Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Booknotes: John McDonald and the Whiskey Ring

New Arrival:
John McDonald and the Whiskey Ring: From Thug to Grant's Inner Circle by Edward S. Cooper (Rowman & Littlefield Univ Press Copublishing Division / Fairleigh Dickinson Univ Pr, 2016).

I anticipated that December was going to be a slow month for new releases, but by the midpoint I was expecting to see more than a grand total of two arrivals in the mail. This one was the first.

I reviewed one of Cooper's books before on the site, it being a pretty good small unit history of Company A, 41st Ohio. His new work explores the black career of John McDonald, who, according to Cooper, was the ringleader of the infamous Whiskey Ring that scandalized the Grant Administration. Apparently, he had an early career as a shady riverfront tough. As major of the 8th Missouri, McDonald early in the war fought with distinction in SE Missouri and during the Fort Donelson Campaign. Court-martialed after a fit of insubordinate rage, McDonald resigned his commission and redirected his efforts to war profiteering in Memphis, where he also used his insider status to sell draft exemptions.

After the Civil War, from the Grant Administration he received a patronage post of Supervisor of Internal Revenue, through which he conspired with distillers to defraud the federal government out of millions of dollars of alcohol tax revenues. What a guy. From the description: "McDonald organized and ran the Whiskey Ring but he always credited Grant with the initiation of the Ring declaring that the president “actually stood god-father at its christening.” The demise of the Ring rivals anything that the real or fictional Elliot Ness and his “Untouchables” ever accomplished during the prohibition era in America."

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