Sunday, October 1, 2017

Hard times for the sutler in western Virginia


Lt. Col. Stephen J. McGroarty, 61st Ohio Infantry
Campaigning in the mountains of western Virginia proved to be an arduous task for the Union troops who drew this assignment. For the sutler of the 61st Ohio Infantry, it proved not only arduous but highly unprofitable as shown by the following incident from June 1862.
The 61st Ohio Volunteer Infantry had been camped in the vicinity of Petersburg chasing after scattered bands of Confederate cavalry and bushwhackers. On June 11th, the regiment was ordered to march to Moorefield and there the trouble began. “Things are pretty high here and difficult to get,” related Private Edwin D. Miles of Company E. “Our lieutenant colonel (Stephen J. McGroarty) likes his bitters very much and not being able to get it as cheap as he thought it ought to be sold, they charging $1.25 per pint for whiskey and 25 cents for pies, he ordered the sutler to leave in a 1 ½ hours, which he did not comply with, and a soldier understanding the matter, he gave some encouragement to the boys and they pitched in. Artillerymen, cavalry, and the 61st Ohio took a very prominent part. He disputed and threatened and threw his boxes at some; it was getting dark and his tent was getting quite full, some of the soldiers with sharp knives cut the stay ropes and down it came on all of the heads and then commenced an indiscriminate scramble after sardines, cigars, tobacco, soap, envelopes, paper, peach brandy, whiskey, and all other things they could lay their hands on. I must say I am not guiltless, I took a little peach brandy that a man was serving out in a tin cup. I could view 50 men carrying away things at one time. The different captains of companies collected some of his things and returned them but he says he is $400 short.”
Typical sutler's tent
~Wilmington Watchman, June 26, 1862

Captain John M. Lemmon of the 72nd Ohio, whose letters are featured in my recent book Sherman's Prateorian Guard (available here http://www.lulu.com/shop/daniel-masters/shermans-praetorian-guard-civil-war-letters-of-john-mcintyre-lemmon-72nd-ohio-volunteer-infantry/paperback/product-23275456.html), had little use for sutlers, writing “of all the pernicious, wicked and swindling institutions known to the army is the sutler. These sutlers are a set of vampires who by virtue of a law which disgraces the statute book, are following the different regiments and taking from the unsuspecting and thoughtless soldiers wages almost as fast as he earns them, bringing want and suffering to the families of thousands. Not one of the articles vended by the sutlers is needed by the volunteers save tobacco and that should be supplied by the commissary. Ohio is voting ¾ of a mill of tax for the families and government is continually increasing the pay of its soldiers and yet this system of sutlerage is tolerated- a dishonor to the nation- and a system of robbery to the soldier.”
 
Lt. Col. McGroarty would doubtless agree- $1.25 for a pint of whiskey is certainly "robbery" to the thirsty soldier!
"It was getting dark and his tent was getting quite full, some of the soldiers with sharp knives cut the stay ropes and down it came on all of the heads and then commenced an indiscriminate scramble after sardines, cigars, tobacco, soap, envelopes, paper, peach brandy, whiskey, and all other things they could lay their hands on." Private Edwin D. Miles, Co. E, 61st O.V.I.
 

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