The Union League

“Shortly Before Our Arrival in Omaha [in 1863] I had met and been introduced to a man who was a national organizer of the Union League. It was called the ‘National Loyal Union League.’ Only such officers were let into it as were of known loyalty. The army was so honeycombed with disloyal men and Rebel sympathizers that it was difficult to know always whom to trust. These were to be weeded out, and the obligation of the Loyal League was administered only to those of whom the organization was dead sure.

It was a strange thing to me to be approached by one whom I did not know, and be talked to upon the subject. He said there were persons in my regiment who were Rebels, and who were disloyal; that he was authorized to give me admission to the order. This was before we reached Omaha. He said it cost nothing, but it must be kept profoundly a secret. He said that it had a civil branch, and a military branch ; that the obligations were different, and the object different; but that any officer or soldier who belonged to the military order could make himself known, and could be admitted, and visit a lodge of civilians.

I expressed a thorough appreciation of the plan, and he took an hour, and put me through a verbal drill, and gave me some signs, and passwords. The day before marching into Omaha, while riding on the road with my company, a farmer with a load of hay alongside of the road gave the hailing-sign. I stopped, and talked with him a few moments, and he told me that near where we were stopping that night was a large Union League organization that had arrested and put in jail a gang of Confederate deserters, and that they would be glad to see me present. When our command went into camp, I rode that night into the village, and I had gone but a short distance before I got the ‘hailing-sign,’ in both instances given in the same way. I found out where there was to be a meeting of the lodge that night, and I went up, and attended it.

The hailing-sign was a remarkable invention. It was ‘two and two.’ In any way that two and two could be designated, the hailing-sign was made. For instance, if the hand should be held up and the four fingers divided in the middle, two on each side. With a bugle it was two short notes, then an interval, and two short notes. It could be made almost any way; two fingers to the chin. The persons who hailed me, as stated, put two of their fingers in their vest pockets, leaving their other two fingers out.

Nobody in the regiment that I know of, was initiated when I was, and I was told where to make reports in case I had something to communicate. I did not know whether there were any persons in the regiment, when I got to Omaha, who belonged to the Loyal League. But the third day while I was there, I was lying down in the tent, late in the afternoon, with my feet near the mess-chest. My Captain came in, and as he was a warm-hearted, true-blue Union officer of great gallantry, and great courage, it occurred to me that he might belong to the Loyal League, so with my foot I tapped on the mess-chest two couplets of raps. Captain O^Brien looked up at me and said, ‘What sort of a sign is that?’ and I said, ‘How do you know it is a sign?’ And he said, ‘When did you join?’ And I said, ‘What do you mean? Join what?’ Then he put out his hand and gave me the grip, to which I responded. The grip was a two-and-two grip. I had been recently promoted into the company. Thereupon he told me who belonged to the Union League in our regiment, and told me who was suspected.”