Liveblogging the Civil War False Claims Act: Fraudulent claims for Battle of Antietam reparations

by Ben Vernia | October 15th, 2012

On October 16, 1862, the New York Times published a dispatch from Sharpsburg, Maryland, the town adjacent to the Battle of Antietam, which took place a month earlier. The paper’s reporter wrote that officers hearing claims for battle damages from town residents were beset by fraudulent demands, and one commissioner appeared to have conspired in awarding fraudulent damage claims:

That the majority of the people in Sharpsburgh are loyal to the Union is not doubted, and that with few exceptions the parties presenting estimates of damages are desirous of obtaining more than the fall value of the property taken or destroyed, can be easily substantiated. When professed Union people attempt to rob the Government, by making false statements, we have good reason to suppose that a small pecuniary inducement would transform them into avowed rebels. Not only do the Commissioners, according to their judgment, place a just estimate upon the damage sustained, but they are also subjected to the additional duty of first ascertaining if the property, as represented, ever belonged to the claimant. Numerous instances occur in which most outrageous frauds have been attempted upon Government. Not content with making double charges for property once actually owned, citizens have placed fabulous prices to goods and commodities which they never had in their possession. As a general rule, assessors have been too liberal with those claiming damages, owing to the fact of their being indolent and careless, or wishing to rid themselves of the business as soon as possible. A few days since, an officer who had gained an unenviable reputation by his free accession to terms, was ordered to report to the department at Washington, but before leaving took special care to destroy all evidences implicating him in dishonest transactions. The interests of Government, in this particular, can only be subserved by a careful and rigid investigation of the schedules presented, and we are pleased to state that the Commission now engaged give due consideration to the matter before them.

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