newcomb would stop over Sunday and a few days with

friends, in case of inquiry. I handed Newcomb his pocketbook and


Meantime Mr. Kraft was running the State Agency office, answering

callers all right.

The next move was to get Mr. Ferry, who resided in the far west end of

the city. I drove out there accompanied by Mr. Babcock. Ferry had not

returned from church (think of the moral tone of one who had forged all

the week). On his return I told him there were important parties at his

office from New York and that Donohue wanted him at once; he excused

himself to the ladies and accompanied me in the carriage. The ride was

long, so we visited in a friendly way, but finally he, too, remarked

that the driver was going out of his way, and after protesting

considerably, I informed him of his true status. He did not quite

collapse. I assured him his years would earn him a gentleman's

treatment. He was soon landed in my office.

I had a good dinner served all of them from my hotel. So that the ladies

at Mr. Ferry's house would not worry, and waiting until it would have

been impossible for them to reach the boat, I wrote them on his own

letter head asking for clean clothes enough to last about a week, as he

was going to City Point--so I wrote--on the Bay Line boat, on important

business. The clean clothes I gave Mr. Ferry.

I then went back to the office to see how much business Mr. Kraft had

accomplished. He was much warmed up over his discoveries in that room

adjoining, where the forgeries were done.

While there a brusque, loud-mouthed man came in and asked for Donohue,

announcing in a loud way what he had done at Harper's Ferry. I told him

he was a fool, and that I would not have anything to do with the

business if such as he were in it. The chiding acted like a charm. He

thanked me for cautioning him. He said he would not have spoken so but

he knew that I was all right. He said he was stopping at the Fountain

House, but readily agreed to go and get his bag and go with me to my

hotel; he accompanied me and landed where the others were. His name was

Kerley, and if my memory is correct, he was running for sheriff of

Washington county.

After dark, having prepared a separate corridor in the city jail, I

placed them there, taking the following receipt:

Baltimore, Oct. 23, 1864.

Received of guards the following prisoners:

Edw. Donohue.

Edw. Newcomb.

M. J. Ferry.

Peter Kerley.

(Signed) THOMAS C. JAMES, Warden.


On Monday (24th) we had a conference with Mr. Fred. Seward, Assistant

Secretary of State (he was accompanied by Mr. Benedict, of the State

Department), to ascertain if some one of the batch would confess. I

suggested Newcomb, and went in the carriage for him.

The city jail was in a gloomy location. The hour was well along in the

evening, and Newcomb's nerve was shaky. I took him to the Eutaw House,

before General Wallace, Colonel Woolley and Mr. Seward. At first he

(Newcomb) stoutly denied knowledge of the forgeries; my judgment as to

his probable weakness was in jeopardy. I asked Newcomb to come out in

the hall, where I told him that he could do just as he saw fit about

confessing, but that I was the convalescent soldier who voted right

there in the office when Donohue and he were doing the work. Then he

begged to be again taken before General Wallace, whereupon he confessed


In the meantime I had choked up the mail and express companies for all

matter bearing the New York State Agency label, and among the mass we

got my document, but it contained a good straight McClellan ballot, as

did Mr. Babcock's.

On Tuesday (the 25th) the Doubleday Military Commission of Washington

was convened at Baltimore, and before the day was over Newcomb had

confessed and Ferry tried to, but he so falsified his statement that it

did not merit consideration. The desirability for haste to make public

the fraud was because the country had been flooded with these fraudulent

papers, which could not be intercepted, except by publicity through the

channel of the newspapers; therefore after the 27th of October the

matter was made public.

Appleton says they were arrested on the 27th, but the facts, "between

the lines," are as I have told you. The kidnapping was a success. Four

public men were taken away from their business and usual haunts, and

hidden for four days without leaving a trace.

I found in Ferry's office many rich things. Among them was a letter from

Ferry to John F. Seymour, Hudson, Columbia County, New York (the

Governor's brother), accompanying a package of these forged papers, and

telling him to use them where his judgment suggested, or words to that


I offered General Wallace to try to incriminate Seymour, if I could have

two or three days' time; but the General advised against it, having so

little time even then for publicity before election day.

