A History of the Civil War, 1861-1865/Chapter XII
CONDITIONS in the Southern Confederacy were novel in that the community was cut off by the blockade from any extensive intercourse with the outer world. As the North was the stronger naval power the blockade was clearly obvious and was proclaimed by the President one week after the firing on Sumter. Although at first not thorough it gradually increased in efficiency and proved one of the important agencies in deciding the war. But Lincoln and Grant saw plainly that peace could not be had until the Southern armies had been fought to a finish of destruction or surrender. To this end the patient work of the navy in blockading the Southern ports was a grateful and necessary aid to Grant and Sherman in their decisive operations. But the blockade of itself might have been maintained even unto the crack of doom if Lee’s and Johnston’s armies remained intact, living in a fertile country cultivated by a mass of negro non-combatants, clothed from an excess supply of cotton and a limited supply of wool. The relation between our army and navy during the Civil War was the same as between the British army and navy in 1914 when the English fleet had effectually blockaded the German ports and kept the German fleet in a safe harbor. Said the London Times, “The Navy [is] our shield, the Army our sword.”
The blockade was a source of acute discomfort to the Southern people, cutting them off from most luxuries and many necessaries. Salt, coffee, tea, soap, candles, matches, glue advanced enormously in price and were extremely scarce. The blockade taught lessons of economy, causing highly bred young women of Charleston to dress in homespun and Richmond gentlemen to wear last year’s clothes. Brooms, chairs, baskets, brushes, pails, tubs, kegs, slate pencils and knitting needles were scarce. Ink began to be made in the home by a crude process. In the news columns of the Charleston Courier, it was announced that a man in Caswell County (N. C.) was manufacturing writing ink which he would furnish in any quantity to those who would provide their own bottles. A Richmond apothecary advertised that he could not fill prescriptions unless persons requiring medicines should bring their own phials. But many common medicines were hard to get. The medical purveyor at Richmond appealed to the ladies of Virginia to cultivate the poppy so that opium might be had for the sick and wounded of the army. Various things were popularly suggested to take the place of quinine and other medicines. The surgeon-general sent out officially a formula for a compound tincture of dried dogwood, poplar and willow bark and whiskey “to be issued as a tonic and febrifuge and substitute as far as practicable for quinine.” Quinine and morphia were articles greatly desired in the trade with the North. All possible means were used to obtain these and other drugs and a large amount of smuggling was at one time carried on from Cincinnati by men and women devoted to the Confederate cause. In October, 1862, when General Sherman was in command at Memphis, an imposing funeral headed by a handsome city hearse, with pall and plumes, was allowed by the guards to pass through the Union lines: the coffin which was borne by the hearse contained a lot of well-selected medicines for the Confederate army. A large doll filled with quinine was brought through the lines in a trunk from New Orleans; when it was scrutinized, the owner declared with tears in her eyes that the doll was for a poor crippled girl; this ruse was likewise successful in passing it through without the discovery of its precious burden.
No deprivation was felt so keenly as the lack of tea and coffee. “Tea is beyond the reach of all save the most opulent,” said the Charleston Courier in April, 1862. “I have not tasted coffee or tea for more than a year,” is an entry of Jones on February 4, 1864. Rich people even abstained from the use of tea in order that the small supply should be saved for those who were ill. The hospitals procured coffee for a while, but on December 2, 1863, the surgeon-general ordered its discontinuance “as an article of diet for the sick. In consequence of the very limited supply,” he added, “it is essential that it be used solely for its medicinal effects as a stimulant.” People resorted to all kinds of substitutes. Parched rye, wheat, corn, sweet potatoes, chestnuts, peanuts, chicory and cotton seed took the place of the Arabian berry, but all agreed “that there was nothing coffee but coffee.” For tea a decoction of dried currant, blackberry and sage leaves, of sassafras root or blossoms was drunk and some tried to make themselves believe that the substitute was as good as China tea. Fremantle, during his travels through the South, tasted no tea from April 6 to June 17, 1863, when some “uncommonly good” was offered him at President Davis’s house.
In 1862, may be noted a scarcity of salt and anxiety as to a future supply, especially for the army, as salt meat was a large part of the army ration. The governor of Mississippi wrote to Davis that “the destitution of salt is alarming,” and the governor of Alabama, in a letter to the Secretary of War, said, “The salt famine in our land is most lamentable.” The “earthen floors of smokehouses, saturated by the dripping of bacon, were dug up and boiled” that no salty material be left unused. Sea-water was to a large extent utilized to provide for the deficiency, but a more valuable source of supply was the saline springs of southwestern Virginia. The commonwealth of Virginia embarked on the manufacture of salt and made regulations for its distribution to the public. Other States followed her example so that the salt famine was to some extent mitigated.
Another serious hardship arose from the scarcity of paper. Many of the newspapers were gradually reduced in size and were finally printed on half sheets. Sometimes one sheet would be brown, another wall paper. Even the white paper was frequently coarse; and this, together with inferior type, made the news sheet itself a daily record of the waning material fortunes of the Confederacy. The Richmond Examiner said that the editorials of the journals were written on “brown paper, waste paper, backs of old letters and rejected essays, unpaid bills, bits of foolscap torn from the copy books of youth and the ledgers of the business men.” An Alabama editor used a shingle; when one editorial was set up he would wipe it out and write another. Another editor employed in a similar way his schoolboy slate. An advertisement in the Charleston Courier ran that no more orders for Miller’s Almanac for 1863 could be filled unless forty or fifty reams of printing paper could be purchased. Mrs. MacGuire could not get a blank-book in which to continue her diary and was obliged to use wrapping paper for the vivid account of her daily experiences. Mrs. Putnam states that their family and friendly letters were written on paper which they would hardly have used for wrapping paper before the war. Envelopes which had been received were frequently turned inside out and used for the reply. Curry relates that the tax receipts given for the produce of his farm in Alabama were written on brown paper and had “a dingy archaic appearance.” Citizens “as a boon to the press and the public, nay the government itself” were urged to send their accumulated rags to the paper manufacturers. There was danger of an iron famine and certain other metals were in short supply. Information came to the Charleston arsenal that many patriotic citizens were willing to contribute their lead window weights to the Government for war purposes and the captain of the corps of artillery in charge offered to replace them with iron. The editor of the Charleston Courier offered the lead water pipe in his residence “as a free gift to my beloved and imperilled country.” Other similar offers were made and church bells were proffered that their metal might be melted and cast into cannon.
