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.
Read previous chapters of her incredible story here.
Part 50: Velazquez sadly remembers how immigrants could be so easily deceived and re-directed into military service.
I posted to Washington, and having notified my confederate there when he might expect me, he met me in the Capitol grounds, and I gave him a statement of the account between us as it then stood, turning over to him the borrowed money and half of the profits of the speculations that had been carried on with it. He informed me that I was just in the nick of time, as the reports had not yet been made out, but they were about being, and he was beginning to get the least bit uneasy concerning me.
I continued to take an active part in such transactions as these for several months, traveling to and fro between Washington, Philadelphia, and New York, and often having about me immense sums of money. At length, however, I became afraid to risk it any longer, as Col. Baker had commenced his investigations in the Treasury Department and accordingly went out of the business of money-making for the time being. I did the fair thing by the Treasury people in giving them a hint with regard to Baker and then made haste to get out of the way until the storm should blow over.
As things turned out, it was not, by any means, as much of a storm as I expected it to be. Baker failed to strike the right trail, and the revelations which he made, while sufficiently scandalous were with regard to matters of very secondary importance, and he dallied so much with these that the scamps were able to get ready for him. …
It was not the woman who was working for the Confederacy, and who was under obligations to do those whom she regarded as her enemies and the enemies of her cause all the injury in her power, who fell into Baker’s hands, but certain high Federal officials who were under oath and who were entrusted with some of the most responsible duties that could possibly be entrusted to any men. …
In the matter of notes and bonds printed from the duplicate plates obtained from the treasury, an immense business was done both in this country and in England. The person to whom I gave the first plate delivered to me printed eighty-five thousand dollars’ worth of one hundred-dollar compound interest notes from it. These were, so far as appearances were concerned, just as good as the genuine ones issued from the Treasury Department. Of this batch, twenty-five thousand dollars’ worth were sent to England, and we received exchange for them. The rest were disposed of to the banks and through various channels.
The bankers and brokers both here and in England took these bogus notes and bonds without any hesitation whatever, as indeed there was every reason they should, for there was nothing to distinguish them from the genuine ones that could avail for their detection by ordinary purchasers.
It is impossible for me to give any idea of the enormous amount of this kind of counterfeiting that was done without apparently any serious effort being made on the part of the Federal government to check it. I and my associates had the handling of bogus paper representing immense sums, which we disposed of advantageously but the amounts that passed through our hands only represented a very small proportion of what was issued during the war.
The headquarters of the dealers in bogus currency and securities were chiefly in Wall and Fulton Streets, although a number of these swindlers were located on Broadway. With each succeeding month, during the continuance of the war, the spirit of speculation seemed to increase, and men became more and more eager to make money and less particular how they made it. It was not always obscure men and insignificant banking concerns that were wittingly engaged in this traffic in unlawful paper, but there were plenty who stood high in the esteem of the public and whose reputations for probity were supposed to be unimpeachable.
As for myself and other Confederates, we took all the advantage we could of the general demoralization and not only replenished our treasury, so as to be able to carry on many operations that otherwise would have been impossible, but worked in many ways to turn the criminal selfishness and unpatriotic greed of people … for the benefit of our cause.
The bounty-jumping and substitute-brokerage frauds arose out of a contest between the efforts of the Federal government to maintain the armies in the field at their maximum strength and the determination of nearly the entire body of male citizens to escape military duty by any means in their power.
Under the terms of the conscription law, persons drafted were permitted to furnish substitutes if they could get them, and consequently the purchasing of substitutes became an important branch of industry, in which many thousands of dollars capital were invested and in which immense sums of money were made. This traffic in human flesh and blood would have been bad enough had it been honestly conducted, but, from its very nature, it held out inducements for fraudulent practices which were irresistible to a majority of those engaged in it.
Anything like volunteering … had ceased long before my arrival at the North, but each locality being anxious to avoid the conscription made desperate efforts to fill its quota of men by offering bounties, greater or less in amount, to encourage enlistments. The payment of these bounties was a direct encouragement to desertion, and, as a very different class of men were tempted by them from those who had enlisted out of patriotic motives at the outbreak of the war, a vast number of those who pocketed these premiums were very willing to go through with the same operation again and as often as it was practicable to do so.
Bounty-jumping, or escaping from the recruiting officers and enlisting over again, was carried on … all over the country but the headquarters of the bounty-jumpers and substitute-brokers was in New York.
It was to New York that the agents of interior counties came for the purpose of filling their quotas, and they always found a horde of brokers ready to accommodate them with real and bogus enlistment papers, each one of which was supposed to represent an able-bodied man, fit for military duty, who had passed the mustering officers, been accepted, and was then ready for service. Whether the papers were bogus or genuine mattered very little to those who purchased, so long as they could obtain credit on them from the authorities at Washington. It would probably not be making too large an estimate to put down one half of the enlistment papers sold to country agents and others as forgeries, while not one half of the genuine ones, no, not one fourth, represented men actually ready for duty.
Of course such stupendous frauds as these could not have been carried on without the criminal connivance of the officials of various kinds who were … connected with the enlistments. There may have been some honest officers, soldiers, and civilians connected with this service in New York during the last year of the war, but I was never lucky enough to meet any. So far as I could see, the whole of them — commissioned officers, non-commissioned officers, surgeons, clerks, notaries public, and others — were intent only upon making all the money they could while the opportunity for making it lasted.
