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Loreta’s Civil War: Punctuality is the road to wealth

May 11, 2017

Throughout 2016 and 2017, Stillness of Heart shared edited excerpts from the extraordinary memoir of Loreta Janeta Velazquez, who chronicled her adventures throughout the Civil War — either as herself, as a Confederate spy, or in disguise as Confederate Lt. Harry T. Buford. She fought and led men in terrible battles, fell in love, bore and lost children, and traveled throughout the U.S. and Europe, ultimately fulfilling her childhood dream of a rich and adventurous life.

You can read the entire 1876 memoir online here. Learn more about Velazquez (and the incredible documentary film Maria Agui Carter made about her) here.

Read previous chapters of her incredible story here.

Part 49: Velazquez secures the necessary currency printing equipment, and she and her team in the U.S. and England get to work.

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It so happened, however, that Mr. Chase, of his own motion, called Baker in to assist him in discovering some suspected wrong-doing in the department, and that individual, having then obtained the requisite authority, immediately went to work with even more than his accustomed zeal to find out what was wrong in the printing bureau.

Baker, however, was either somewhat obtuse, or else the person to whom I have alluded as at the head of the ring, and his confederates, were successful in getting him on the wrong track, for the first man he laid his hands on was Dr. Stewart Gwynn. This old gentleman was an eccentric inventor who had a lot of queer, original ideas about proper methods of printing the currency and bonds. Mr. Chase believed that he was a great genius, and it is possible he may have been. I regarded him, however, as a mere catspaw for the others, and have never thought that he was guilty of any intentional wrongdoing.

Dr. Gwynn was arrested by Baker and was lodged for a number of months in the Old Capitol Prison. Nothing criminal, however, was proved against him, although it was shown very conclusively that some of his schemes were not very profitable to the government. Much sympathy was felt for this old man, and I, among others, went to Mr. Chase to beg for his release.

I had quite a long talk with Mr. Chase on this occasion, and he was very emphatic in stating that the method in vogue in the Treasury Department for printing notes and bonds was an effectual check on counterfeiting. I, of course, knew very well what a serious delusion he was laboring under, and it would have given me great pleasure to have undeceived him. …

Having captured Dr. Gwynn, Baker next made an expose of the conduct of the other treasury official whom I have mentioned, and certain female employees of the department, but he did not get at the facts with regard to the bogus plates and other matters of equal importance until a considerable time after. Indeed, I am not sure that it was his investigation that brought the worst practices of the printing bureau to light, but think that someone else had a hand in making that revelation.

It is probable that the manner in which he was treated by those who should have supported him, after proving how the two men mentioned were conducting themselves with the female employees, may have disgusted him with the whole business and discouraged him from prosecuting his investigations any further. The expose with regard to the women created a great excitement when it got into the newspapers but the implicated treasury officials had sufficient influence to brave public opinion and to retain their positions in spite of the clamor for their removal that was raised. Indeed, so great was the prejudice against Col. Baker in certain quarters that, I have no doubt, many very good people actually believed the parties accused by him were innocent and were the victims of a conspiracy.

Besides this, the public attention at that period was tolerably well occupied with war matters, and Baker, having been bluffed off, the scandal was forgotten in a short time. Baker, however, was very sore over the treatment he received from Mr. Chase, Mr. Jordan, Mr. Garfield, and others; and was especially indignant that the rogues who were robbing the people should not only be permitted to go unpunished but should be actually protected in their villainies by their official superiors.

With these matters, however, I had nothing to do, having discontinued my operations in connection with the treasury before Col. Baker commenced to examine into the gross mismanagement of affairs in that important department.

In accordance with my agreement with the printing bureau official, I called at his office at the appointed hour and was referred by him to one of his subordinates. With this man I made an arrangement for a conference under a certain cedar tree in the eastern part of the Smithsonian Institution grounds at nine o’clock in the evening.

This man and his father were printers in the bureau and were confederates in the dishonest practices that were going on, by which the government was defrauded of immense sums and by which immense quantities of bogus notes and bonds were foisted on the public. One of these men had a mistress who was employed to do some work about the printing presses. This woman conveyed the electrotype duplicates of the plates to parties outside and performed other services of a similar character, for which she was paid handsomely.

Some time before the appointed hour I strolled into the grounds of the Smithsonian Institution, and after finding the cedar tree, hid myself in some bushes near by, not being at all certain that some trick would not be played upon me, for it occurred to me that perhaps these people might not fancy my having anything to do with the matters we were negotiating about and would take a notion to have me put out of the way in some manner.

My apprehensions, however, were groundless, for I had approached them in such a manner that they were compelled to trust me, whether they wanted to or not, and their only idea was, with the assistance of myself and associates, to make the grandest haul on the treasury that had ever yet been attempted.

Ere a great while I heard footsteps approaching and presently some one coughed in a significant manner, which I interpreted as a signal for me. I accordingly looked out from my hiding place and saw the man I was expecting. Having assured myself that he was alone, I went up to him, and said, “Good evening.”

“You are her, are you?” said he.

“Yes, I am always punctual on business; punctuality is the road to wealth.”

