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Causes of Shortages in the South

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  • Causes of Shortages in the South

    Hello all-

    These are all citations taken from a book called "Ersatz in the Confederacy, Shortages and Substitutions on the Confederate Home Front" by Mary E. Massey. She uses over 117 primary and secondary sources for her information in Chapter 3 alone!

    There are some really interesting things that I think can really help us in keeping to an accurate portrayal at Westville. I hope you find them as interesting as I did. More soon. Thanks!

    - Matt

    Major Causes of Shortages-

    A lack of self-sufficiency, the blockade, inadequate transportation facilities, speculation, hoarding, generosity, government impressment, insufficient labor force, destruction by fire and sword, and natural phenomenon all stand out as major reasons for home front shortages. However, all these factors are interrelated. Seldom did a community suffer from the presence of one of these things, but rather from a combination of many of them.

    1. Blockade. Mostly ineffective in 1861, but starting to be a problem by mid 1862. As the months continued, the blockade became more and more effective. By mid to late 1864, only three ports in the South remained opened for business, Wilmington, Mobile, and Galveston. Items were brought over from French controlled Mexico into Texas, but not with enough regularity to be of much consequence on the Eastern side of the Mississippi.

    2. Inadequate transportation system in the South. This is a case of shortages of reliable and effective transportation causing shortages. A shortage of engines, the lack of maintenance on the lines, and the pressing need for munitions, clothing, and food at the front took priority over supplying the people at home. Lack of a common rail gauge, poor facilities for transportation, and the cutting of railroads by both armies further contributed to this lack of available transportation. In addition to lack of rail, there was a shortage of horses and mules. Poorly fed, impressed for service in the Southern armies, killed or captured by enemy forces, there were not enough draft animals to pull farm wagons to market.

    3. Speculation and hoarding were important contributions to shortages. No part of the South was immune from them. Lets look at speculation first.

    Speculation, simply put, is the buying or acquisition of a large amount of a single type of good so that it becomes a rarity on the open market. Salt, bacon, and leather were of particular attraction but it is also known that half a dozen men sought and gained control over the only two nail factories in the Confederacy. People generally complained more about speculation than any other of the war evils. Newspapers called upon the national and state governments to do something about speculation. In late 1861, Governor Brown of Georgia ordered that all salt held in the depot in Savannah be confiscated and sold to the public at $5.00 per sack. The Southern Confederacy newspaper reminded Governor Brown that "Impartial Justice requires that the Governor deal with all alike and put down all unpatriotic speculation." The editor also noted that Georgia's Constitution says that private property can be seized for public use and he encouraged the Governor to use that power. State and local governments were the first to try and counter speculation through the use of proclamations and appeals to their citizens. Often times, it had little or no effect. Farmers were often criticized for hoarding their crops in an attempt to sell them for higher prices.

    Hoarding was also a problem, though usually more of a personal choice then speculation which could be quite public. Large scale hoarding was unusual because there were not many in the South who could afford such a large outlay of money at a time. Grocers often would encourage their better customers to purchase items like cloth and coffee even as early as the summer of 1861. For those that hoarded, there were just as many who gave all they had to the Confederate cause, to the point where they had little or nothing left for themselves. The spirit of giving and supporting the soldiers was prevalent as long as there remained anything left to give. In the South women gathered together at regular intervals to sew, knit, and pack boxes for solders. These gifts were usually sent to hospitals. Food was the most popular thing that was sent to soldiers, but many times it went bad or spoiled before it arrived. Many ladies began to abandon the idea of getting anything to their particular soldier and instead banded together to feed and clothe troop trains as they passed through their towns.

    4. Impressment- In the prosecution of the war, the people at home were forced into a secondary position. The first thought of the government was winning the war, so the problem of supply was the greatest one the government faced. So serious did it become that a program of impressment was begun. The government in Richmond believed that impressment would cut down on speculation. It helped to clothe and feed the army, but at a cost to the people at home. The impressment policy was one of the most unpopular actions in the Confederacy. There was widespread resentment against arbitrary seizures and many denied the right of the government to impress commodities. Interior Georgia was a favorite source of supply for the government impressment agents working for the War Department. These agents were never cordially welcomed by the locals. James Seddon, Secretary of War wrote, "people in both the Carolinas and Georgia have vehemently opposed impressment." Many towns were forced to do without needed farm products as many farmers refused to bring their crops to down for fear of it being taken at "market price" by a government agent. Some farmers even threatened to plant no more corn, wheat, peas, or anything liable to impressment. The longer the war went on, the more the policy of impressment was expanded. Not only food was taken, but other commodities as well such as horses, mules, railroad iron, and even firewood.

    5. Substitutions and shortages of labor at home- With most of the able bodied men fighting, women and children now had to be depended on to grow food. "Many a woman who never held a plow" found her family dependent on her and therefore she learned how to plow, hoe, bind, and thresh grains, gather and shuck corn, and do many of the chores that were thought to be man's work. She cut wood, cleaned wells, and buried the dead as well as performing the normal women's tasks. With too little of this inexperienced labor on hand, production was necessarily decreased at a time where an increase was needed. The shortage of manpower on the home front was a paramount factor in the scarcity of food.

    6. The majority of the war was being fought in the South- As a result, many of the crop producing areas became forage grounds and battle grounds for both armies.

    7. Nature and accidents- Droughts occurred in the summer of 1862 in Alabama and Georgia and the Mississippi River had sever flooding in late Spring of 1861 and the summer of 1862. The Appomattox River flooded in 1864 destroying bridges, roads, and government warehouses in Petersburg full of supplies. Fires also destroyed manufacturing buildings and storehouses.
    Matthew Young

  • #2
    Re: Causes of Shortages in the South

    By April of 1863, Jefferson Davis urged that fields be devoted to growing exclusively corn, oats, beans, peas, potatoes, and other food for man and beast. He praised state actions that partially prohibited growing of cotton and encouraged growing crops.

