Liveblogging the Civil War False Claims Act: Secretary of War Stanton complains of fraud; an accused officer commits suicide

by Ben Vernia | December 4th, 2012

On December 4, 1862, the New York Times reported the highlights of a report issued by Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton on the progress of the war. Among other complaints, Secretary Stanton described fraud in recruiting, housing, and feeding soldiers (a recent case of which involved Solomon Kohnstamm):

The pay and bounty required by act of Congress to recruits have offered strong temptatious to practice fraud upon the Government by false returns upon the muster-rolls, and false charges for subsistence. Diligent efforts are being made for the detection of all such practices, and to bring the guilty parties — some of whom have held respectable stations in society — before a proper civil or military tribunal as soon as the necessary preliminary investigations by the Judge-Advocate can be completed. The same course is being pursued in respect to fraudulent contractors and disbursing officers.

Also on December 4, the Times reported the death of an Army officer accused of fraud (who had confessed while in prison):

A good deal of excitement is caused by the suicide, last night, of Capt. J.E. ELWOOD, an inmate of the Carroll Prison, adjoining the Old Capitol. Capt. ELWOOD was an officer of the regular army, and was for some time Mustering and Disbursing Officer, but about a month preceding his arrest, was relieved and placed on duty in New-York. While there he was selected as Colonel of one of the New-York Regiments, but shortly afterwards was arrested by order of the Secretary of War, and committed to this prison, in which he has been kept in close confinement for about three months. He was a native of Pennsylvania, known to a large circle of acquaintances, and very popular among his friends, and great complaint has been made in consequence of the rigor of his confinement upon unknown charges. This last feeling will be somewhat modified when it becomes known that his guilt, generously disbelieved by partial friends, was acknowledged during his confinement, in a written confession of frauds on the Government, which he afterwards endeavored to recall, but was unable to rescue from the inexorable grasp of the War Officer. The suicide was committed by severing the jugular vein with a pocket knife, and he was this morning found dead in his cell. A military inquest was held on the body.

The next day, the Times reported that a sweep of suspects, including the son of a Minnesota governor, had taken place:

MILITARY ARRESTS. About the time of the arrest of Capt. ELLWOOD, whose suicide was noticed yesterday, many others, among them citizens of some prominence, were arrested upon charges up to the present time unknown, all of whom have been and still are in close confinement in the prison adjoining the Old Capitol. It is presumed the charges against all are of a very grave character, otherwise the rigor which precludes even their wives and families’ seeing or communicating in any way with them would not be enforced. A son of Gov. RAMSAY, of Minnesota, is confined, it is said, in the same prison on charges identical with those against Capt. ELWOOD.

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