The Dark Side of
the Civil War
Though military arrests of civilians increasingly brought Southern citizens into the infamous bastilles of the North, throughout the war some of the prisoners, of course, came from the North as well. Among the Northerners were businessmen, entrepreneurs, and peddlers who fell victim to the Lincoln administration's policies, not because they dissented from the war effort but because they appeared to be trying to profit from it by shady exploitation. These Northerners sometimes suffered as harsh a treatment as any civilian, and, indeed, one group of Northern civilian prisoners received the harshest treatment meted out officially to any prisoners, civilian or military, Southern or Northern. To look at these arrests is to see a dark side to the Civil War rarely glimpsed in the numerous military histories of the conflict.
The soldiers charged with overseeing prisoners beheld warfare at its least heroic. Associate Judge Advocate Levi C. Turner, for example, seized a rare moment from routine duties on February 6, 1863, to describe some of the underside of the war effort:
Claim Agents, who advise and aid in the manufacture of false & fraudulent amounts against the Govt. and present them for payment -- and obtain payment -- violate no existing Law of Congress, and cannot be punished unless they have violated some state Law to punish forgery & forging.
A military officer makes out a false account for subsistence . . . and certifies to it -- if he has no vouchers and it gets the approval of the Adj General, it is paid. The officer takes his money (from $500 to $10,000) and then resigns. There is no law of Congress or of any State authorizing the arrest & punishment of such plundering. And citizens cannot be punished for presenting fraudulent accounts, unless in so doing they violate some State law against forgery & forging.
A Fraudulent & plundering military or civil officer can be reached and punished, while in the public service, by Laws now existing -- but having filled their pockets, they resign, and are then beyond the reach of military or civil Laws