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The Con Man Who Was Pardoned By Both Abe Lincoln and Jefferson Davis

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb
The Truth Network Radio
August 28, 2023 3:02 am

The Con Man Who Was Pardoned By Both Abe Lincoln and Jefferson Davis

Our American Stories / Lee Habeeb

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August 28, 2023 3:02 am

On this episode of Our American Stories, our next story is about a con man who was so good that he got both the Union and the Confederate presidents to pardon him; yet, he was so bad that a NYC woman offered a $50k reward to find him—dead or alive. 

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Try a little bit of everything every week. Say free this week into your Xfinity voice remote. And we continue with our American stories. Up next, a story that comes to us from Frank Garman, who is a professor of American history at Christopher Newport University. He's also a Jack Miller Center Fellow.

Let's take a listen. I asked my colleague, Jonathan White, who is a Civil War historian who just won the Lincoln Prize, if he had any recommendations for collections that were accessible online. And he mentioned that the pardon records sent to Abraham Lincoln had all been digitized. So that semester, I asked my students to look through the pardon records in search of interesting stories. And in October, one of my students told me about a letter that he had found concerning Charles Callum's pardon application.

The letter is only two pages long, and it begins by describing the merits of the case. Callum was only 19 years old when he was arrested for stealing from the post office in Portsmouth, Virginia. And this first offense landed him with a 10 year sentence in the penitentiary in Richmond. His application also contains several letters from his older sister, who described the plight of their four orphaned siblings, now that their mother had died while Charles was in prison. And he also had letters of recommendation from a congressman, a former senator, and petitions from prominent individuals from his hometown. But the pardon clerk continued the letter, stating that there is a lion in the path that leads to mercy in this case, as he also had a letter from the superintendent of the Virginia Penitentiary who explained that Callum was an old offender, who had just been released from the same prison after serving a 15 month sentence for breaking into houses near Parkersburg in what's now West Virginia. And he added that after Charles was captured, men from the Ohio Penitentiary recognized him as having served there under an alias.

If any of this is true, the pardon clerk mused, Young Callum has run a wonderful career in crime for one so young, and I am compelled to say that I regard his application as one of the least meritorious on file in the office. My students said there must be a story here. And at first I thought we might write a short article together summarizing the case with a few references from the newspapers to fill in the details. But as I began searching for Charles Callum, I found dozens of articles that at first all seemed to point to different people.

But as I kept digging, I discovered that nearly all of these references pointed to the same person. I soon discovered that Callum had been pardoned by Abraham Lincoln, but that the pardon arrived after Virginia had seceded from the Union, and the governor refused to release him, failing to recognize Lincoln's authority now that Virginia had left the Union. And so Callum remained in prison for another two years, until the summer of 1863 when he appealed to Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederate States.

But in his application to Jefferson Davis, he changed his story. Rather than presenting himself as a youthful offender, he claimed that he wished to join his many gallant kinsmen who had already died in the Confederate service. And he produced a letter claiming to come from his maternal aunt, which described the deaths of four of her sons who had already died in the Confederate service, and concluded by wishing that she had a fifth of Charles Callum. Needless to say, Charles Callum was from Michigan. He had no relatives in the Confederacy.

His parents had fairly recently immigrated from England and Scotland, and they had closer ties to Canada than anywhere in the American South. But Jefferson Davis found his plea convincing, and he decided to pardon him in the summer of 1863 on the condition that he join the Confederate Army. Now, as Callum later claimed that he never reported for duty, but instead spent the war speculating in bacon, brandy, and whiskey, he was arrested again in the winter of 1864 outside of Richmond. And there he was pretending to be a Confederate captain and had apparently committed some theft. And so he was arrested for stealing and impersonating a Confederate officer. And he was locked away in the notorious Richmond prison Castle Thunder.

