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Robert McNamara

Newspaper Sunday: Civil War Scandal

By October 14, 2012

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A spreading scandal involving large sums of money allocated for military equipment sounds like news from our own era. But government contracts and the shady dealings surrounding them became a major issue during the Civil War.

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.

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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