Would you believe that we in the 21st century are not the first to experience charity scams? Well it’s true. And I’m sure it goes back as far as you can possibly imagine, but because the Civil War era is the one I “study” that will be the one I mention here.
I’ve started several novels (finished two) that take place in and around Harrisburg, PA in 1863. To write about the citizens of that time, I had to do a lot of research and much of it involved Camp Curtin Army camp.
When the camp was first set up, there was little in the way of authority. The officer in charge changed as often as a group was brought in or shipped out. So the troops were at the mercy of the public. And the public were as generous as they could be.
Trains loaded with grain, and cattle were sent to feed the thousands that camped and eventually, trained there. The local establishment kept the flour mills in business. Local bakers as well as the Harrisburg Hospital for the Insane prepared hundreds of loaves of bread, and local farmers sent vegetables, wives baked pies and cakes.
So where are the scams? There are always some nere-do-wells who just want to get that last penny from the government. Some providers of hardtack, bread, flour and even animal feed sold old product, moldy and rotting food as fresh. Even the cooks at the camp took advantage of having vast amounts of food available and would steal it and resell it back to the army. One of the most common was the drying and reselling of used coffee grounds-cheap, Most of the old coffee went to the public.
And there were legitimate groups who collected money for the support of the soldiers, to give them a meal as they traveled to the army camps, to give them Bibles, and religious tracts, and as the war continued, to provide the orphans and widows with help to pay bills and live.
What can I say? There isn’t much new in the world–some of the people that claimed to be working for these groups, were not, and they made off with the proceeds collected from those with little to give in the first place.