Document Spotlight-The War Department Versus the Free Market

May 9th, 2013

Clothing and supplying troops in the early Republic was almost as chronic a problem as feeding them. Officers and quartermasters spent a great deal of time and expense contracting with suppliers to get uniforms and material; unfortunately, those officers often had competition on the open market. In this week’s document, transcribed by volunteer Deblegs, we see how that competition could play out.

The writer describes a situation where the War Department wanted to purchase a lot of winter clothing for troops. Private buyers, however, wanted winter clothing, and the fact that two different buyers competed for the same goods drove the price up beyond $50,000. This drove the War Department out of the race for those goods, and officers had to turn elsewhere for the goods. Their frustration is evident in the letter.

Read the original document here.

Next week we’ll feature another installment in our transcriber spotlight series.

It is not too late–there are many more documents awaiting transcription. Take a moment to register ( and choose a document to begin your adventure. You will be doing important work by adding to the historical record, and you never know what you will read!