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Bids taken for beef cattle for the US government’s military use: Part 3

Downtown YorkView of downtown York, Pa., as shown in this this antebellum chromolith image by the Baltimore firm of A. Hoen.

The U.S. Government at the start of the Civil War had contracted with various individuals and private companies to provide beef cattle for military usage. For the first 16 months of the war, the contract for the York County region had been awarded to the Gressley [sometimes spelled Gresly or Gresley by various family members] meat-cutting business at W. Market Street in downtown York.

Andrew Gressley was the patriach of the family. Born in Baden, Germany, he married a woman from Hanover, Germany, and then established a butcher shop in York after immigrating to the USA. Andrew and Rosanna had several children. However, trouble seemed to follow the family. Andrew faced charges in 1842 of assault and battery. Nine years later, his 14-year-old son John was convicted of “malicious mayhem.” By 1857, John Gresly (as he spelled it) had drifted westward into Arkansas. He fell in with a large party of travelers who were seeking a new life on the West Coast. They made their way into southern Utah, where on September 11, 1857, the 21-year-old Gresly and nearly all of the Francher-Baker party, including all of the women and older children, were savagely killed by Mormon militia and allied Paiute Indians in what has been termed the “Mountain Meadows Massacre.”

John’s brothers William Anthony and George (both later were artillerymen in the Civil War) also ran into trouble with the law. Only siblings Charles and Henry seems to have escaped legal issues. Henry J. Gresly became a sailor in the Union navy during the Civil War while his father and brother Charles Gressley fulfilled the government beef contract until Jacob Wagner obtained it in early 1864.

In the late fall of 1864, as Federal officials began investigating the anonymous claims that Wagner was disloyal and cheating by supplying inferior quality, the Gressleys also came under suspicion.

Penn Park was the site of the U. S. Army General Hospital during the Civil War. Beef contractor Jacob Wagner and butchers of the Gressley family were at the heart of a military investigation for malfeasance.
Penn Park was the site of the U. S. Army General Hospital during the Civil War. Beef contractor Jacob Wagner and several commercial butchers in the Gressley family were at the heart of a wide-ranging military investigation for malfeasance.

Major General Darius Couch, commander of the Department of the Susquehanna, issued orders in Harrisburg though his assistant adjutant general, Major John S. Schultze, to conduct a thorough investigation of Jacob Wagner. A rival butcher John F. Erwin, dug into the issue and uncovered a far-reaching plot which involved not only the alleged Rebel sympathizer Wagner, but also the Gressley family.

More ominously, two long-time Union army officers, including the official who oversaw the bid process, had concocted a lucrative scam to extort money from the York civilian contractors. Captain Brownell Granger, the Assistant Chief Commissioner of Subsistence, Dept. of Susquehanna, was the man who the army had asked to investigate the issue. Instead, now he was under suspicion.

John Erwin also discovered that yet another trusted military officer was running a different scheme, having against regulations kept a woman in a prominent York boarding house. The man, a lieutenant from Philadelphia, lied about his relationship by representing his concubine as his sister. This officer had been a patient in the U. S. Army Hospital for some time after being wounded in action at the 1862 battle of Antietam. After being discharged, the lieutenant had stayed in York and boarded with a Mrs. Eck, while at the same time running up a significant tab for whiskey at a local establishment. He had paid for both bills by giving a government-owned horse to a York man in trade.

The plot was getting thicker by the minute.

Here is the text of a dispatch Erwin sent to Major Schultze:

“York, Oct 24th 1864

Maj. Jno. S. Schultze,

I am still finding out more about this contract working. It seems Capt Meredith is doing his share. He is working for Wagner but I have not found out what he is to get for his share. When the two Gressleys had the first contract it was given out in Baltimore for 16 months & after they had it a few months this Capt Meredith was placed here [York] and he sent for the Gressleys [Greslys] & told them that if they did not give him ninety eight cents, on every hundred wt. they furnished the Hospital with beef why he would break up the contract, but finally they compromised by Gressleys giving Capt. Meredith twenty five dollars at one time for eight months. So I think giving out the contract last week there was the same kind of work, after Capt B. Granger opened the sealed proposals for delivering the beef he would not say anything about it until him & Capt Meredith took a ride out together. I saw them out myself & Capt Meredith is to receive so much for getting the contract for Wagner, the Rebel sympathizer. There is one Henry Meyers trying to get in the contract. He is a loyal man but is not worth one dollar, he with 3 other men went before a justice of the peace one year ago & each of them took an oath not to drink any liquor for one year. Meyers could not hold out more than 6 months so you can judge what kind of man he is.

There is another case which has come to light. Lieut. Buffin [likely 2nd Lt. George R. Buffum, previously second in command of Battery G, 1st Pa. Light Artillery] who was in York last winter owes his boarding to Mrs. Eck, who he boarded with, one hundred dollars & to T. A. Trumboe twenty dollars for [the] whiskey bill, and he gave T. A. Trumboe [spelled Trumbo in local newspaper records] one United States Horse marked U. S. & Gov. saddle & bridle for the both bills. He also kept a woman at the Washington House and passed her off for his sister. He is Lieut. in the 16 V R R C Rgt [16th Regiment, Veteran Regular Reserve Corps, first organized in Harrisburg in October 1863] and is now in Harrisburg. Capt [E. Charles] Reichenbach has the Horse now in his possession Q. Master at Harrisburg. I will find out the particulars, about the Beef Contract in a few days.

Your Obedient Servant,

John F. Erwin”

The situations continued to deteriorate as Erwin kept digging. Three more York residents involved in the butcher trade were soon also implicated in the ever-expanding investigation.

Here’s Erwin’s next report, this time bypassing Major Schultze and sending it directly to General Couch.

“York Nov 1st 1864

Maj. Gen. Couch

Capt. Meredith met the Gressleys, the butchers who had the contract for furnishing the York hospital with beef & told them that Capt. Granger said if they did not give them 98 cts on every hundred lbs of beef they furnished they would take it from them & finally they agreed to give $25 per month and Capt Meredith was agreed & so they gave him $25 for every month from September on till April & Capt Meredith said before this last contract was given out that he wished Gressley would get it as the other party had not offered him as much as a pair of boots yet. This much I learned of Gressley not an hour since.

This Wagner & Meyers who had the last contract & have the present one Meyers did cut of the rounds from the hind quarters of beef that was taken to the hospital & used it for making puddings & sausages for himself to sell at market twice a week & Rupp & Welsh took hind quarters of beef to market & sold them for themselves & the front quarters were taken to the hospital. This Rupp & Welsh were also concerned in the contract. All this is true I have found out about the man who received the beef at the hospital yet.

Your Obedient Servant,

John F. Erwin”

Epilogue to come!

For much more on the shocking Mountain Meadows Massacre and York native John Gresly’s presumed involvement and death in Utah, see the excellent book Massacre at Mountain Meadows by three recent Mormon scholars, Ronald W. Walker, Richard E. Turley, and Glen I. Leonard. Additional information on the Gressley/Gresly brothers and their service in the Civil War came from Dennis Brandt’s database of soldiers and sailors at the York County Heritage Trust.