Monday, May 20, 2013

May 21, 1863 (Thursday): Of Officers and Whiskey

Brigadier-General WILLIAMS,
Assistant Adjutant-General, &c.:
    GENERAL: In reply to the inclosed, I would respectfully state that I have no reason to doubt the truth of the charges against purveyors and caterers. A privilege,at first accorded to officers for the purpose of enabling them to obtain articles of necessity to them, and not embraced in the Sutler's list, or where it was impossible for sutlers to furnish them, has become an evil of enormous magnitude, flooding the army with intoxicating drinks, and loading down steamboats and railroad trains with articles entirely unnecessary, in the way of table delicacies, &c.
    The facilities afforded to these purveyors for obtaining transportation by the use of officers' names enables them to supply not only the officers of their respective commands, but to sell to the soldiers. The caterers are frequently detected in these nefarious transactions, and sent beyond the lines, but the facilities for rascality in their line are so numerous that it is almost impossible to prevent the abuse of these purveyors' pursuits.
I regret to say that the root of the evil is with the officers who give orders for unreasonable purchases, and the commanders who indorse them. Frequently the allowance of liquors on these orders for one officer per day has been from one to three bottles of whisky, and as high as a gallon and two gallons of fermented beverages additional. The vast numbers of purveyors, caterers, messengers, clerks, employes, &c., hanging upon this army are a curse to it; and refugees from taxation and conscription at home are fattening upon the plunder obtained here.
     Very respectfully, your obedient servant,

    M. R. PATRICK,
    Provost-Marshall General.

A complaint of Crosby and other sutlers in relation to the way they are treated. Cannot supply their regiments while purveyors and caterers are furnished transportation, &c. A copy on file, date May 11, 1863, referred to this office through headquarters Army of the Potomac, to be returned with report.

Series I., Vol. 25, Part 2, Page 513.

The best and worst in society turned out for the war and the officer ranks were no exception.  Discipline in the Army of the Potomac had improved in some ways under Hooker, but in his attitude toward strong drink there was room for mischief.  Officers north and south far too often imbibed to their disadvantage.

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