Confederate Industry: Manufacturers and Quartermasters in the Civil War

By Harold S. Wilson | Go to book overview

2
The Reign of Quartermasters

Despite the woolen famine and desultory public clamor about destitute soldiers and improvident quartermasters, Abraham Myers continued to gain influence and authority within the Confederate hierarchy until he held a guardianship over Southern manufacturing that was without precedent. The necessities of the front-line troops, with more men dying from exposure and disease than from bullets, drove Confederate authorities to the brink of military socialism, with Myers as the government's leading actor. With the sanction of the Congress, Myers assumed control of all workers of military age, exempting or detailing back to the factories only such men as he and his agents approved; in return for exempting workers, he compelled manufacturers to accept price and profit controls. Myers's power to impress supplies was unquestioned, and with the repeal of the commutation system in the fall of 1862, he became the acknowledged controlling authority of nearly all military supplies within the Confederacy.

As a consequence, criticism of Myers's administration also mounted. The military complained about exempted men and scarce supplies. Public rumors, fanned by newspapers, abounded that quartermasters were personally profiting from their positions. Manufacturers, chafing under his restrictions and red tape, willingly informed on the suspected malfeasance of local quartermasters and gave testimony against them in military courts, while the press rendered highly colored accounts to the public. The quartermaster general's own self-confident, aloof, and abrasive manner also contributed to the bitterness of these disputes. Finally, when called to account by Jefferson Davis, Myers and his friends responded with a brilliant political coup de main that challenged the very

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