The whole country was roused to action. The matter was treated by the

newspapers as of as much importance as the army movements. It was given

first column, first page, place, with flaming, startling headlines. One

paper had it: "Great Soldier Vote Fraud. Arrest of Governor Seymour's

State Agents. The Most Stupendous Fraud Ever Known in Politics." "A

systematic and widespread conspiracy has been brought to light, carried

on by agents here (Washington), at Baltimore, Harper's Ferry and in the

Army of the Potomac. Men now in custody have been actively engaged in

this business for weeks, as one of the parties involved (Newcomb)

declared. Forged ballots have been forwarded in dry goods boxes, etc."

Such startling accounts were continued for many days. It was also

treated editorially. It was not considered merely as a political move to

secure office, but as a move to secure a false verdict on the matter of

the continuance of the war. Appleton's Encyclopedia for 1864 has several

columns of matter on the election fraud case.

The following order was issued by Major General Hooker, commanding the

Northern Department.

Cincinnati, Ohio.

Oct. 27, 1864.

"The Commander of this Department has received information

that it is the intention of a large body of men on the

Northern frontier, on each side of the line, open on one side

and in disguise on the other, to so organize at the ensuing

National Election, as to interfere with the integrity of the

election, and when in their power to cast illegal votes, &c."

A number of Ohio election officers were arrested for imitating the New

York State Agents' rascalities.

Notwithstanding all efforts made to publish the facts, the conspirators

came too near success. New York polled about 730,000 votes; Mr.

Lincoln's majority was only about 6,700; and of the total vote of

2,401,000 in the great States of New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana

and Illinois, if less than three per cent. had been cast on the other

side, Lincoln would have been defeated and the Union destroyed. A twig

may change the trajectory of a cannon ball; a letter "l" misplaced, may

have saved the nation.

Will any one conclude that Ferry, the State's Agent, and Donohue and

Newcomb, were not acting under orders from their superior, Governor


Just now while I am writing I have before me Watson's Magazine for

March, 1911, speaking of Headley's account of his part in retaliatory

acts in the west and east: "The evidence there found of the extent of

the copperhead movement in the upper Mississippi Valley in 1863-1864 is

entirely essential to a history of both sides of the great war. It

becomes startling to contemplate to what imminence revolution in the

States of the north and west had approached, etc."

"Mr. Davis (Jefferson Davis) delivered an impassioned speech at

Palmetto Station, near Atlanta, in Sept., 1864, in which he declared the

opinion that McClellan would be elected over Lincoln at the November

elections, and in that event the west would set him up as president over

itself, leaving the east to Lincoln."

Thus it is shown that the Confederates fully expected a rupture of the

North on lines to be worked out by the "Sons of Liberty" and their


After a time President Lincoln pardoned Ferry and later Donohue. The

President's big-heartedness led him first to pardon Ferry because of his

advanced age.

Newcomb came into my life again in 1882, in the impeachment proceedings

against Judge Westbrook. Somebody hunted me up and subpoenaed me to

testify as to the character of Newcomb. He had been a receiver of a life

insurance company (if my memory is right) under an appointment by Judge

Westbrook, and it was represented that he had misapplied large sums. The

session of the committee was held in the St. James Hotel, corner of

Broadway and Twenty-sixth Street, New York. When I entered the rotunda I

was hailed by a Mr. Fox, who wanted conversation with me. He knew my

mission and told me it would be worth a thousand dollars if I would

"walk up the street with him." The proposition did not flatter me; he

did not correctly size up my moral tone. I testified concerning the

circumstances of 1864, of Newcomb's crime and his confession. Newcomb

followed me out of the committee room, and expressed great surprise at

my appearance on the scene. I was not astonished to find him in

questionable business.

Donohue I have met several times since the war. For a time he was in the

employ of the New York Central Railroad, later holding a small political

appointment in one of the New York City departments.

I found another document in the State Agent's office that finished

Adjutant General Andrews' usefulness instanter. It was written on

headquarters' letterhead and spoke disrespectfully of Mr. Lincoln, the

Commander-in-Chief. Andrews was unceremoniously dismissed from the