The Tragic Conflict: The Civil War and Reconstruction

By William B. Hesseltine | Go to book overview

33
The Carnival of Fraud

Henry S. Olcott

Mine is the most repulsive task that any one of the writers of this series will have assigned to him. All the others have their stories to tell of the clang of arms, the marshaling of armies, the thrilling episodes of personal danger and suffering, the political vicissitudes of the mighty struggle. To me comes the duty of showing the corruption that festered beneath the surface. The eye kindles, the pulse leaps, the imagination fires with their narratives of martial deeds; but what I shall say will make the writer and reader alike deplore the baseness of human nature, which most displays itself in times of national calamity....

The initial Confederate act of war not only forced upon us the gigantic work of transforming an industrial people into soldiers, but of arming and equipping them as well. This was the harder task of the two. Men there were by the hundred thousand, ready to take the field; but, to uniform them, cloth had to be woven, leather tanned, shoes, clothing, and caps manufactured. The canvas to shelter them had to be converted from the growing crop into fabrics. To arm them, the warehouses and armories of Europe, as well as of this country, had to be ransacked. All considerations of business caution had to be subordinated to the imperious necessity for haste. It was the golden hour of patriotism, so was it equally that of greed, and, as money was poured by the million, by the frugal, into the lap of the Government, so was there a yellow Pactolus diverted by myriad streamlets into the pockets of scoundrels and robbers -- official and otherwise. The public necessity was their opportunity, and they made use of it.

The rush of men to the front left the War Office no time to be nice over details; so that, as the volume of administrative business overflowed the bureau machinery for its supervision, things were, in a measure, suffered to take their course. An unhealthy tone pervaded everything; speculation was the rule, conservatism the exception. We floated, on a sea of paper, into a fool's paradise. Contractors, bloated with the profits on shoddy, rode

HENRY S. OLCOTT, "The War's Carnival Fraud," Philadelphia Weekly Times, Annals of the War ( Philadelphia, 1879)' pp.705 ff.

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