Duties of Accounting Clerks during the Civil War and Their Influence on Current Accounting Practices

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ABSTRACT

No single event in United States history has had such a profound impact on our country as the Civil War of 1861 to 1865. An analysis of military accounting documents of the period provides valuable information related to their influence on current accounting and auditing practices. These documents illustrate U.S. Army recordkeeping requirements and also reveal various internal controls utilized during this period. The goals of safeguarding assets and producing accurate accounting reports were critical to the military during these desperate times.

This paper begins with an overview of military organization. The purpose is to discuss and explain the hierarchical structure of the U.S. Army The next portion of this document continues with reviews of the positions of company accounting clerks and quartermasters. Both of these assignments required responsible, conscientious soldiers who could be depended upon to prepare numerous reports. A significant number of internal controls were employed in an effort to properly account for the two major classes of assets, men and materials. Military regulations specified in detail the accounting and auditing tasks required when a particular report or statement was prepared. A number of actual Civil War accounting reports are reviewed in this paper with copies included in the appendix. The paper concludes with a review of accounting practices and internal controls that were instituted during the Civil War and continue to influence current accounting procedures.

INTRODUCTION

Civil War history is alive and well today for many Americans who visit popular battlefields and study famous generals. However, forgotten heroes of the war certainly include the dedicated accounting clerks and quartermasters who prepared a wide variety of required statements and reports in very dangerous conditions. These soldiers attempted to maintain adequate internal controls during this very difficult period. For example, U.S. Army Regulations stress the separation of the duties of authorization, custody, and record keeping. Also, the use of multiple copies of documents in order to create an adequate "audit trail" was evident. The report forms were preprinted in an effort to minimize input errors and aid in their proper completion. Finally, Army regulations and associated texts such as The Accounting Clerk by August V. Kautz provided accounting clerks and quartermasters with sufficient and adequate documentation to ensure accurately prepared statements. This paper reviews the accounting and auditing activities of the dedicated accounting clerks and quartermasters who, in the midst of all of the strife, maintained the required documents in an effort to provide financial order. Company accounting clerks, quartermasters, assistant quartermasters and other accounting personnel were required to prepare a large number of documents on a daily, weekly, and monthly basis. Their dedication to this important task allowed the Army to effectively function with accurate and timely accounting paper of many types.

Accounting paper included invoices, monthly and quarterly reports, inventory schedules, and numerous other documents that were required by the Federal government in an effort to maintain accurate records related to physical assets and human resources (often simply termed men and materials). The appendix of this paper includes a number of examples of such documents. In particular, the reports typically prepared by a company accounting clerk will be examined.

Record keeping for both the Union and the Confederacy was an enormous task. The Union Army enlisted approximately 2.8 million men during the period from 1861 to 1865 (Bradley, 1990). The Confederacy enlisted somewhere between 600,000 and one million soldiers. Many historians believe that 750,000 is a logical estimate (Ibid). Given these numbers, the amount of record keeping that had to be done was enormous. Many factors affected the volume of military reports. …