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Charles Wells Banks, also once used the name of John Scard.  He was born near Birmingham, England on June 3, 1839, migrated to the U.S. and was naturalized on May 14, 1867 at New Orleans, Louisiana. He resided in the United States and was thought to have served with the 206th New York Volunteers in New Orleans under General Banks, as Quartermasters clerk.

 

Research reveals, however, that  he in fact enlisted on August 31, 1862 at age 23 as a Sergeant and was inducted into Company I, 131st Infantry Regiment New York on September 6, 1862; though he did serve as a Quarter Master clerk under General Banks. His Unit Numbers were 1395 1395. 

 

The One Hundred and Thirty-first Infantry Colonels included Charles S. Turnbull and Nicholas W. Day; its Lieutenant Colonels were Charles C. Nott, Nicholas W. Day and W. M. Rexford and its Majors were Nicholas W. Day, W. M. Rexford, Aug. C. Tate and Albert Stearns.

 

It was known as the 1st regiment, Metropolitan Guard and was recruited in New York city under the auspices of the Metropolitan police, and was mustered into the U. S. service for three years on Sept. 6, 1862. The 7th N. Y. militia furnished a large number of its officers.

 

The One Hundred and Thirty-first Infantry left New York on Sept. 14th and proceeded to Annapolis, Maryland,  shortly after sailing for Louisiana as part of the Banks expedition.

 

On its arrival at New Orleans it was assigned to the 1st brigade, Grover's division, Department of the Gulf, and after the formation of the 19th corps, to Grover's 1st brigade, 4th division, of that corps.It sustained its first loss in April, 1863 at Irish Bend and was engaged without loss at Vermillion Bayou on the 17th.

The following month the investment of Port Hudson was completed and the 131st participated throughout the siege of that stronghold, sustaining most of its losses in the assaults of May 27 and June 14.

After the surrender of Port Hudson it was engaged for several months in post and garrison duty and in various expeditions and reconnaissance's and was again engaged at Vermillion Bayou in October, and at Carrion Crow Bayou.

In the summer of 1864 it left the Department of the Gulf and joined General Butler's Army of the James at Bermuda Hundred; shortly after it joined the Army of the Shenandoah under General Sheridan and participated in his brilliant campaign in the Valley.

Banks participated in operations in Western Louisiana from April 9th through May 14th, the Teche Campaign from April 11th through the 20th, at Fort Bisland on  April 12th & 13th, at  Madam Porter's Plantation at Indian Bend on April 13th, at Irish Bend on  April 14th, Bayou Vermillion on April 17th,  then marched to Opelousas on April 19th & 20th,  moved to New Iberia on April 25th, participated in the Siege of Port Hudson from May 24th through July 9th, the assaults on Port Hudson May 27th and June 14th, was in action at Plaquemine on June 18th, the surrender of Port Hudson on July 9th, was at Kock’s Plantation at Bayou LaFourche on July 12th & 13th,  and participated in the Red River Campaign from March 25th through May 22nd.

Charles Banks was wounded in his left leg during the ”Battle of Pleasant Hill", during the Red River Campaign. The Battle of Pleasant Hill, at Mansfield, Louisiana on April 9, 1864 took place between Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Bank’s Red River Expeditionary Force, the Union’s Department of the Gulf and the Confederate District of West Louisiana forces in a push to capture the town of Shreveport, Louisiana. During that battle he fought on opposite sides of Australian veteran John Fearn Francis who died in a fire at Mansfield, Louisiana during that battle.

By April 1864, Maj. Gen. Nathaniel P. Bank’s Red River Expedition had advanced about 150 miles up Red River. Commander of the Confederate forces in the area, Maj. Gen. Richard Taylor, decided without any instructions from his commander, General E. Kirby Smith, that it was time to stem the Union drive. Taylor had gained a victory at Mansfield on April 8th and Banks had withdrawn from the battlefield to Pleasant Hill, knowing that fighting would resume the next day. Early on the 9th, Taylor’s reinforced forces marched toward Pleasant Hill, hoping to finish off the destruction of the Union force. Although outnumbered, Taylor felt the Union army would be timid after the Mansfield battle and that a well-coordinated attack would be successful. The Confederates, however, closed up, rested for a few hours, and attacked at 5:00 pm. Taylor had planned to send a force to attack the Union front as he rolled up the left flank and moved his cavalry around the right flank to cut off their escape route. The attack on the Union left flank, under the command of Brigadier General Thomas J. Churchill, succeeded in sending enemy troops fleeing for safety. Churchill then ordered his men ahead, to attack the Union center; from the rear. Union troops, though, realized the danger and attacked Churchill’s right flank; forcing their retreat.  Pleasant Hill was the last major battle of the Louisiana phase of the Red River Campaign. Although General Banks won the battle, he retreated, wanting to get his army out of west Louisiana before something worse occurred. The battles of Mansfield, and Pleasant Hill, influenced General Banks to forget his objective of capturing Shreveport.