Contemporary writings are full of complaints of lack of bread and meat. “Hunger,” wrote Professor Gildersleeve, “was the dominant note of life in the Confederacy.” While this was true of Virginia, which largely had Lee’s army to feed and suffered from the devastation of the Northern armies, the rest of the Confederacy was, on the whole, pretty well supplied with food, although there was suffering from the short crop of cereals of 1862 in many States owing to a severe drought. But if the railroads had been in shape to do their proper work of distribution, all parts of the Confederacy would have been well supplied. During this year of 1862, Texas had a large crop of grain and was able to supply contiguous parts of the Confederacy with grain, beef and mutton, but next year such commerce would have been stopped by Grant’s capture of Vicksburg and possession of the Mississippi river. While Virginia complained of scarcity, Sherman, in January, 1863, reported abundant supplies in Mississippi. “We found cattle and fat ones feeding quietly,” he wrote. “The country everywhere abounds with corn.” Grant’s cutting loose from his base in May, 1863, and living upon the country is a well-known episode; and during the autumn of 1864, Sherman’s army in Georgia revelled in plenty while Lee’s soldiers almost starved in Virginia. The whole difficulty was one of transportation.
In 1861 the railroads began to deteriorate, and as the years went on their condition got worse and worse. “The wear and tear” of a railroad is enormous and can be counteracted only by constant repair and renewal which in this case was impossible. In time of peace every article of railroad equipment had been purchased at the North. While freight cars were constructed at the South “every bolt and rod, every wheel and axle, every nail, spike and screw, every sheet of tin, every ounce of solder, every gallon of oil and every pound of paint” came from Northern workshops, and factories, as did likewise, for the most part, passenger cars and locomotives: if these last were sometimes made at the South, this concession to local patriotism or convenience cost much in money. At the same time with decay came increased business, one element in which was the transportation of food to great distances for the army and cities. In 1862 a good crop of Indian corn in southern Georgia and Florida and the poor one elsewhere east of Louisiana required equalization which the railroads were called upon to effect. They hauled a considerable amount of provisions and other freight but, in 1862 and the succeeding years, were utterly unable to satisfy the demands of the Government and the public. In April, 1863, there were 6300 miles of railroad in the Confederacy, exclusive of those in the hands of the enemy, which was enough considering that they were conveniently located to handle the Government traffic and serve the public to some extent, if they could be used to the full. But owing to the deterioration of the permanent way and lack of equipment, few trains were run and as compared with Northern practice at the same period, the train-load was light. From everywhere came complaints. Cities wanted food which the railroads could not bring. In January, 1864, it was said that Indian corn was selling at $1 and $2 a bushel in southwestern Georgia and at $12 or $15 in Virginia. Another Richmond authority, at the close of that year, was sure that everyone would have enough to eat if food could be properly distributed.
The possession of the railroads by the Northern armies as they advanced interfered with proper transportation. This is exemplified by a comparison of the railroad guides for 1863 and 1864. Under the head of certain railroads instead of the time table one may read “The Yankees have possession of a portion of this road at present” or “The entire road is in the hands of the Yankees.” These indications were more numerous in 1864 than in 1863.
Government work continually encroached on the ordinary business of the railroads, yet this was by no means well done. The public suffered as well as the army. Mails were irregular and long delayed; newspapers failed to be received or, when they came to hand, were many days old. The traveller on the railroad encountered difficulties and dangers, of which the two railroad guides published at the South gave no inkling. Consulting these, he might have expected in 1863 to make his journey at the rate of from fourteen to eighteen miles per hour, including stops, and, in 1864, at a rate not greatly less. But the indications of the guides were deceptive. The traveller was lucky if his train made a continued progress of from five to eight miles per hour. Trains were always late and connections were missed. Frequent accidents, many of which were fatal, happened because of the unstable condition of the permanent way and equipment. General Joseph E. Johnston, on his way from Richmond to Chattanooga in November, 1862, to take command of the new department assigned to him, was delayed by “several railroad accidents.” Fremantle gave a good-humored account of his experiences in June, 1863 between Charleston and Richmond. At Florence he was detained by the breakdown of another train, and when his own was at last ready he fought his “way into some desperately crowded cars.” After being transferred by boat at Wilmington, he had a hot and an oppressive all day’s ride in a “dreadfully crowded” train. “We changed cars again at Weldon,” he wrote, “where I had a terrific fight for a seat, but I succeeded, for experience had made me very quick at this sort of business.” Travelling as continuously as possible, he was forty-one hours from Charleston to Richmond, a journey which is now made in ten. Another Englishman mentions the conventional joke that “a journey from Wilmington to Richmond was almost as dangerous as an engagement with the enemy.” According to the official estimate of the capacity and the schedules, one or two passenger trains ran daily each way on the railroads, but at times the Government compelled the suspension of all other service in favor of the transportation of provisions for the army and of officers and soldiers returning to their commands. In April, 1864, a certain minister was unable to keep his engagement to preach a sermon at the opening session of the Presbyterian Anniversary at Augusta as, by reason of the military necessity, ordinary travel on all the railroads between that city and Richmond had been prohibited. Vice President Stephens gave an interesting relation of his attempted journey in May, 1864 from his Georgia home to the capital of the Confederacy, when he travelled northward from Charlotte in “a passenger car attached to a train loaded with bacon for the army.” On one dark and rainy night, he ascertained that there was a train five minutes behind his and that the only precaution taken against a rear-end collision was the placing of a lamp on the rear platform of his car. The locomotive steamed slowly up the grades but dashed furiously down-hill. While going up a steep grade, the cars broke loose from the locomotive and ran down the grade at increasing speed for two miles until, having reached the foot of one hill, they began to ascend the other and finally came to a stop just in time to avoid colliding with the train behind. After a while the locomotive came back and Stephens proceeded on his journey. Stopped at Danville by a fatal accident ahead of him and learning that the railroad had been cut by the enemy between Danville and Richmond, he believed that it would be almost impossible to reach the capital and therefore decided to return home. Suffering unaccountable delays he travelled a part of the way on a train bearing a large number of “Yankee prisoners and wounded Confederates from the battles of the Wilderness.” He had one seat reserved for him in the single passenger car; the rest of the train was made up of box cars, which the “Yankees” filled inside and out, they being given the preference in despatch to the Confederates, who in their wrath swore that “the Yankees ought to be killed; but instead of that they were cared more for than the men who had been wounded in defending their country.” In September, 1864, Thomas Dabney wrote from Macon that in middle Georgia the railroads were in the hands of the Government and all private travel was excluded except on freight trains. As a special favor Governor Brown’s wife was given passage in an express car, “a close box.” Dabney himself, desiring to take his family, servants and furniture from Macon to Jackson, Mississippi, chartered two box cars for several thousand dollars and they travelled thither on freight trains, stopping at night and not infrequently a whole day, consuming two weeks on a journey which with close connections could now be made in less than twenty hours.