    The Confederate Congress passed a tariff bill on March 15th adding an ad valorem duty of fifteen percent on all imported, "coal, cheese, iron in blooms, pig iron, bars, bolts, and slab, and on all iron in a less manufactured stat; on all railroad rails, spikes, and paper of all sorts and on wood." Every one of these items would become scarce in the South.

    The Confederate Congress would enact law that allowed Confederate blockade runners to unload cargo anywhere on the Confederate coast not just in designated ports.

    Silks, satins, laces, jewels, cigars, and liquors always had a ready market but in February of 1864, Congress prohibited their importation.

    In the Spring of 1863 the Confederate government passed a law to regulate impressment. They were hoping it would solve the problem of speculation. Instead it created discontent among the civilian population.

    Under the Act of March 26, 1863, the seizure of forage and all other articles needed for the subsistence of the army was to be made by officers appointed for each state. Appraisement of the impressed commodities was to be made by a committee of two "disinterested persons", one chosen by the owner of the goods, he other by the impressment agent. A certificate of payment was to be given by the owner. Another clause of the law gave the Secretary of War the authority to take private property for public use with compensation for such a seizure. The enforcement of the law became more severe as the war progressed. Foodstuffs, taken in wholesale quantities, horses, mules, and wagons were seized.

    So fearful were some farmers of their crop being seized by the government, they refused to bring it to market for sale. Thus a shortage was created in two ways, first impressment removed from civilian consumption many things needed at home and secondly, it created false shortages because people refused to make their produce accessible through fear of seizure.

    Closely following the impressment act was the "tax-in-kind" or "tithe law" as it was called. Approved on April 24, 1863, it required the payment of one-tenth of all farm produce that could be transported over long distances. There were exceptions to the tax law, but they only affected the very poor, the disabled service men who were not "worth more than $1,000" and the widows of men who had lost their lives in the were who were not "worth more than $1,000." The agents in charge of collecting this tax were often as disagreeable as impressment agents and the tax in kind was hated in the rural areas who preferred to pay in actual script than in goods.

    The people were critical of Congress, but even more so of the War Department. The War Departments primary role was to win the war, so naturally the needs of the citizenry were of secondary concern. It was the War Department that was responsible for the impressment program and feeding and equipping the armies. One group of Georgians wrote to the War Department protesting that their corn had been taken to be used to distill alcohol for the troops when their families were going hungry.

    So unpopular were impressment officers and tax collectors to the people, when dubious as to whom a stranger was, were said to "receive him like a tax-collector." There was such shortages that sometimes soldiers found it profitable to sell their clothing to civilians then go to a Quartermaster Depot somewhere nearby and get another set of clothes issued to them. Congress passed an act in January 1864 forbidding such transactions to occur upon penalty of two years in prison and a $1000 fine.

    Governors tried as best they could to relieve the situations that they themselves were much closer to. Governor Brown of Georgia was particularly bitter about the national impressment policy. He wrote to President Davis stating that if the poor continue to suffer as a result of this program, soldiers would desert the army and go to the relief of their suffering families. Brown was also concerned over the distillation of spirits. In the spring of 1862, he issued a proclamation commanding every distiller in the state to cease manufacturing of spirits after 15 March under penalty of seizure of property and employment. Furthermore, he ad lengthy discussions with Confederate officials about the use of the tithe corn in the distilling of liquors. He said that the demand for bread is much greater than the demand for liquor and that the government was literally stealing bread from the mouths of the wives and children of the soldiers.

    Of all the governmental bodies, it was in the state legislatures that the laws were born that would help to relieve the people of many of the shortage issues. Georgia passed more laws and resolutions that might be listed as in some way alleviating shortages than did any other state including prohibition. The fines and jail time varied from state to state but could be as little as $100 up to $5000. In many cases, half the amount of the fine would be awarded to the person who turned in the violator.

    All states passed laws giving various amounts of assistance to families of soldiers. Georgia appropriated various sums of money to be used to defray the expenses of the relief program. Georgia issued annual money grants to help pay for these programs as well.

    Crop control was also of vital importance to the southern states. Georgia allowed three acres of cotton for each hand between the ages of fifteen and fifty-five. A fine of $500 was set for each acre planted over the legal amount. The rest of the land was supposed to be used to grow foodstuffs. Georgia allowed payment of one half of the fine to the person who had informed the state officials of the illegal planting.

    The Georgia General Assembly appropriated various sums of money annually for the manufacture of cloth as well as cotton cards which were always in short supply.

    Georgia specifically prohibited speculation in the following items- clothing, shoes, leather, cloth of any kind, provisions, wheat, flour, corn, cornmeal, meat, bacon, hogs, cattle, salt, bagging, rope, and twine. Selling items at auction was made illegal in some states including Alabama since this is where speculators usually made their money.

    In an effort to get possession of needed articles by speculators, Georgia passes resolutions authorizing the Governor and his agents the right to seize the items. Yet these same states protested the impressment policy of the Confederate government. They were especially critical of the impressment officers sent by Richmond, many of whom were arrogant and unfair. Seizure was unequal and some areas were left with a sufficiency while others laced the basic essentials of life. Georgia legislated extensively on the subject and a total of eight states lodged official complaints with the central government.
    Matthew Young


    • #3
      Re: Causes of Shortages in the South

      Great article.
      Cannon Gould Sr.
      Proud Member of the "Marsh Rats"