Trip To Carlisle Illinois To Unravel A Fraudulent Claim
We closed our headquarters in December, 1865, packing all records in
finely arranged cabinets, which were then transferred to the War
Department in Washington.
When my relation with the government was terminated, through the
instrumentality of General Woolley (Woolley had recently been
brevetted), I was engaged by Mr. Archibald Sterling, an attorney (a
prominent Union man), to go to southern Illinois to r
vel out a
contested will case. The contestants were a group of neighbors, headed
by a shrewd woman.
If I remember right, under the Maryland laws, if a child died before
maturity, there was no inheritance. Mr. Sterling claimed that the young
man was not of age when he died, and that he died in 1835; but he had no
evidence to prove it. He had only a death notice clipped from some paper
with no date on it. But he had an anonymous letter signed: "Veritas,"
postmarked at Carlisle, Illinois, in which the writer, for a
consideration, offered to put Sterling in possession of evidence that
would defeat the claim; this letter was a few months old. Mr. Sterling
could not comply. He could pay for no evidence without compromising his
clients. With these facts only and equipped with the following letter of
introduction, I started West:
Middle Military Department,
Office Provost Marshal General,
Baltimore, Dec. 27, 1865.
Capt. Silas F. Miller,
My Dear Sir.--I shall be greatly obliged if you will make
Lieut. Smith, the bearer, acquainted with one or more of the
conductors of the O. & M. R. R. Co.
Lieut. Smith is one of my officers, and comes west on business
which takes him on the line of that road.
This is not for the purpose of securing a pass, but in order
to get information. I have the honor to be,
Your obedient servant,
Bvt. Brigadier General U. S. Vols.
Provost Marshal General M. M. D.
The field was entirely new to me. All the way to Cincinnati and the rest
of the way to Carlisle, Illinois, I put in much of my time in
speculating as to the best course to adopt on landing in a small town,
among a lot of villagers, who were banded together in this scheme. My
name was to be Comings, and I came from New York; that was all settled
in my mind; but what was my business there? I expected to be there a few
days, and there was the rub; finally, after failing to fix up a story I
concluded to "keep mum," entirely. Later you will see the fix which that
conclusion came near leading me into.
I arrived there at night. I asked the landlord not to put me high up in
the hotel, and he didn't; I learned the next morning that the hotel was
only two stories high. I lounged about the tavern and the village two or
three days, making myself aware of the surroundings. I tramped out to
the fork of the Kaskaskia river, where the affidavits alleged the boy
was buried in 1836. The river was a muddy little brook. No grave was to
be found, but some little distance away was a burying ground. I went
there searching for the grave. I found it not, but lying up against a
fence was a headstone having the boy's name on it, and the date of his
In walking about the village I had many times passed the residence of
the woman who had framed up the claim; she had noticed me. I wrote one
of my old officers in Baltimore to wire me, in language about like
"See Mrs. ----, confer fully and write me."
I instructed him to sign John H. Ing's name to it. Mr. Ing was this
Equipped with this telegram I would be prepared to introduce myself to
the woman as apparently having come there in the interest of Mr. Ing,
her attorney, to look over the ground to see if matters alleged in the
affidavits were susceptible of demonstration.
While waiting for the telegram I obtained the confidence of the
postmaster. I impressed him that I was an agent of the Post Office
Department, seeking to learn if he remembered a letter coming to his
office addressed to "Veritas" (Sterling had replied to Veritas); he,
having the too frequent curiosity of a village postmaster, said he
remembered it well, and told me who the recipient was, and where he
lived. He promised to keep secret my mission, and he did.
Mr. Truesdale, the proprietor of the tavern, kept horses, and I hired
him to carry me to this man's house, quite a drive of three or four
miles. On our way I found it desirable to seek his confidence too, and
impress him I was an agent of the Post Office Department, etc. Mr.
Truesdale seemed much relieved. He then told me he was so glad to know
my true character. Being the only "unaccounted for" man in the village,
I had been the object of suspicion, which, unrelieved, might have
Carlisle was on the edge of the prairie. Live stock (marked) ran wild,
until taken in; much had been stolen. A vigilance committee had been
organized to punish the thieves. These people were about to conclude
that the only "unaccounted for" man about was the "look out" for the
thieves. Truesdale was wonderfully pleased to stand sponsor for me to
them, without divulging my mission. Keeping perfectly mum came close to
being poor judgment under these circumstances.
I saw Mr. "Veritas" and had a private talk with him. He promised to meet
me in Carlisle the next day, which he did. Before communicating the
information which he said he had, which comprised the name of the
storekeeper who sold the material used for preparing the coffin in 1836,
and who had books to sustain the statement, he demanded a promise in
writing to pay him a large sum of money. Having a smattering of "legal
lore" I drew up a bond to pay the required amount, in event of success.
I kept a copy of the bond to show Mr. Sterling. It was signed by "George
Comings." It was satisfactory to Mr. "Veritas," and he in an impressive
manner wrote on a piece of paper, in large bold letters, the storekeeper's
name: PARMENUS BOND. We agreed to drive over to Mr. Parmenus Bond's place
the next day, and we did.
I found Parmenus to be very old, over eighty. He confirmed the statement
after he learned Mr. "Veritas's" greed had been satisfied. (I guess he
was to divide with the old gentleman, in fact.)
Having disposed of this part I was ready to use the telegram I had
received, meantime, upon the woman schemer. I called upon her,
presenting my telegram from Ing. She was charmed to meet me, saying she
had observed my presence about the village. I told her I had surveyed
the ground pretty well. I asked her about the tombstone, where did she
get it? She said she got it from Harrisburg, Pa. (about one thousand
miles away), and would have it set up in the spring, I advised her that
I concluded the evidence was presentable, provided her witnesses all
stayed in line. She assured me that they would, as they all had a money
interest in it, in the event of success. We then parted, and it did not
take me long to get out of town. I went to St. Louis, thence to
When I arrived in Baltimore, I at once called on Mr. Sterling, but had
to introduce myself, I was so unkempt, and my apparel so dirty. He was
anxious to know my report; I told him I had the evidence but had to
agree to pay for it. His face was a sight. He concluded I had ruined his
case. I handed him the copy of my bond, "George Comings's" bond,
assuring him that "Veritas" would have a difficult time finding the
bondsman; that he would not want to find him until after success, that
he would not speak of it in Carlisle, for his life. Mr. Sterling then
laughed heartily. I made a full report, advised Mr. Sterling to call in
Mr. Ing confidentially, and show him his fix. The claim was withdrawn,
and "George Comings" was never called upon to settle.
The use by me of Colonel John H. Ing's name was not unwarranted. I had
previously had a "run in" with him, which led me to believe that he was
a criminal party in this scheme. At one time he was deprived of the
right to practice before military tribunals in our Department, because
of unprofessional actions. He appealed to General Wallace, who referred
the matter to me to make an examination. Pending the examination a lunch
was given at which Ing and I were present. I presume the lunch was to
give Ing a chance to reach me.
He tried to, but the lunch did not answer its purpose. Upon my report he
was practically disbarred from practice in military courts, based upon
the evidence obtained. Therefore when I met his name in connection with
this case I felt warranted in assuming he was the "promoter" of it. The
use of his name was not forgery. He was deprived by it of nothing
except, perhaps, an "unearned increment."