Charles went on to participate in actions at Mansura, Bermuda Hundred, Deep Bottom, Sheridan's Shenandoah Valley Campaign and the Battles of Winchester and Cedar Creek.  Banks, after enlisting as a Sergeant, was reclassified as a  Full Private on  November 25, 1863, but later reduced to the rank of private; being discharged for disability, as a private, at New Orleans, Louisiana on December 30, 1864. His Regiment went on and was mustered out at Savannah, Georgia on July 26, 1865.

After the war and while living in San Francisco, California,  he worked for Wells, Fargo and Company as head Cashier, handling large sums of money. As it turned out, however, 1866 would be a bad year for Wells, Fargo and Company. On November 1, 1866 James B. Hume, head of the Wells, Fargo Chief of Detectives discovered that the trusted cashier of the company’s express department, one Charles Wells Banks, had vanished after leaving for a fishing trip to the Russian River, just north of San Francisco. He realized there was no foul play involved, because at about the same time he discovered that his associate had embezzled over $20,000 and the deeper he dug into it, the more it looked like the amount missing would exceed $100,000.

On November 8th Hume put up a reward of $1,000 for the arrest and delivery of Banks to any jail in the U.S., with an additional 25% reward of any monies recovered. Banks at that time was a forty-seven year old distinguished Englishman who had migrated to the United States and had been naturalized in 1867; hardly the criminal type. He was 5 feet 9 inches tall, weighed 145 pounds, had thick, curly slightly graying black hair and was both well known and highly thought of.. He was said to favour a leg wound received during the war, suffered from varicose veins and wore false teeth. It was said his disposition was one of quick movements and nervousness. He was inquisitive, but controversial by nature, was never inclined to question prices quoted by tradesmen, was always open handed, only purchased good quality products, had a streak of kindness about him, was vain in his appearance, enjoyed notoriety and was familiar with all brands of liquors, wines and French dishes.   He smoked tobacco but did not chew, sniffed snuff occasionally and had a slight English accent. He was said to always dress neatly with his collar turned down and carried himself well, in spite of his use of tobacco and snuff. He was very educated, a first class accountant, once for an iron establishment and once worked as a clerk in the artificial flower house industry.

After his discharge Banks had accepted a civilian post as Quartermaster Clerk in New Orleans, was later Chief Clerk of the Freedman’s Bureau in Washington D.C. and still later a U.S. Customs Inspector in New York; before arriving in San Francisco in 1871. In addition, he was a Republican, a respected Knight Templar, a member of the very exclusive Union and Bohemian clubs and a member of the Oakland Commandery No. 11 of California.  Following his hobby of science, Banks had become a member of the Microscopic Society of San Francisco and owned one of the first oil-immersed instruments on the Pacific Coast. It was known he had served with the New York Volunteers during the War Between the States, fought at Sabine Pass in Texas and fought at the Battle of Pleasant Hill where had been wounded when a Confederate rifle ball smashed his leg.

Banks had always been the epitome of dependency during his time with Wells, Fargo, but Hume discovered his act was not one made in haste. Without anyone realizing it, Banks had quietly, some time before, sold his entire extensive scientific library and collections and had sent his wife East on a long holiday and shopping trip. Then, just before he absconded with the enormous Wells, Fargo cash holdings from the safe, he shaved off his beard which he had always worn. After some investigating, Hume discovered science was not Bank’s only hobby. He also owned a fine vineyard, a large gravel pit, a fine home in Oakland, California and a superb sailboat. 

He was in attendance at the Centennial Exhibition at Philadelphia in 1876, he had been a familiar speculator on the San Francisco Stock Market and it was discovered he had kept a mistress for a long period of time, was a regular customer of several local brothels and had eventually set up his own “house” not far from the Wells, Fargo office. Banks emerged as a bon vivant, a person devoted to the finer things in life, especially good food and drink. He tipped waiters lavishly, always bought the best and never argued over the price. In addition, he was connoisseur of French cooking and an excellent judge of wines and liquors, but with the horse gone, as they referred to Banks, Wells, Fargo and Company firmly locked the barn door. All employees who handled money were immediately required to take out a Bond on themselves; or resign from the company forthwith.

