When the United States mobilized after the attack on Fort Sumter, the small pre-war U.S. Army grew from approximately 15,000 men to a force of more than 700,000 by the end of 1861. And all those new soldiers needed clothing, weapons, food, and other equipment.
Rumors began circulating that well-connected middlemen were earning outrageous commissions to equip the nation's military, and a committee of the U.S. Congress began investigating. In late December 1861, at the end of the first depressing year of the war, its first report hit the newspapers.
The public was outraged by the lavish commissions earned by the men arranging government contracts. But contractors defended themselves, claiming their work ultimately saved money and helped the military mobilize quickly. As the war continued, the scandal faded, and new leadership at the War Department implemented reforms.
This week in Newspaper Sunday we take a look at some of those early headlines and the stories related to corruption at the outbreak of the Civil War.
- New York Tribune, December 18, 1861: A major New York City paper printed extensive excerpts from the Congressional report, which focused on the outfitting of one particular ship at at astronomical profit.
- Alexandria Virginia Local News, December 19, 1861: A concise description of the Congressional report documenting "speculation, peculation, fraud, and malfeasance."
- New York Tribune, December 25, 1861: On Christmas Day, the New York Tribune published a blistering editorial: "But what at another time might be simple Knavery is now the blackest Treason."
- The Richmond Daily Dispatch, December 25, 1861: A newspaper in the Confederate capital mocked the "patriotic 'On to Richmond' drivers of the Empire State" said to be among those defrauding the federal government.
Note: After clicking through to the newspaper excerpts, you can click the "persistent link" at the Chronicling America site of the Library of Congress to view the entire page of the newspaper.
Photograph: Civil War rifles/Library of Congress
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