October 31, 1862, Tri-Weekly Telegraph (Houston)
We have made several appeals to the people to provide clothing for the troops against the cold weather. We have received a great many letters from the people on the subject, all declaring an eager desire to do something, but all complaining of a want of means. “We want,” says one, “looms, spinning wheels and cards.” “It will take a long time,” says another, “to learn the use of spinning wheels.” “Why will not the Government let us have cloth from the Penitentiary?” “Why will the Quartermasters not issue us cloth to make up?” We could give a hundred such replies as these.
We have ourself tried a dozen plans to do something, and found to every plan an insuperable objection. Our plans having been direct mostly to the government officials, have been frustrated by a net-work of “red tape.” The quartermasters and agents are all tied up to system which is necessary to keep them honest. Human propensity is so strong to steal from the Government that no one can be trusted. Nobody, we are told, knows how this is till they try it. We are willing to take the observation for granted.
This system is red tape, and to follow one of these red tapes, let us find a cloth factory—stop, let us find a sheep pasture. Shearing comes on, and with it comes somebody who “has got a contract” to buy wool. It passes through his hands to another who “has a contract to transport the wool.” Now, after a long journey, most of it from Western Texas to Georgia, it goes into the factory and comes out doubtless by contract. It now reaches the quartermasters. Of course they cannot keep a factory and a hotel both, so they issue the cloth to contractors, and they to sub-contractors, and they sometimes to poor women, who sew for next to nothing and board themselves, and sometimes to their shop-hands who are exempted from military duty, and it is made into clothes.—Back it goes to the quartermaster, and off by another coil of red tape to the soldier. The result is, the clothing costs so much that the soldier is stinted at best. The quartermaster has more business than he can attend to, and does nothing. The contractors, some of whom are now debarred by law from making more than seventy five per cent on their capital as often as they can turn it over, which may be in two, three, or ten days, live at ease, are well fed and clothed, and have their pockets well stuffed, while the soldier is fed on husks and clothed with———- RED TAPE. And it is not the quartermasters’ fault either because they obey the army regulations, and that is all the law, gospel, patriotism or common sense they have, or have any right to have.
What ought to have been done was to have imported, during the last summer, a million pairs of cards, even if we had to buy them of old Abe himself, and pay him in good middling cotton. Government should have done this. Blockade runners should have done it. Everybody should have thought of it. Some people did think of it, but not enough. Thirty thousand pair of cotton cards will go but little way in clothing half a million of people.
But what is now to be done? Nothing but to make the most of what we have got. Let all the cloth that we have, that will keep out frost, be made up for the soldiers, regardless of appearances. If we haven’t woollen, take cotton, double and pad it. If we haven’t cloth, take the sheets, and sleep in the blankets; or, if these are sent off, sleep on the floor, with the feet to the fire. This will be better than the boys who have gone to Missouri will get.
No time is to be lost, and we must do the best we can. Let us not stop to complain of the agents and quartermasters, and all the rest whose duty it is to clothe the soldiers, but whose business it is according to law and practice, to keep them from having clothing, but let us make up all we can, and dispatch it with trusty agents, not subject to conscription, for the army regulations wouldn’t care if they were taken and their loads of clothing left in the mud; and let us see that our poor boys, who fight for patriotism, and not for army regulations, are clothed, whether the regulations will permit it or not. In other words, let the people clothe the army this winter by going straight to work for that purpose. Perhaps the clothing the regulations are now preparing for the troops this winter may be ready for them by the next war!