Although Hume’s had the full cooperation of Mrs. Fannie A. Banks, who had been abandoned by her husband, he was unable to lay hands on Banks himself. He was informed by Captain John Berude, of the barquentine “City of Papeete” that Banks had boarded his ship on November 1st for his voyage to Tahiti by way of Australia; posing as a wealthy invalid named John Scared, traveling to the Society Islands for health reasons. The City of Papeete was a Barquentine of 389 tons with a 370 ton capacity built at Fairhaven by Bendixsen in 1883; for the Tahiti packet line of J. G. Berude of San Francisco. Banks, posing as Scared, made the trip in style; tipping the sailors as they crossed the equator and had even taken the good Captain for a buggy ride to his rented cottage in Tahiti. Captain Berude described his famous passenger as “real nice—and he could drink wine and coffee like a gentleman”.  He had even placed all his money in the care of the Captain, until he boarded the steamer “Janet Nicholl” for Auckland, New Zealand enroute to Australia and Europe; just six short hours ahead of the arriving “Wanted” posters put out by Hume, aboard the “Raiatea”. Shortly before he sailed, on December 11th Banks made Berude a gift of a vial of morphine, saying, “I guess I won’t need this now and you might as well put it in your medicine chest”.

Some time later a box of seed arrived in San Francisco, enroute to a Mr. Scared on the island or Rarotonga, and Hume was notified. Hume then knew where Banks had fled to. He sent one of his agents to Tahiti on board a lumber ship after Banks, chartering a schooner upon his arrival for the voyage to Rarotonga. Apparently having been unsuccessful, he again, in 1892,  sent a second agent, auditor Edwin B. Riddell, but by then Banks had become the consort of Queen Makea of the Cook Islands, or married to her daughter, and she would not allow any extradition or arrest of her charming, wealthy and trusted adviser and new relation. Under the name Scard, Banks was employed in Cook Island Government functions.  When his background was discovered, however, he was revealed in due course and became an employee of a South Seas Island trading firm.

Hume then decided if he couldn’t take Banks, he would isolate him and prevent his further flight, by broadcasting reward notices throughout New Zealand and Australia; thereby making his new found haven his prison. His strategy worked and though Wells, Fargo never reclaimed their money or got their hands on Banks, they made sure he never lived to enjoy it, or his freedom.  Charles fell out of favour with Queen Makea, likely about the same time his money ran out, and he was forced to move off Rarotonga to the small neighboring island of Aituaki. Hume received word from a Captain McCoy in April of 1884 that the once popular socialite Banks was then on the small island, miserable and broke.  Captain McCoy stated that “His reputation is well known through the South Seas and he can get no position of trust  . . . . The existence of the embezzler ekes out a poor one. He is an exile from home, an outcast of society, and dead to the world”.  Little is known of Banks last years of life, but according to island rumours, he went blind around the turn of the century and lingered on until 1915. During that time he apparently married an Atiuan wife and had children. Today his descendants from that marriage are said to number in the hundreds.   Among them is Mr. Poreti Pokoati of New Zealand; the great great grandson of Charles Banks. Charles Wells Banks died at Rarotonga, New Zealand on March 21, 1915. and was buried in the L.M.S. Mission Cemetery at Avarua, Rarotonga, New Zealand  with an elaborate headstone; unfortunately it was badly broken into pieces over time, but has recently been completely restored. Along with the restoration a bronze memorial plaque, acquired for the family by American James Gray and the American Civil War Round Table of Queensland, Australia, Inc., was placed predominately on his tomb.

Charles Wells Banks was the subject of a chapter of the book entitled "Wells Fargo Detective", by Richard Dillion. It is the biography of James B. Hume, Wells, Fargo’s chief detective.  In the book, there is a copy of the “Wanted Dodger” put out for his capture, arrest and conviction; offering $1000 reward and 25 percent of all monies recovered and turned in. The dodger gives a pretty complete description and outline of Banks background.  He was also a diarist in the Cook Islands and the museum there has preserved most of his diaries.  In the Cook Islands Banks married a woman of Atiu in the Cook Islands, but they had no children of their own.

Tony Monteith of New Zealand is now married to an ancestral relation of Charles W. Brooks.

 
 
 

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