Charles De Arnaud was the most infamous government claimant of the Gilded Age. He was “known by almost every public man in the country.” To some, he was a gentleman-soldier, who had served the United States at great personal cost during the Civil War and never received his full due. To others, he was an irrepressible fraudster, who shamelessly pursued undeserved money and honors for decades.
De Arnaud also was the most prolific government claimant of the time. From 1885 until his death in late 1905, among other requests, he sought a gold medal, a medal of honor, a veteran’s pension, and a $50,000 payment from the United States. De Arnaud haunted the hallways of Congress and bedeviled federal bureaucrats. The courts too, including the United States Supreme Court, were not spared his pleas; albeit others as often hailed him into court as he commenced the suit.
The saga of Charles De Arnaud reveals the law and politics surrounding the Civil War veterans’ pension scheme. Interlaid with this backdrop is a story of an indomitable fraudster’s quest for fame and fortune. As an epilogue, newly unearthed evidence provides the basis for an ultimate judgment on the worthiness of De Arnaud’s cause.