He was only there for a few weeks, at which point he convinced his captors that he would eagerly join the Confederate Army if he could only be released, at which point he deserted again, and this time deserted by walking all the way from the outskirts of Richmond to Norfolk, where he crossed the Union lines and made his way back to his home state of Michigan. Almost as soon as the war ended and Callum received word of Lincoln's assassination, he rushed to Washington, D.C. in an effort to aid in the investigation. He showed up in Washington and presented himself to the detectives investigating the Lincoln assassination, claiming that he had been in Richmond the whole time and that he had been able to infiltrate the Confederate Secret Service and had bore witness to the various conspiracies and threats against the president's life. His story was so compelling that the detectives on the case actually hired him. And for a period of a couple of weeks, he participated in the investigation.

Now, his contributions were inconsequential. But after the war, he was able to parlay this detective experience into a real job as a detective for the Internal Revenue Service. For about a year and a half in the late 1860s, he worked as a detective for the Internal Revenue Service in a district that covered Georgia and northern Florida. And during his time there, he developed a reputation for extortion and blackmail. One newspaper later reported that had he remained in Savannah, he almost certainly would have been lynched. He decided to leave Georgia and travel abroad.

He left in 1870, and he decided to travel in the United Kingdom. And during that time, he reconnected with the congressman who had written a letter of recommendation on his behalf years before when he was applying for the pardon from Abraham Lincoln. And that congressman happened to be traveling in Ireland when he witnessed a riot in Phoenix Park, Dublin. And this riot was related to some Irish nationalism going on in that time period. And the British authorities were trying to investigate and try to infiltrate some of these Irish nationalist networks. But the young congressman realized that the British detectives had a major impediment.

Their accent gave them away, and those in Ireland could immediately tell that the British detectives were English. But the congressman had a solution. He proposed that if Charles Callum were to pose as an American tourist, that he would be able to infiltrate these networks. And you're listening to Frank Garmon, who is a professor of American history at Christopher Newport University, tell one heck of a story about Charles Callum. And what a con artist this guy is, or was, that is, of the first order and relentless, particularly conning Jefferson Davis into granting him a pardon in exchange for serving in the Confederate Army, which, of course, he pretended to do while impersonating a Confederate officer, was, of course, engaging in more theft and bribery and, well, the usual things that Charles did. Straight through his time in Savannah, and then even in his little European jaunt, which landed him in Ireland.

Once a con artist, always a con artist. When we come back, more of this remarkable American story, Charles Callum's story, here on Our American Story. Let me continue here with our American stories and with Frank Garmon, who is a professor of American history at Christopher Newport University. And let's pick up where we last left off with his storytelling about one Charles Callum. Ultimately, the British government hired him for about six months and during this period, Charles traveled around Ireland extensively and developed a habit of overbilling the British government pretty egregiously because he convinced them to reimburse them for all travel expenses. And he proceeded to travel to a different town nearly every night in order to milk this job for all he could.

After a period of six months, the authorities in London discovered that he had simply been reading the newspaper in Ireland and reporting back what he had read and was transmitting little in the way of useful information, and so they ultimately fired him. When he left the UK, he decided to go to northern Florida, which was covered by the area where he had worked in the Internal Revenue Service. And in this case, he decided to enter into local politics. He partnered with the Reconstruction governor, a Republican named Harrison Reed, who had lost the support of his party, had several times faced impeachment proceedings against him, but had survived all removal efforts. And this governor was looking for a way to remain relevant in Florida politics, so he reached out to some rival Democrats and negotiated a deal with them where he would use his influence as governor to try to sway the election in 1872 in favor of the Democrats.

If only the Democrats in the state legislature would send him to the United States Senate. Now, in those days, state legislatures elected U.S. senators, and he believed that by using his influence as governor, he might be able to manipulate the election results. One way that he did this was by trying to remove some of the federal officials, some loyal, radical Republicans who were upholding the Reconstruction efforts there. So he encouraged President Grant to remove some of the officials in the Justice Department, the U.S. attorney and the U.S. marshal for the Northern District of Florida, and he proposed that Grant appoint Charles Callum as U.S. marshal there. And Grant did so. He met personally with Charles Callum, and as a result of this meeting was persuaded to issue the appointment, much to the dismay of every local politician, every local Republican in Florida. One local politician wrote, Grant must have been decidedly drunk when he issued the appointments.