For this defective transportation, from which the Government and public suffered, all sorts of remedies were suggested by Government officials and railroad presidents and superintendents, but most of them involved a development of manufacturing industries or an extension of commerce which was impossible. Lack of iron was the serious difficulty; if an adequate supply of this metal had been available, the railroads could have been kept in repair. How scarce it was is implied in the request that the Government impress the rails of an unprofitable railroad and give them to another company for the extension of its line. Indeed, such an expedient was afterwards resorted to. Army officers likewise frequently impressed cars and locomotives and ordered the rolling stock from one road to another without providing for its return. But on the other hand the Government made appropriations of money for the completion of certain lines of railroads.
A study of conditions in the South cannot fail to emphasize the dependence of modern civilization on iron; it will also cause surprise that practically nothing had been done to utilize the rich deposits of iron ore and the abundance of coking coal in many of the Southern States. Everywhere is one struck with a painful scarcity of iron. In a paper read before a railroad conference in Richmond, it was suggested that the Government make a public appeal for all the cast and wrought iron scrap on the farms, in the yards and houses of citizens of the Confederacy, and that it establish a system for the collection from the country, cities, towns and villages of “broken or worn-out ploughs, plough-points, hoes, spades, axes, broken stoves, household and kitchen utensils” with promise of adequate compensation. The rails of the street railroad in Richmond were taken up to be made into armor for a gunboat. The planters of Alabama in those very regions where iron ore in abundance existed underground could not get iron enough “to make and repair their agricultural implements.” The Charleston Courier complained that a sword could not be made in the Confederacy. A remark of a Union officer after the capture of Vicksburg offended the Confederate who reports it, yet it contains a pertinent criticism of a one-sided material development. The officer, noting on the iron stairway of the Vicksburg court-house the name of a Cincinnati manufacturer moulded on it, exclaimed, “Confound the impudence of the people who thought they could whip the United States when they couldn’t even make their own staircases.” The war demand stimulated the manufacture of iron in the Confederacy; but a comparison of the iron industry at the South with that at the North under the same stimulus shows rude and early methods contrasted with a practice which, though wasteful and untechnical beside the European, did nevertheless meet the exigency of the moment and become the parent of the preëminently scientific and practical processes of the present day. The iron blast furnaces at the South were small and of antiquated construction. The fuel used was charcoal, no attempt having been made apparently to smelt the ores with coke or raw coal. In the oldest iron region, Virginia, the constant cutting of timber for a series of years had made it “alarmingly scarce.” Ore existed in pockets which were soon worked out, and many furnaces had but a “precarious supply” of it which was hauled to them for miles in wagons, “in one case as far as ten miles.” If ore was plenty, fuel was likely to be scarce or else the converse was the case. Even if both were at hand in sufficient quantity to make ten tons daily, which was considered a large product, it was impossible to feed the hands necessarily employed, who must depend on the immediate neighborhood for supplies of bread and meat, since transportation of these from a distance was out of the question. In Alabama the industry made a better showing. It was a new region; fuel and ore were abundant and food could be had. Of the “large and improved” furnaces, one owned by the Government made an average of thirteen tons daily for a month. Georgia and Tennessee were the other iron manufacturing States and, in all of them, the work was obstructed by the steady progress of the Union armies in the occupation of Southern territory. Within the year ending October 1, 1864, ten iron furnaces in Virginia, all but three in Tennessee, all in Georgia and four in Alabama had been burned by the enemy or abandoned because of his inroads. Yet in a report of November 20, 1864, it was stated that eighteen furnaces were in blast in Virginia although their work was very irregular. In return for certain privileges and assistance, the Government took one-half of the production of iron at a little above cost and had for the remaining half the preference over other purchasers. The amount of iron reported as received by the Nitre and Mining Bureau is surprisingly small and the figures cannot adequately measure the production, which, nevertheless, by a liberal estimate, must have been insignificant as compared with that of the North.
Despite the unfavorable conditions under which they labored, the Confederates did not lack munitions of war. Through home manufacture and imports by blockade-runners, they always had a sufficient supply of small arms and ordnance; the small arms came chiefly from abroad, the field, siege and sea-coast artillery were produced mainly in the arsenals and workshops of the Confederacy. Their rifles were equal in efficiency to those used by the Union soldiers and breech-loading carbines were made in Richmond for the cavalry. During the last two years of the war, the Northern artillery may have been superior to the Southern. In 1861 and 1862 the Confederates captured many arms from their enemy, but in 1863 the conditions were reversed and they lost at Gettysburg, Vicksburg and Port Hudson seventy-five thousand stand of small arms and in addition a considerable amount of ordnance.
