First in His Class: Captain Oberlin Carter and the Savannah Harbor Scandal


Captain Oberlin M. Carter was one of the army's rising stars in the 1890s. He graduated first in his class at West Point in 1880 and had distinguished himself as a brilliant officer in the engineer corps. In charge of harbor improvements in Savannah, he changed the depth and course of the Savannah River to allow unprecedented import and export of goods. The citizens of Savannah admired him and grieved when he was posted as military attache to London. In 1897, the army summoned him back to Savannah to face charges that he and two civilian conspirators had defrauded the federal government of millions of dollars by fixing the bidding process upon which the corps of engineers awarded contracts. Found guilty at the longest court-martial in the history of the army, Carter was sentenced to a fine of $5,000, loss of his rank, and imprisonment for five years at hard labor.

Carter said in 1900, "I am entirely innocent, and I shall not rest until my innocence, proven at my military inquisition, is officially proclaimed. It was proven that not one dollar of public funds was ever misappropriated nor misapplied by me, and that the government was never defrauded through me in any manner whatever." Was he, as he insisted, a victim of clever manipulation by the civilian contractors? Was he convicted by fellow officers who were jealous of his successes and public adoration? Or did he, in fact, commit these crimes? He never acknowledged his guilt and appealed his case until his death at age 88 in 1944. First in His Class examines the entire record of this famous case that shocked the public at the turn of the last century.

Philip W. Leon

2009, 5½x8½, paper, index, 314 pp.

ISBN: 9780788450228