"One of the Effects of the War"
Army Contractor's Wife. "And say, Young Man, put me up a Diamond Necklass and a couple of Gold Watches along of them other things!"
This cartoon by Frank Bellew is the last of seven appearing in Harper's
Weekly from 1861-1863 which criticized government contractors to the Union
armed forces. During the Civil War, many businessmen received government
contracts to provide the federal troops with uniforms, blankets, food, and other
necessary supplies. Especially in the early years of the war, these
contractors came under fire for providing the armed forces with inferior
products at inflated prices.
An earlier cartoon (1861) charged that army and navy contractors "desire
either to rob the soldier or to cheat the government." Another
cartoon suggested that hanging a few contractors might be a valuable deterrent
to their shifty practices and thereby raise the quality of beef served to Union
This cartoon underscores the wealth acquired by some contractors by
presenting a richly-dressed wife of an army contractor who is able to buy
diamond and gold jewelry with her husband's allegedly unfair profits. The
fact that her wealth has been gained recently is emphasized by presenting her as
ill-spoken and ignorant ("them other things"). For some
businessmen, Civil War contracts did prove to be a key
ingredient in achieving industry domination and continuing prosperity.
Robert C. Kennedy