England and France desired the cotton and tobacco which glutted the Southern markets whilst the South needed the arms, munitions of war and iron which England could furnish in abundance. This desirable exchange was prevented by the blockade; hence it became necessary to resort to blockade-running—an enterprise which attracted capital by reason of its enormous profits when successful. This trade in 1861 was of an improvised character and was carried on by the Southern coasting steamers, whose regular business was gone, and by small craft which, though slow, had little difficulty at first in evading the blockade and reaching some near-by neutral port. Vessels laden with arms, munitions of war and merchandise cleared from Great Britain for some port in the West Indies, but their true destination was the Southern Confederacy and when their voyage was successful they brought back cargoes of the Southern staples. As adventurous business men in England and in the Confederacy became accustomed to the state of war and had constantly before their eyes the high price and scarcity of cotton in England and the low price and plenty in the Confederacy, with certain necessaries of war and articles of comfort in the reverse order, they discerned in these conditions a rare opportunity for profitable trade. Meanwhile the blockade was becoming steadily more stringent and the business of evading it grew from the haphazard methods of its earlier days into a regular system. Arms, munitions of war, blankets, army cloth, shoes, tea, soap, letter-paper and envelopes, fine fabrics of cotton, linen, wool and silk, cases and barrels of medicines, liquors, wines and other merchandise were shipped from England to Bermuda, Nassau or Havana, and there transferred to blockade-runners, which made their way to Wilmington, Charleston, Savannah, Mobile or Galveston. If these ports were soon reached, a quick and lucrative market was found for the cargo; and a return load of cotton or occasionally tobacco or turpentine, was brought to Nassau, Bermuda or Havana and there transshipped to the vessel which carried them to England. The blockade-runners were now specially constructed for their trade and a typical one of 1863–1864 was a low, long, narrow, swift, side-wheel steamer with light draught and a capacity of four to six hundred tons. The hull was painted a dull gray or lead color, which rendered the vessel invisible, unless at short range, even in daylight. In order to avoid smoke, Pennsylvania anthracite was used when it could be had, otherwise Welsh semi-bituminous coal. Nassau was the most important neutral, and Charleston and Wilmington the most important Confederate, ports in this trade. The blockade-runner left Nassau at an hour that would bring her off Charleston or Wilmington at night and the running of the blockade was rarely attempted unless there was no moon. When near the blockading squadron all lights were put out, the engine-room hatchways and binnacle were covered with tarpaulin and the steamer made her way forward in utter darkness. No noise was permitted; necessary orders and reports of soundings were given in muffled voices; steam was blown off under water. Often the blockade-runners escaped without being seen; sometimes they were chased but escaped; sometimes the pursuit was so hard that they ran ashore or were captured. It was a keenly contested game between these and the blockaders, only to be played by those loving the sea.
The tales of the blockade-runners are highly interesting, full as they are of the spice of adventure. Battling with the sea in overloaded craft, specially constructed to avoid other danger; feeling their way through the blockading squadron; now painfully making their port without regularly set lights, now detected, pursued and resorting to all manner of tricks to elude the pursuers; loving fog, darkness and mystery—they were cool, fearless, nervy men and their stories are highly romantic. Less thrilling the tale of the blockader. The blockade-runner chose his own time and had the excitement of the attempt, but the blockader must be ever vigilant throughout long periods of inaction. After days and nights of anxious watching, the emergency, lasting brief minutes, might come when least expected. The great extent of coast,—much of it having a double line with numerous inlets,—and the necessity for the blockading ships to ride out the gales at anchor, close to a hostile shore, made of this blockade an operation that for difficulty was probably without precedent: it was certainly the first time that the evaders of a blockade had the powerful help of steam. The eager desire to obtain cotton was another factor operating to the advantage of the blockade-runners as was likewise the proximity of friendly neutral ports. The effective work of the United States navy is measured by the number of captures and by the increasing difficulty of evading the blockade. Gradually port after port was practically closed until none were left but Charleston and Wilmington. Wilmington, owing to the peculiar configuration and character of the coast and the large island at the entrance of Cape Fear river, was the most difficult port of all to blockade and in 1863 and 1864 its trade with Nassau and Bermuda was large. On June 16, 1863, Fremantle, passing through Wilmington, counted “eight large steamers, all handsome, leaden-colored vessels, which ply their trade with the greatest regularity.” Blockade-running to and from port continued until the taking of Fort Fisher in January, 1865, but the risk of capture during the last six months of activity was great. Charleston remained open until Sherman’s northward march compelled its evacuation, but for a long while before this only the best-constructed steamers could run the blockade and the success even of these was rare. The work of the United States navy in the blockade was an affair of long patience unrelieved by the prospect of brilliant exploits; lacking the stimulus of open battle it required discipline and character only the more. But the reward to the country was great for the blockade played an important part in the final outcome of the war.
The cotton crops were made by the negro slaves and one of the strange things in this eventful history is the peaceful labor of three and one-half million negro slaves whose presence in the South was the cause of the war and whose freedom was fought for after September, 1862, by the Northern soldiers. The evidence warrants the oft-repeated statement that the blacks made no move to rise. “A thousand torches,” Henry Grady declared, “would have disbanded the Southern army but there was not one.” Instead of rising they remained patiently submissive and faithful to their owners. It was their labor that produced food for the soldiers fighting to keep them in slavery, and without them the cotton could not have been grown, which brought supplies from Europe and the North. Our great strength, declared a Confederate Army staff officer, consists in our system of slave labor because it “makes our 8,000,000 productive of fighting material equal to the 20,000,000 of the North.” One owner or overseer to every twenty slaves was exempt from military service in order “to secure the proper police of the country,” but a study of the conditions indicates that these were needed not as a restraining influence but for the purposes of intelligent direction. As a matter of fact, the able-bodied negroes remained on the plantations of the sparsely settled country of the Confederacy while, with few exceptions, the white people in the neighborhood were old or diseased men, women and children. Here is a remarkable picture and one that discovers virtues in the Southern negroes and merit in the civilization under which they had been trained.