The bounty-jumping and substituting-frauds were perpetrated in such an open and barefaced manner that I could not help wondering why some efforts were not made by the authorities at Washington to check them. At length, however, the services of Col. Baker were called in, and he succeeded in creating quite a panic among the swindlers by the investigations which he instituted and the large number of the arrests he made. The war, however, came to an end before he succeeded in discovering a hundredth part of the rascalities that were going on, so that, practically, his investigations were of very little benefit to the government.
The rates which were paid for substitutes varied from five hundred to twenty-one hundred dollars. The parties with whom I was associated enlisted chiefly for the army and did very little for the navy. The bulk of our profits, so fast as they were made, went to Canada or England, and some of the parties who received the money are today living in luxury on it.
The recruits, when they were enlisted, and when they did not escape from the recruiting stations — as hundreds of them did every day — were sent to Governor’s Island. It might be supposed that once there, they would have been safe. They would have been, had the officers, commissioned and non-commissioned, been honest. The temptations for gain, however, were too great, and there was not a person in authority on the island who was not pocketing hundreds of dollars every week by conniving at the escape of recruits. I have known some of the regular professionals jump as high as sixteen bounties, walking away from Governor’s Island every time they were sent there with as much ease as if there was no such thing as army regulations and martial law in existence.
The way this was managed was by the purchase of passes. In going through the boat-house, a slip of paper with the number of passes on it would be put in a book on the table, and on returning, the passes would be found in the same book. The money for these could either be folded in the slip or an order on the broker’s office be given to the sergeant.
One application for a substitute that was made at the office with which I was connected was from a very prominent and very wealthy gentleman of New York, who was willing to pay as high as twenty-one hundred dollars for some one to take the place of his son, who had been drafted. This old gentleman was noted for his advocacy of the war and for his bitterness in denouncing the South, and yet, when it came to letting his son go and do some of the fighting, his patriotism tapered down to a very fine point, and he was willing to send any number of substitutes if necessary. … He was a very fair sample of the kind of patriots I was in the habit of meeting, and I could not help contrasting the whole-souled enthusiasm of the Southern people with the disposition shown by so many prominent adherents of the Federal cause. … As it was all in the way of business, however, I and my partners endeavored to accommodate this old gentleman.
I knew of a couple of barbers in Brooklyn, well built and hearty young colored fellows, and I accordingly went to them and finally induced one of them to enlist as a substitute for the old man’s son. He came over to our office, and on being enrolled received five hundred dollars with a promise that the rest of his bounty would be handed to him by the officer on the island. Privately, however, he was told how he might make his escape by giving the sergeant at the gate fifty dollars [and] was warned not to return to the city or he would be arrested and tried for desertion. He acted according to instructions and deserted so easily that he was tempted to try it over again several times, and I believe he managed to pocket several bounties without being caught.
The emigrant depot at Castle Garden, however, was the great resort of the bounty and substitute brokers, some of whom actually had agents in Europe who deceived the poor people there with all kinds of promises and then shipped them to become the prey of scamps on this side of the Atlantic so soon as they set foot on our shores.
All manner of inducements to enlist were held out to the poor Irish and Germans at Castle Garden. They were surrounded by crowds of shouting and yelling brokers until they were fairly bewildered and found themselves enlisted before they well knew what was the matter with them. To those who hesitated, the most lavish promises were made — their wives and children were to be cared for; they were to receive one hundred and sixty acres of land; money in larger sums than they had ever beheld before was flaunted in their faces. One fellow would shout, “Here you are, sir, come this way. I’m your man. I have five hundred dollars for you.” Another would say, “Here is five hundred dollars and a land warrant,” and another, “I have twenty-one hundred dollars for you if you will come with me.”
The poor devils — deafened by the clamor around them, tempted by the magnificent inducements held out to them, and believing that they really had at last reached the Eldorado of which they had been dreaming — … were marched off to act as substitutes for able-bodied American citizens who had no fancy for fighting the rebels. Every broker’s office had its runners, just the same as the hotels, who were posted at the emigrant station whenever a vessel load of human beings came into port, and among them the poor foreigners, who came over here to better their fortunes, had but little chance to become anything but food for Confederate bullets.
On one occasion I saw a squad of Germans who had just landed and who seemed to be looking for someone. As a runner approached them, their head man, who acted as interpreter, drew from his pocket a letter and asked, “Are you Capt. P.?”
“I am here in his place,” replied the runner. “What can I do for you?”
The German hesitated a moment, and before the runner could fairly commence work with him. Capt. P. made his appearance from the purser’s office, where he had, doubtless, just been receiving intelligence of the arrival of his human cargo. The runner, seeing P. and knowing that his opportunity was now gone, went off to seek for his prey elsewhere, while the captain proceeded to take the party in charge with small ceremony.
“Is your name P.?” queried the leader.
“Yes, and you are …” and without more ado, he hurried them off to a den in Greenwich Street, where they were forthwith enlisted in the Federal service.
These people, like thousands of others, had been picked up in Europe by agents under all kinds of pretexts and promises and shipped for this side of the ocean just like so many cattle. Capt. P. considered himself as their owner, and he sold them to the government exactly as he would have sold cattle, if that sort of traffic had been as profitable as dealing in white human beings. …