Civil War Corruption! 1864 Commissary Investigation of a Combat Division in the Army of the Potomac's 2nd Corps

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Civil War Corruption! 1864 Commissary Investigation of a Combat Division in the Army of the Potomac's 2nd Corps


Item No. 3926670

Offered here is a six-page set of interesting 1864 Civil War reports, signed by several 2nd Corps officers, resulting from a commissary investigation of a combat division in the Union's Army of the Potomac. Completed at the beginning of the Petersburg Campaign, just days prior to the Battle of the Crater, the combined reports were written out by an unknown officer in the commissary department of the 3rd Division (Birney's) of the 2nd Corps. It was signed at the bottom of the fifth page by the report's author and division inspector, Major John Willian (formerly of the 6th New Jersey). Investigators had looked through the books of each of the division's brigades, paying particular attention to the invoiced prices on whiskey and other items received by brigade commissaries, compared with the unfairly high prices those commissaries charged to officers. In the end, Willian found quite a mess in the 3rd Brigade (Mott's) and was particularly critical of the 8th New Jersey.

The document is then docketed on the reverse (sixth page) with several acknowledgements, including a lengthy entry by Colonel Charles Hale Morgan at 2nd Corps who forwarded to Major General Winfield Scott Hancock with the recommendation that any commissary officers "who have been in the habit of exacting more than the invoiced price for brought to trial." Morgan's signature is found at the end of his entry. Hancock agreed that the men should be brought up on charges (signed by Hancock's adjutant, Colonel Francis Amasa Walker). The document was returned, then, to Morgan, who again signed and returned it to Willian, the division inspector. However, Willian wrote back to Morgan indicating that the evidence against Captain Crawford was weak, "and in the opinion of the Brig Insp as well as my own, if brought to trial not strong enough to result in conviction."

The various reports occupy three full sheets each measuring about 8" x 12 1/2". The three sheets have been attached with paste along their top edges only, allowing for easy viewing of each page. The document is in excellent condition, as shown. Very light toning and foxing. Lightest of wear to edges and corners. Creased where originally folded.

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The lengthy transcript follows:

Hd Qrs 3rd Division 2d Corps
Office of Division Inspector
July 24 1864

In compliance with Circular from Hd Qrs 2d A. Corps dated July 21st 1864, I have the honor to submit the following as the result of an inspection of the accounts and returns for June of the Divn and Brig commissaries of this Divn.


Report of 1st Brigade Inspector

I have personally inspected the returns and accounts of Capt. Geo. W. Comey C.S. 1st Brigade 3d Divn 2d Corps and I have ascertained by inquiry among the officers of every regiment of this Brig the prices charged for subsistence stores. These prices do not vary from the established rates except when by reason of fractional parts of a cent or inability to make change some unimportant overcharges were made.

The established price of Whiskey has been 75 cts per canteen while it has beeninvoiced at $1.12 $1.44 and $1.46 per gallon. The C.S. justifies these charges by the statement that some canteens hold half a gallon.

In the matter of altering provision returnes to cover deficiencies, I am unable to report at present fully.

While on the march rations have been issued in the night, or in a hurry, and no record or no memoranda has been taken thereof by the Regt Qr Mr or Com Sergts and I have not been able to procure any data from which to compare the number of rations issued to the regiments during the months of May or June, with the number borne on the provision returns.

Where rations are approved ten days in advance and battles intervene reducing the number of men before the ten days are out, I see no reason why fraudulent issues cannot be made without a chance for detection.

Where duplicate Provision Returns are not deposited in the Adjutant Generals Office or elsewhere and memoranda not taken of issues by regiments, I see no reason why provision returns cannot be easily altered to cover any loss or deficiencies.

I have not been able to find in the Brigade any such alterations or evidence of fraud and from what information I have gathered and investigations I have made, I should not say that any have been made.

The foregoing suggestions are merely made to show what chances exist for fraud if officers of the Com Dept are so inclined and with the intention of calling attention to the manner in which it has been customary to issue subsistence to the troops on a campaign.

Very respectfully
Your obt. servt
(sd) E. B. Houghton
Capt. and Brig Insp


Report of 2d Brig Insp.

I have made a careful examination of the accounts and returns for June, of the Commissary of this Brigade, and find that in the main staples viz. Sugar, Coffee, Tea &c there has been n overcharge unless it was to make change or the fractional part of a cent.

In the article Whiskey I find that the Officers have been paying during the month of June 90 its per canteen making $2.40 per gallon and I find the Whiskey has been invoiced to the Commissary at $1.12 $1.46 and $1.73 per gallon.

As yet I have failed to discover any instance where Comsy Sergts or Clerks had sold provisions on their own account.

The number and kind of rations stated as issued on Abstract of issues in the Commissary returns corresponds with what the regiment reported as received.

Very respectfully
Your out. serve.
(sd) W. H. Loyd
Capt. and Brig. Insp.


Report of 3d Brig. Inspr.

I have made a careful inspection of the returns and accounts of the Commissary of thie Brigade and by comparing the price at which stores are invoiced and price lists furnished, with the statements of Officers purchasing at Commissary, I find the following discrepancies.

White Sugar invoices at 20 1/2 @ 24 cts per lb. sold for 25 cts.
Coffee invoices at 47 @ 50 1/2 cts per lb. sold for 43, 48, 51, & 52
Tea invoices at 85, 99 @ 105 cts per lb. sold for 95, 100, 110
Pickles invoices at 58 1/2 @ 60 cts per gall sold for 80 cts per gall
Whiskey invoices at 144, 146, 178 cts per gall sold for 133, 200, 220, 240

In case of some other articles the Commissary has taken the fractional part of a cent.

From the improper and careless manner in which accounts have been kept in some of the regiments, I have found little or no evidence against the Brig Com or his employees, on which I can place much confidence. 

I find one regiment which acknowledges to have received more than the account of the Brig Com show he has received.

By personal examination of some of the Com Sergts of the regiments, I find them ignorant of their duties and unable to keep a proper record of the stores they receive and issue.

In the 8th Regt. N.J. Vols the accounts have been very well kept. The following is the difference between the amount of stores accounted for by the Brig Com as issued to and the amount acknowledged to have been received by that regiment during the month of June '64.

[Table shows discrepancies in potatoes, cabbage, etc.--see photos]

The difference here is in those articles most needed by the troops, and it is my opinion that it is more than the fault of the employees of the Dept than that of Capt J. N. Crawford (6th N.J.V.) Act. Com. Sub. of this Brig. for June.

Very respectfully
Your obt. servt.
(sd) J. W. Starbird
Capt and Brig. Insp.


Report of Division Inspector

I have made a careful examination of the accounts and returns of the Commissary of this Division and find that the prices at which he has sold subsistence stores to officers corresponds with the prices at which they were invoiced to him. Also the number of rations reported as issued by him, are reported as received by the Brigade Commissaries.

Very respectfully
Your obt. servt.
John Willian
Maj. 6th N.J. Vols
Divn. Insp.

Lieut Col. C. H. Morgan
Asst. Insp. Gen.
2d A.C.

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