The slaves came to know of Lincoln’s Proclamation of Emancipation and had a vague idea that the success of the Northern arms would set them free. As the Union armies penetrated into the country, negroes in great number, who had fanciful ideas of what freedom meant, followed them, often to the manifest inconvenience of the commanders. The slaves were friendly to the Union soldiers whom they encountered; they fed any who escaped from Southern prisons and, by handing them on from one to another, guided them to the Federal lines. At the same time they would conceal the valuables of their mistresses lest they should be stolen by the camp followers and stragglers of the Union Army, showing some craft in keeping the hiding-places secret. Thus they maintained a divided allegiance. Many Confederate officers were saved from death or capture by the care and devotion of their body-servants while other negroes served as guides to Union generals when important offensive movements were on foot.
The South came to conscription sooner than the North. An act of April 16, 1862, prompted by the Southern reverses, chief of which was the capture of Fort Donelson, placed in the military service all white men between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five. An act of September 27 of the same year extended the conscription to all white men between thirty-five and forty-five but at first only those of forty or under were enrolled, but directly after Gettysburg and Vicksburg, President Davis ordered that all between forty and forty-five should be included in the enrolment. On February 17, 1864, the Confederate Congress passed an act requiring that all white men between seventeen and fifty should be in the military service. “They have robbed the cradle and the grave,” said Grant.
As men became weary of the war desertion was more common. Compulsory service was disliked and evaded by many whenever possible. Homesickness and the wretched fare in the army were prolific causes of this abandonment of duty. Gettysburg and Vicksburg were potent arguments with the Southern people. “Dear Seddon,” wrote a friend from Mobile, “we are without doubt gone up.” Soldiers deserted by the hundreds; even whole regiments left at a time. Deserters almost always carried their muskets and when halted and asked for their authority to be absent from the army would “pat their guns and say defiantly, ‘This is my furlough.’” In the mountain fastnesses of South Carolina, bold and defiant deserters were banded together; with travelling threshing machines they worked their farms in common and congregated at still yards and houses where they distilled quantities of liquor and swore vengeance on any one who should attempt their arrest. Summing up the mass of evidence which came to the War Department, Judge Campbell wrote, “The condition of things in the mountain districts of North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Alabama menaces the existence of the Confederacy as fatally as either of the armies of the United States.”
The much rarer references to desertion in the official papers of 1864, the somewhat satisfied tone of Seddon’s report of April 28 of that year, the full ranks of Lee’s and Johnston’s armies and their heroic resistance are evidence that, through the influence of public sentiment and the persistently rigorous measures of the Government the evil of desertion had by that time been greatly mitigated. The military operations of the autumn of 1864, however, resulted in disaster to the Confederates whilst Lincoln’s re-election amounted to a notification that there would be no cessation of the vigorous onward movement of the Northern armies. A weighty recommendation that conscription be given up and volunteering resorted to again to recruit the army, and the fact that there were 100,000 deserters, are not reasons for condemning the Confederate policy of conscription, but they are among the many indications that the Southern cause was lost.The Confederacy was practically supported, in so far as its strictly defined financial operations were concerned, by the issue of paper money and from the proceeds of bonds which were paid for in the paper currency; in this medium the holders of the bonds received their interest. Owing to the stringency of the blockade the revenue derived from the export duty on cotton and from duties on imports was inconsiderable. No large amount of money was raised by internal taxation. An attempt to maintain specie payments would have been futile: $27,000,000 is an outside estimate of the receipts in specie of the Confederate government during its life of four years. Before the end of 1863, $700,000,000 of Treasury notes were in circulation and this amount was increased during the next year to $1,000,000,000, but the issues grew so enormously that apparently no exact amount of them was made public; it is even possible that the Treasury Department itself did not know the amount afloat. But this was not the extent of the inflation of the currency. The different States issued State Treasury notes; the banks expanded their circulation; Richmond, Charleston and other cities put out municipal treasury bills; railroad, turnpike and insurance companies, factories and savings-banks added to the mass of paper money. A large part of this municipal and corporation paper was issued in denominations below one dollar to supply the need for small change caused by the disappearance of fractional silver. In North Carolina ten-penny nails passed current at five cents apiece. At times postage stamps circulated. Tobacconists, grocers, barkeepers and milk dealers put out shinplasters. In 1862 the Confederate government began the issue of one-dollar and two-dollar bills and of fractional amounts under one dollar. It was a carnival of fiat money.
Early in 1864, it was conceded that something must be done to contract the currency. The financial history of the American Revolution and the French Revolution repeated itself on February 17 of that year in a measure of virtual repudiation. This was a provision for the compulsory funding of the notes into four per cent bonds; if the bonds were not taken, all notes of the denominations under one hundred dollars might be exchanged for new ones in the ratio of three dollars of old money for two dollars of the new. If neither exchange was made the old notes were to be taxed out of existence. This was really a confession of bankruptcy by the Confederate Congress and the President: the financial situation was hopeless unless independence could be won.
The people of the South recognized the superior resources of the North by accepting readily in trade United States greenbacks. They were quoted in Richmond and might be seen in the brokers’ offices. Another symptom of the debasement of the Confederate currency was the resort to barter. Manufacturers and merchants advertised in the newspapers, offering their goods in exchange for farm and other products. To obtain supplies for the army, wrote Seddon to Lee on March 29, 1864, we must not “recur to the most expensive and mischievous of all modes—the issue of a redundant currency.… I expect to introduce and to rely upon to a considerable extent a system of barter.”
