Virginia’s Killing Fields and War Profiteering
The immense carnage unleashed by Lincoln in 1861 led to Northern war-weariness by mid-1864 — and the suppression of liberties in the North had only increased opposition to his military regime. Lincoln’s war had unleashed another devil – war-profiteering. Historian James G. Randall wrote that “The relation of the War Department to the army on the one side and the contractors on the other is a sorry tale. Whether it was a matter of uniforms, food, horses, guns or munitions, the service was made to suffer while ill-gotten wealth was gathered in by shameless profiteers.”
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.org
Virginia ‘s Killing Fields and War-Profiteering
By early June 1864, war-weary Northerners began to suspect that they had been betrayed by rosy promises of victory, just as they had been disappointed in every spring since 1861. They had been led to believe that the armies of Generals Grant and Sherman, in their combined offensives aimed at crushing the Confederacy, would finally achieve the triumph that had eluded Federal armies through three years of slaughter.
This time, Grant hurled 115,000 men across the Rapidan and attacked Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia, a force only half as large but well entrenched behind elaborate defenses in the thicket of The Wilderness. Sherman led about 100,000 men out of Chattanooga, heading south to capture the railroad center of Atlanta . . .
As usual, the War Department sent forth cheerful bulletins about great “victories” and Northern newspapers blazoned headlines: “Glorious Successes – Lee Terribly Beaten.” “Our Army in Full Pursuit of the Enemy Towards Richmond.”
In fact, Secretary [of War Edwin] Stanton deliberately withheld the truth that Grant’s forces had suffered horrendous losses in the Wilderness, Spotsylvania and Cold Harbor battles and that they had finally moved across the James River to about the same place where General McClellan had been two years before.
In a few weeks of direct frontal attacks on Richmond’s defenses Grant lost more than 50,000 men – killed, wounded and missing – almost as many men as Lee had in his army. Other estimates of Union losses ran much higher. John Tyler, an officer with Lee’s staff, claimed that the total was 70,000.
“Grant has shown great skill and prudence combined with remorseless persistency and brutality,” Tyler commented.
Eventually the enormous casualties could no longer be concealed as the people read the lengthening lists of killed and wounded in their newspapers, and boatloads of maimed soldiers arrived at the Washington waterfront from the killing fields of Virginia.
Thurlow Weed observed a depressing scene in New York State: “Regiments are returning home worn, weary, maimed and depleted. Our cities and villages swarm with skulking, demoralized soldiers.” He also lamented that “there is a reckless, money-making spirit abroad which, profiting by our disasters, favors a long war.”
“The commercial metropolis of the Union is flushed with prosperity and riots in extravagance,” one newspaper found. Throughout the spring of 1864, the New York Times observed that speculation mounted madly, higher and higher. “It was openly proclaimed on the Street that too much could not be paid for railway shares or mining allotments, because the currency was going to the dogs.” War profiteers made a vulgar display of their ill-gotten wealth by wearing diamond-studded waistcoats and spending money freely on jewelry for their women, and riding in fancy carriages and entertaining with lavish parties in their expensive homes.
As far as wealthy pleasure-seekers were concerned, the war was only a dim and distant sound coming out of the South . . . They would not care if the war would go on for another year or so if they could keep their precious carcasses out of the army. They could hire their substitutes for a few hundred dollars each and let the Irish, Germans, and the freed slaves fill the ranks and endure the hardships of battle and risk their lives for the Union.”
(The Dark Intrigue: The True Story of a Civil War Conspiracy, Frank van der Linden, Fulcrum Publishing, 2007, excerpts, pp. 113-114)