And after about 10 days, Grant rescinded these appointments. And at this point, Charles Callum decided to enter the race himself. And he printed some deceptive looking ballots that had Ulysses S. Grant and his running mate at the top, but curiously, all of the Democratic candidates for the state offices with his name included for the U.S. Congress. And when the election scheme faltered and his patron in the governor's mansion not reelected, he decided to leave Florida and went to New York City. In New York, Callum pursued two different schemes at the same time. He operated a fake newspaper and a fake secret society that went with it. Callum also engaged in a scheme that targeted wealthy widows. He became a serial bigamist after he realized that New York in those days did not require marriage licenses. And in a span of six months, he married a half a dozen women in Manhattan alone, in each case disappearing with their money shortly after the marriage. One of these women consulted a pugnacious New York attorney named Iris Schaffer and retained his services in order to locate Charles Callum. She took out advertisements that were syndicated in newspapers across the country.

Some of them stated that this woman has lost $50,000 and is prepared to spend another $50,000 getting even with him. The articles offered a reward of $3,500 for Charles's capture, if alive, or the presentation of his body, if dead. With his identity known, he changed his name, he faked his death, and for the next 12 years, he traveled all over. In 1886, he resurfaced under an assumed name where he went by Colonel Livingston Graham. He claimed to be a Union Army veteran, but he could not remember where he had served or who he had fought with. And he attempted to check into the central branch of the National Soldier's Home in Dayton, Ohio. After a three-month investigation, the pension bureau was able to determine that his real name was Charles Callum, not Colonel Livingston Graham, as he presumed, but that he had never served in the Union Army and had no claim to the Soldier's Home.

His younger brother George picked him up, and there the story goes cold. His life reveals the malleability of identity during this period. In an earlier era, Americans would have been skeptical of his transience. They would be reluctant to trust someone who had just arrived in Florida and was suddenly running for Congress. In a later age, it would have been easier to verify someone's identity.

It would be difficult for someone to approach such prominent people as Abraham Lincoln or Ulysses S. Grant. So this time period in the Gilded Age is really a unique era of American history, in that someone like Charles Callum could reinvent themselves again and again and again. And a terrific job on the production, editing, and storytelling by our own Greg Hengler. And a special thanks to Frank Garmon, who is a professor of American history at Christopher Newport University. He's also a Jack Miller Center Fellow, and the Jack Miller Center is a nationwide network of scholars and teachers dedicated to educating the next generation about America's founding principles and history. To learn more, visit By the way, if you're a history teacher, you just love American history. Send your stories to

They're some of our favorites, and this was just a delight. He was a world-class con artist who got pardoned, not just by President Abraham Lincoln, for President Jefferson Davis. That's pretty unusual, and what a con artist. Bernie Madoff had nothing on this guy. In fact, I don't think Bernie had half his energy or ingenuity, because this gentleman, Charles Callum, did it again and again and again, and in ingenious ways. I mean, ending up in Ireland and England, duping the British government into covering his expenses, and ultimately landing in Florida to run for office and hope to land in the Senate. The audacity of this guy. And then to fake his own death, of course. Let's not forget, he staged his own death.

The story of Charles Callum, the story of a world-class con man, here on Our American Stories. Most TVs are smart nowadays, but with busy home screens and remotes with too many or too few buttons, smart shouldn't mean complicated. That's why Roku TV is the smart TV made easy. The customizable home screen puts your inputs, streaming favorites like iHeart, and free live TV all in one place. From simple settings anyone can understand, automatic updates with the latest features, and much more, Roku TV is more than a smart TV, it's a better TV. Learn more today at

Happy streaming. I'm Malcolm Granville. I don't know if you know this about me, but I'm a car nut, and I will do anything to keep my cars happy, to make sure they stay running smoothly. I look for those things at eBay Motors. With eBay Guaranteed Fit, when you see the green check, you know that part will fit. Get the right parts at the right prices. Let's ride. Eligible items only. Exclusions apply.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-08-28 12:48:48 / 2023-08-28 12:55:48 / 7

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