Accompanying the redundant currency were apparent high prices. Contemporary and later writings are full of the subject and indicate the impression made on people’s minds by the advance of daily comforts and conveniences. Mrs. Jefferson Davis, drawing from her own domestic experiences and from private diaries, has presented many of the facts in an interesting manner. In July, 1862, when gold was worth $1.50, beef and mutton sold in Richmond for 37 1/2 cents a pound, potatoes $6 a bushel, tea $5 a pound and boots $25 per pair. In the early part of 1864, when $1 in gold brought $22 in Confederate money, she reports the price of a turkey as $60, flour $300 per barrel and in July of that year shoes $150 per pair.
Gold increased steadily in value and most articles of consumption followed until the extravagant prices were reached which prevailed in the last days of the Confederacy. That money was cheap rather than articles of food dear is signified by the experiences of two Englishmen. Lieutenant-Colonel Fremantle was in Charleston during June, 1863, and wrote that the fare was good at the Charleston Hotel, the charge being $8 a day which was equivalent to but little over $1 in gold. A compatriot sojourning at the best hotel in Richmond in January, 1864, remarked that he had “never lived so cheaply in any country.” It is true that he paid $20 per day, but that was equal to only three shillings of his own money.
The great concern of the Confederate government was to feed the army and, when its financial system broke down, it resorted to the tax of one-tenth in kind of agricultural products, and collected this tax by the impressment of food . The impossibility of supplying the army by purchase alone being now clearly recognized, the act of impressment inaugurated a far-reaching system of taking “private property for public use” and authorized substantially, within certain limits, any officer of the army to seize any property anywhere in the Confederacy in order to accumulate supplies or “for the good of the service.”
The outcry against the operation of this law was bitter, widely extended and prolonged; and the evils of impressment were thoroughly appreciated by the War Department. Some attempt, which was probably futile, was made to correct the abuses; its operation was conceded to be harsh, unequal and odious but inexorable necessity had led to the adoption of the policy and would require its continuance.
High taxation, loans and the purchase of food at the market price was suggested as a policy in lieu of impressment: all had become impracticable. In 1863 the currency in which the taxes were received was redundant and steadily depreciating; in 1864 it was scarce but worth still less than in 1863. All sorts of bond issues were tried and as large an amount of loans was floated as the market would take. That the amount of bonds was smaller in proportion to the amount of Treasury notes than one would expect was not due to financial mismanagement but to the paucity of savings available at the South for such a permanent investment. The surplus capital, as is well known, had been constantly laid out in land and negroes. By January 1, 1863, it became apparent that primitive methods must supplant the modern mechanism of business operations. The South had practically no specie, or, in other words, no basis for a modern fiscal system, consisting of a redeemable currency and bonds. She had no credit. At the outbreak of the war she was in debt to the North and to Europe. With the closing of her ports by the blockade, her chance of getting any credits in the marts of the world was gone. One has only to look over many schedules of goods that went out and came in by the blockade-runners to understand how insignificant was the exchange of commodities through this precarious commerce. The blockade-running and the trade with the North brought in articles of prime necessity for carrying on the war and all the cotton which went out was absorbed in these indispensable transactions: there was not enough of it to establish credits or bring in specie. The resort then to the tithe and to impressment was unavoidable. The tithe was, under the circumstances, an admirable method of taxation and, though it bore hard on the farmers and was the cause of complaint, the bulk of the testimony is to the effect that it worked well. Like much of the other statecraft, both North and South, it was a policy too tardily adopted because of men’s imperfect comprehension of the magnitude and duration of the struggle. It is now easy to see that it should have been imposed on the crop of 1862, which would have tended to make the later impressment operations less onerous. In 1863, affairs were at a pitch where impressment became imperative. The law was not at fault, but its administration was defective. A consideration of the grievances it gave rise to will show how a stringent law was rendered odious through negligence, lack of uniformity and undue harshness in execution. The sparsely settled region of the South presented grave obstacles to the efficient operation of the plan. The methods which had served this simple agricultural community in time of peace no longer availed: a system of administration by trained officials was needed to handle the enormous amount of business brought on by the war; and, in the ingenuity requisite to devise such a system, the South was far inferior to the North.
Yet though the South had no specie, no credits and no commerce that was not seriously hampered, she had land and laborers; and in utilizing these in a somewhat imperfect fashion she kept her armies and citizens from starvation and maintained the struggle for four years.
Richmond was near the seat of war and, after the battles, the wounded were brought to the city in such numbers as to demand unremitting labor to relieve their sufferings. In 1862, there were thirty-five public and private hospitals in Richmond; and churches were likewise converted into temporary abiding-places for those who had been shot in the field. Devotion to the Southern cause beat high in the hearts of their womankind, compelling well-born and fastidious ladies to the care of men wounded in every distressful and revolting manner and tormented by physical suffering, which, from lack of anæsthetics and morphine, the surgeons were often powerless to relieve. It was the case we all know— “When pain and anguish wring the brow A ministering angel thou!” But old as it is there is always fresh inspiration in it to those who tell the tale of a cause they have embraced. Confederate writings are full of gratitude to the women; their works in Richmond were matched everywhere throughout the Confederacy.
