Beyond eliminating Negro slavery in the South, the war “hastened the transformation of the North from a country of farmers and small manufacturers to a highly organized industrial region.” The North had no shortage of those who saw no need to carry a rifle, as great profit awaited those supplying war materiel.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com The Great American Political Divide
The North’s Extended Payday
“With the war, too, came what moral philosophers have said was moral decay in wholesale volume, an apparently illimitable increase in man’s cupidity. Scandals uncorked during and right after the fighting showed that [Northern] soldiers had been given clothing and blankets made of shoddy, technically a material of reclaimed wool, such as old rags, which gave a new term to our language.
Soldiers also got boots made largely of paper; they were fed meat that had come from diseased cattle and hogs; they rode hags that had been doctored to make a sale to the cavalry. Only too often the very guns put into their hands would not shoot. One big order for such weapons, refused by ordnance offices in the East, was sold and shipped to General [John] Fremont in the West.
Likely the moral condition of the country was lower than usual. Perhaps the moral philosophers should take into account the possibility that man’s inherent cupidity fluctuates, like a thermometer, with the number and quality of opportunities to commit theft, legal or otherwise; that the honesty of too few men is constant.
The decade after 1865 in the United States appears in retrospect to be an extended payday for the vast military exploit just concluded. Somebody observed it was as if Booth’s bullet had released all the chicanery and cupidity of thirty-five million people. Pastor’s warned that God’s hand would smite the Republic. And yet, the more numerous and grosser sort continued to admire the “smart” man.
The most notoriously smart figures of the postwar period in the United States were three characters who without too much exaggeration were also known as the men of disaster. They were Daniel Drew, Jay Gould, and Jim Fisk. Many called them wreckers, “Foul hyenas,” said an editorial writer of the time, “who when their prey was full rotten came to sink their slavering jaws into the carrion.”
As a big herd of anywhere from six hundred to a thousand head of Ohio beef approached New York City, Drew had his drovers salt them well, then, just before reaching the market place, let them drink their fill. Cattle were sold live-weight. Drew’s processing with salt and water added many tons to the average herd [and] “Watered stock” soon became a term in Wall Street.
Jim Fisk was a genial, handsome fellow . . . Both men and women liked him. He could sell them stuff they did not want before they realized they had bought it. When New Orleans fell into federal hands, Fisk took off to buy cotton for a Boston syndicate, which made a mint of money quickly.
(The Age of the Moguls, Stewart H. Holbrook, Doubleday and Company, 1953, excerpts, pp. 20-24)