We then sat down together on the grass to arrange our plans. The scheme I had to propose was quite a modest one, all things taken into consideration. It was, that I, as receiver and bearer for certain other parties, should be given electrotype duplicates of bond and currency plates, such as we had information manufactured by certain parties in the Treasury Department. For them we would either pay so much or would share the profits.

My new acquaintance, however, was in favor of going into business on quite a grand scale. He suggested, in rather indefinite terms, that he had a scheme for bleeding the treasury, which would, if proper management was used, be an even more expeditious and safer method of making money than by issuing bogus paper but he seemed to be a little hesitating about confiding all the details to me.

I therefore said, after we had talked for some time without coming to any conclusion, “Well, sir, what are your plans? I have no notion of rendering myself liable to imprisonment for the plans of another person unless I know all about them and understand exactly what risks I run and what I am likely to gain. If it were not for the sake of a great object I have in view, I would not engage in this business on any terms and would not risk my life and reputation as I am and have been doing.”

“What is your object?”

“That is a personal secret, and it has nothing to do with any one individual.”

“Well,” said he, “this plan of mine is the biggest thing that has ever been tried on yet, and I am certain we can manage it if we only go to work in the right way. I have facilities for carrying on an affair of this kind such as are possessed by no other man in Washington. I know all the men in every department and know exactly who can and who cannot be trusted. I am acquainted with every private entrance to the public buildings in this city and am familiar with a great part of the rascality that is going on every day and every night.”

“If that is so, you certainly have advantages, and if your scheme is a practicable one, I will take it into consideration.”

He then went on to tell me how he proposed using government money and bonds, which were to be taken from the treasury for certain speculative purposes and also for floating bogus bonds, both Federal and Confederate, upon the English market. He was to manage the matter in the Treasury Department, I was to act as go-between, and certain brokers and others in Philadelphia and New York were to attend to the outside business.

When he had fully explained himself, I said, “I am almost afraid to undertake such an enterprise. It will be no small matter to carry on such operations as you propose without detection. Don’t you think you are trying to do too much?”

“I know that we will be operating on a rather large scale, but if we go about the matter in the right way there need be no serious danger. We can begin on a moderate basis and extend our business as we go on, replacing the borrowed money in the treasury as it comes back to us. I and my two friends will be responsible for procuring the capital, if you will consent to be the bearer between here and Philadelphia and New York.”

“Oh, sir, you must not let me be known to any third party in an affair of this kind. If you will deliver to me the money in person, or cause it to be placed where I can get it without danger of being detected, I will undertake the job.”

“Well, that is all right. I will arrange everything for you so that you will be in no danger. I want this to bring in something handsome, for I am anxious to get out of Washington, and so soon as I can make enough money I intend to go South. My feelings have always been with the Southern people, and I consider that they have been the victims of unnumbered outrages.”

“Why, ain’t you afraid to talk in that manner, you a government employee? Don’t you know that I am for the Union?”

“So am I,” said he, “but, for all I can make out, the Union is a great big hobby-horse for speculations, and as other people are making money out of it, I don’t see why I might not.”

I then returned to what had been my chief object in meeting him, by telling him that I wanted one of those electrotype plates. He seemed to be rather disinclined to accommodate me in this matter at first but as I was persistent, he finally consented, and we parted with the understanding that we were not to meet again until I was ready to report the result of our operations and hand him his share of the profits.

The next day a plate was delivered to me at the Kirkwood House, which I immediately put under lock and key in my trunk. Subsequently I received a note informing me that I would find a package under the cedar tree in the Smithsonian grounds, and that I had better go and get it as soon after dark as possible, for fear some of the workmen might pick it up.

The package … was found to contain fifty-five thousand dollars’ worth of government paper. … Securing my booty, I returned to the hotel, rang the bell for my bill, and started for Philadelphia with all possible expedition. The plate which I had in my trunk was for one hundred dollars’ compound interest notes. Not very long after, I and my associates obtained another one for printing fractional currency.

On reaching Philadelphia, I commenced operations immediately in connection with certain brokers and others and bought a large amount of bogus Confederate bonds. Having obtained these, I went to New York, where I took rooms in a private house on Greenwich Street, deeming a hotel rather too conspicuous, and communicating with my associates there, we went to work with energy to turn the money belonging to Uncle Sam in our possession over and over as rapidly as we could, making it pay us a handsome profit at each turn.

Some of this cash was put into the bounty and substitute brokerage business, but a large part of it was invested in bogus Confederate and other securities, which were sold to brokers for the English market. One private banker took sixty-two thousand dollars’ worth, and another twenty-one thousand dollars’ worth, while smaller amounts were scattered about in various directions, we receiving English exchange and gold at market rates, which we turned into greenbacks.

This business finally grew to such an extent that it was found to be convenient to communicate with London direct. Correspondence was therefore established with a banking house on Regent Street, and until the close of the war a lively traffic in real and bogus Federal and Confederate securities was maintained.

After we had been operating six days with the money obtained from the treasury, I telegraphed to my confederate in Washington, stating how much had already been made and asking whether I should keep on. The reply was to give myself plenty of time, and to keep the thing going for ten days longer, and then close out and return to Washington in time for the monthly reports to be made out. At the end of the ten days there was but five thousand dollars’ worth of Confederate bonds remaining on our hands undisposed of.

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