Heavily as the war bore on Northern women the distress of Southern women had a wider range. In the Union there were many families who had no near relative in the war; in the Confederacy it was a rare exception when neither husband, father, son nor brother was in the army: hardly a household was not in mourning. Moreover, the constant suspense affected a larger number than at the North. In Richmond, where intelligence of battles was received with comparative promptness, the frequent sounding of the tocsin, indicating the proximity of danger, increased the general disquietude, while those who lived in the country where newspapers were infrequent and mails irregular, felt they would have preferred living in the midst of alarms to having their anxious uncertainty thus prolonged. Physical privations are far from alleviating moral distress and the lack of luxuries and then of necessaries increased the harshness of woman’s lot in the Confederacy. The tale of poverty in its every-day aspect is familiar to us all, but at the South the contrast between life before the war and afterwards is most unusual and striking. In the domestic establishments plenty had been the rule, even lavishness. Tables groaned under the weight of food. The Southerners had been extravagant in their living and generous in their entertainment. Servants were numerous. Southern ladies who had never taken thought where food came from,—who had themselves never stooped to the least physical exertion,—were now forced by the advance of the enemy to leave their luxurious homes and take refuge in Richmond; there they might be seen in line before the cheapest shop awaiting their chance to spend the scant wages of “plain sewing” or copying or clerical work in a Government office, for a pittance of flour or bacon. No clerkship was given to a woman unless she would aver that she was in want, and in the Treasury Department one vacancy would elicit a hundred applications, a number of which came from ladies of gentle birth and former affluence. Other ladies accustomed to luxury did the menial work of the household. Such labor was peculiarly distasteful to the Southern-bred woman, yet this and the insufficiency of wholesome food were borne with cheerfulness in the hope of independence and the preservation of their social institutions. It seemed to them that the North had undertaken a crusade against the social fabric under which they and their mothers had been reared and that the war which caused their sufferings had been forced upon the South which was now defending her vested rights. The devastation of country, the wanton destruction in cities, the pillage conducted by the more disreputable Northern soldiers exasperated them to a point where they could no longer control their feelings but gave vent to violent expressions of indignation, some of which are recorded in the diaries of the period. “If all the words of hatred in every language,” wrote a young Georgia woman, “were lumped together into one huge epithet of detestation they could not tell how I hate Yankees.”
Fully as noticeable as at the North was the profound religious sentiment pervading soldiers and people. A preacher spoke of the “active piety” which prevailed in the army and Seddon attested “a large religious element and much devotional feeling.” George Cary Eggleston related that in the last year of the war a revival took place among Lee’s soldiers. “Prayer meetings were held in every tent. Testaments were in every hand and a sort of religious ecstasy took possession of the army.” In the annals of the Episcopal Church, an incident is recorded which serves pleasantly to relieve the general bitterness of the war. The bishops and clergy of the South appealed to their brethren at the North to send down two or three thousand prayer books and a quantity of church tracts for use in the Confederate Army: the United States Government gave permission for passing these through the lines of the Union Army.In concluding this survey, a comparison between South and North with respect to certain prepossessions of the two peoples naturally suggests itself. The Confederate Congress refused a number of times to make their Treasury notes a legal tender, construing the clause of the Constitution (alike in the Confederate and Federal) which related to the subject, more strictly than did the United States Congress: in the thorough discussions that took place, it was mainly the constitutional arguments which prevented such legislation, although this was advocated by many men of influence, among them General Lee.
In the practical application of the clause of the Constitution, “The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it,” the Confederate government exhibited the greater regard for the liberty of the individual, and the Southern citizen the greater jealousy of the use of arbitrary power. Lincoln from the first assumed the right to suspend the writ by Executive decree, a right never claimed by Davis. It was generally conceded at the South that Congress alone possessed this power and the privilege was available to the citizens of the Confederacy except when curtailed by express statute. And the Confederate Congress asserted its rights boldly enough, declaring in the Act of February 15, 1864, that “the power of suspending the privilege of said writ … is vested solely in the Congress which is the exclusive judge of the necessity of such suspension.” The war may be said to have lasted four years: the periods of suspension of the writ in the Confederacy amounted in the aggregate to one year, five months and two days, less than one-half of the war’s duration. In the Union the writ was suspended or disregarded at any time and in any place where the Executive, or those to whom he delegated this power, deemed such action necessary. For anyone who in any manner or degree took an unfriendly attitude toward the recruitment of the army, for political prisoners, for persons suspected of “any disloyal practice,” the privilege did not exist. It was suspended for one year, ten months and twenty-one days by Executive assumption and for the rest of the period by the authorization of Congress.
The provocation for the use of arbitrary power was, all things considered, about equal in the Confederacy and the Union. In the Union the “disloyal” secret societies were larger and more dangerous, and the public criticism of the administration more copious and bitter. There was, too, the organized political party which made a focus for the opposition and developed Vallandigham, who had no counterpart at the South. But these considerations are balanced by the circumstance that in the South was the seat of war which was never but for brief periods moved north of Mason and Dixon’s line and the Ohio river. “Civil administration is everywhere relaxed,” wrote Judge Campbell as early as October, 1862, “and has lost much of its energy, and our entire Confederacy is like a city in a state of siege, cut off from all intercourse with foreign nations and invaded by a superior force at every assailable point.” Where armies stand in opposition disloyalty may give the enemy aid and comfort so substantial as to decide an impending battle; far from the front it is apt to spend itself in bluster, threats and secret midnight oaths. In the Confederacy there was practically no important place east of the Mississippi river which was not at one time or another invaded or threatened by the invader. The courts, it is true, were open in the South, but, owing to the disorganized state of society, the interruption of trade and the passage of stay laws by the States, they tried few commercial cases but confined themselves to criminal jurisdiction and to decisions sustaining the acts of Congress; or on the other hand to issuing writs of habeas corpus in favor of those who desired to escape military service.
The press was essentially free at the North, entirely so at the South, where no journals were suppressed as some had been in the Union. As the Southern papers had little news-gathering enterprise and borrowed a large part of their news from the Northern press, they did not offend the Confederate generals as the Union generals were offended by the publication of estimates of the strength of armies or shrewd guesses of projected movements. Sometimes the Richmond journals, upon request of General Lee or of the Secretary of War, refrained from publishing intelligence that might benefit the enemy, but no compulsion was employed. The right of public meeting was fully exercised in both sections, but the gatherings for free discussion were much more common at the North.
