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Bids taken for beef cattle for the US government’s military use: Part 2

Penn Common 002The U.S. government contracted throughout the Civil War with civilian individuals or private companies to provide beef cattle for army usage. Many of these cows ended up feeding the front-line combat troops, but a significant amount was designated for army facilities scattered throughout the North. This included the U. S. Army General Hospital in York, Pennsylvania.

The bidding process at times led to bitterness and anger. Sometimes these business rivalries became quite personal, as in the case of Jacob Wagner. The Yorker held the beef contract for the Army Hospital through much of 1864. A letter arrived on October 22, 1864, at the military headquarters of the Department of the Susquehanna in Harrisburg. The writer, York butcher John F. Erwin, accused Wagner of disloyalty to the Union, a serious charge at the time, as well as providing inferior meat and skimming some of the beef for personal sale to some of York’s other butchers. The whistle blower (to use a modern term) related that Wagner had been a Confederate sympathizer to the point of naming his child for the general who invaded York the previous year.

The ensuing controversy would spark a series of bitter exchanges, with department commander Major General Darius N. Couch ordering a complete and thorough investigation.

Penn Common 001

York, Oct. 20th, 1864

Maj. Jno. S. Schultze,

Since I have written to you [about] the contract for furnishing Beef for the Hospital at York, there has been given to a man who certainly is not a loyal man, his wife was confined about the time of the Rebel invasion of Pennsylvania, when Rebel General Early was in York here, and they named the child which is a boy, Jubal Early Wagner, in honor to General Early being his full name, this Jacob Wagner is the man who is the lowest bidder at $10.50, Ten Dollars and fifty cents per hundred lbs. for furnishing the Beef for the Hospital, and I can prove that that he sold the Hind quarters of the Beef to Butchers, here in York, and took the front quarters to the Hospital, and that he killed Bulls Beef, and refused cattle for the Hospital, he is the man who has had the contract for the past six months, he is one of the worst Copperheads we have here, and our loyal men here are very much put out about it, from what I can learn he could not furnish good Beef for that amount of money per Hundred lbs. So I thought Maj. Genl. Couch ought to know something about it.

Your Obedient Servant

[not signed, but written by John F. Erwin]

Head Quarters Dept. of the Susquehanna
Chambersburg, Pa., Oct. 22d, 1864

A true copy
T. Brent Swearingen
Assistant Adjutant General

Docket on the reverse:

York, Oct. 20th, 1864

States that since he has written the contract for furnishing beef to the York Hospital was given to Jacob Wagner a disloyal man who has furnished an inferior quality of beef to said Hospital.

Head Quarters Dept Susquehanna, Chambersburg, Oct. 24, 1864

Respectfully referred to Capt. B. Granger, Asst. Chf. Coms. of Sub., Dept. of Susquehanna for thorough investigation and report. This paper to be returned with report.

By Command Maj. Genl. Couch

Jno. S. Schultze
A.A. Genl.

Stamped: Received Head Quarters, Dept. of Susquehanna, Oct. 31, 1864

Hospital beef c

Letter is from the Scott Mingus collection of Civil War documents.

John S. Schultze was commissioned 1st lieutenant and regimental quartermaster, 93rd Pennsylvania Infantry, Oct. 28, 1861; captain and aide-de-camp, April 25, 1863; major and a.a.g., June 23, 1863; brevet lieutenant colonel, and colonel, March 13, 1865.

T. Brent Swearingen was a captain in the 3rd Pennsylvania Reserves. He had been captured in 1863 and taken to Libby Prison on Richmond. He was cited for bravery at the 1862 battle of Gaines Mills (“…the colonel commanding cannot allow the present opportunity to pass without making special allusion to the heroic conduct of Lieut. T. Brent Swearingen, adjutant of the regiment, at the battle of Gaines’ Hill, who was always to be found in the thickest of the fray, leading the men by his daring valor and cheering words on to victory, in the midst of which he was stricken down by a ball seriously, but I am happy to say not fatally, wounding him.”). He was badly wounded at Fredericksburg in Dec. 1862 and taken prisoner.

He was also mentioned in a New York Times, Jan. 16, 1863, article.


The following were not well enough to be moved Jan. 8, and still remain in Libby Prison Hospital. The officers will be held until exchanged:Capt. T. Brent Swearingen, Assistant Adjutant-General, 3d Regiment Pennsylvania Reserves — shot through right breast, lung and shoulder blade fractured.

After the war Swearingen bought his brother C.E.’s store in Uniontown, Pa., and was an attorney, bank director, and insurance company legal secretary.

More to come…