Southerners believed that the Federal government had degenerated into a military despotism. At the same time the general belief at the North was that the Confederate government was a tyranny which crushed all opposition. The bases for both these beliefs are apparent. Theoretically liberty seemed surer at the South than at the North, but practically the reverse was true. Few men either in the Union or in the Confederacy had actual need of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus; but all able-bodied men at the South, who were not too old, were touched by the universal exaction of military service and all who had property were affected by the impressment of it at an arbitrary price fixed by the government. The Federal government may be called a dictatorship. Congress and the people surrendered certain of their powers and rights to a trusted man. The Confederacy was a grand socialized state in which the government did everything. It levied directly on the produce of the land and fixed prices; it managed the railroads; operated manufacturing establishments, owned merchant vessels and carried on a foreign commerce. It did all this by common consent and the public desired it to absorb even more activities. Frequent requests to extend the province of the general government, of the States and of the municipalities may be read in the newspapers and in the public and private letters of the time. The operations seemed too large for individual initiative and the sovereign power of the State came to be invoked.
It will always be an interesting question whether the affairs of the Confederacy, outside of the military department, were ably conducted. In the lower branches of administration, they certainly were not. Nor did the Secretary of the Treasury display sufficient capacity to cope with the difficulties which environed him. The post-office was badly managed and it boots little to inquire whether this was due to untoward circumstances or to the Postmaster-General’s inefficiency. The State and Navy Departments seem to have availed themselves of their opportunities. Benjamin’s work was not confined to foreign affairs, for he was Davis’s intimate friend and confidential adviser; but he was suspected of corruption and, through his cotton speculations, was believed to have carried to his credit in England a handsome sum of money. One part of this rumor was unfounded for, after Benjamin landed in England, he was for some time nearly penniless; and if he made illicit gains, he spent them in the Confederacy; indeed he was one of the men who had lived well throughout the war.
Davis naturally gave his attention to the War Department, of which the Secretary was said to be merely his chief clerk. If the frequently superfluous controversial letters of the Confederate President and Secretary of War be excepted, a study of the papers of Davis, Seddon and Judge Campbell will give one a high idea of their executive talents; indeed any government might be proud of the ability shown in these documents. A certain class of facts if considered alone can make us wonder how it was possible to subjugate the Confederates. And this would certainly have been impossible of accomplishment without great political capacity at the head of the Northern government and a sturdy support of Lincoln by the Northern people.
Lincoln was a man of much greater ability than Davis, yet Davis was a worthy foeman. Davis suffered constantly from ill health which was so persistent and so noised abroad that men were always conjecturing how the government would be carried on in the event of his death. In December, 1864, it was thought that he was suffering from brain disease and would surely die. His form was spare, his face emaciated and he looked older than his years. The cares of the Confederacy weighed heavily upon him. But he had a sweet domestic life and the devotion of a woman of brains and character. Those who like similitudes will recall that Lincoln and Davis each lost a beloved son during the war—“Willie,” at the age of twelve, from an illness; “Joseph,” a little romping boy, died as the result of a fall from a portico to the brick pavement below.
But if Davis had won he would have been a hard master to the vanquished. “Does anyone imagine,” he asked in October, 1864, “that we can conquer the Yankees by retreating before them or do you not all know that the only way to make spaniels civil is to whip them?” The moral height of Lincoln’s second inaugural address was beyond his reach. Perhaps one of the reasons for the success of the North is given in the words of Shakespeare’s “Henry V”: “When levity and cruelty play for a kingdom, the gentler gamester is the soonest winner.”
- Sept. 9. “Though the Navy can protect our shores, only an army and a well-trained army can bring a war to an end.” Spectator, Sept. 12, 1914.
- Those between 17 and 18 and 45 and 50 should constitute a reserve for State defence and should not be called beyond the limits of their own State.
- The Secretary of War.
- July 24, 1863.
- Assistant Secretary of War.
- Sept. 7, 1863.
- Report of Apr. 28, 1864.
- J. P. Benjamin, Secretary of State.
- This chapter is founded on Chap. XXVIII, Vol. V of my History and on a thesis written for me by D. M. Matteson “based upon a study of printed material to be found in the Harvard College Library and the Boston Public Library published since 1904.” “In all,” he writes, “I have examined about 70 books and perhaps 40 articles in magazines; and reports and proceedings.” In the course of his thesis he refers to: The Journals of the Confederate Congress; Vol. II, Georgia Confederate Records; Correspondence of Toombs, Stephens and Cobb; Civil War and Reconstruction in Florida, W. W. Davis; Correspondence of Jon. Worth; Alderman and Gordon, J. L. Curry; South in the Building of the Nation; Civil War and Reconstruction in Alabama, W. L. Fleming; Autobiography of Joseph Le Conte; Mrs. Burton Harrison’s Recollections, in Scribner’s Magazine; Cal. of Confed. Papers, D. S. Freeman; Blockaded Family, P. A. Hague; Southern Historical Society Papers; Diary from Dixie, M. B. Chesnut; Miss. Hist. Soc. Pubs.; A Confed. Girl’s Diary, S. M. Dawson; N. C. Hist. Commission Bulletin; Soldier’s Letters, J. B. Polley; Soldier’s Recollections, R. H. McKim; King and Queen Co., Alfred Bagby; British Consuls in Confederacy, Bonham; Va. Girl in Civil War, Avary; Doctor Quintard, A. H. Noll; War Time Journal, E. F. Andrews; Reminiscences, Mrs. R. A. Pryor; A. H. Stephens, Pendleton; S. Atlantic Quarterly; R. H. Wilmer, W. C. Whitaker; William and Mary Quarterly; Orange Co., Va., W. W. Scott; Thomas Smyth, Autobiography; Atlantic Monthly; Southern Girl in 1861, D. G. Wright; Julie le Grand, Journal; J. P. Benjamin, P. Butler; Autobiography of Brantley York; J. H. Reagan, Memoirs; Gulf State Hist. Magazine.