The Effects of The War for Southron Independence on the Homefront
The birth of the Confederacy was far more painful than sublime. Not surprisingly, the hastily created government reflected many of the doubts and hesitations that would agitate the bulk of the population. Like the U.S. government, the Confederate government was theoretically divided into three equal branches--executive,legislative and judicial. Actually, the Confederacy never had a Supreme Court because Congressman could never agree on the extent of its authority over the high courts of the individual states.
Less than three years after the start of the War, the Confederate armies never lost a major battle because of lack of armaments---and that on some occasions they were better equipped than the Federals. Southron industry was less successful at clothing Confederate troops. There were a number of reasons for this, one of which was the inadequacy of the Confederate Quartermaster Department under Colonel Abraham C. Myers. Although he was a West Pointer and an experienced supply officer, Myers was soon overwhelmed by the difficulties he faced. President Davis finally dismissed Myers in 1863, but by then outfitting of the Army had become hopelessly snarled. In the autumn of that year, Confederate War Department Chief Robert Kean noted that the Quartermaster Dept. had provided no shoes for nearly a year. Lee's army, he added, was going barefoot.
The Confederacy suffered from another major deficiency--a shortage of food. Because so much acreage was devoted to cotton and other staple crops, parts of the plantation South had relied on the farms of the upper Mississippi Valley for many essentials in its diet. Beef, pork, corn, flour, fruits, butter, cheese--all had come by steamboat and rail from states now in the Union. In 1862, the Confederate Congress adopted a resolution urging that food crops be planted instead of cotton and tobacco. Reviewing the South's prodigious efforts to feed itself, a supply officer remarked in 1863 that "our battle against want and starvation is greater than against our enemies." Oddly, it was a battle that the South both won and lost. Unquestionably, the South managed to raise more than enough food to sustain the entire population. But often the food failed to reach either civilians in the cities or soldiers on the battlefields. Thus, while Lee's army was going hungry and city dwellers were feeling the threat of famine, food was rotting on loading platforms or railroads sidings.
Food that did reach the market was so expensive that most families were hardpressed to buy staples. In the winter of 1864, for example, Richmonds John Beauchamp Jones was earning a respectable $3,000 a year, but he wondered "what income would suffice" to pay the prevailing prices: bacon, $9 a pound;turnip greens, $4 a peck; flour, $275 a barrel; potatoes, $25 a bushel. "I saw a ham sell today for $350," wrote Jones. Six weeks later he noted that he could not scrape up money for more than an ounce of meat daily for each member of his family.In the spring of 1863 the alarmed Confederate Congress finally passed a law taxing income and property on a scale varying from 1 per cent of incomes less than $1,000 to 15 per cent of incomes over $10,000. But the remedy came far too late to halt the dizzying inflationary spiral. Prices were rising at an almost constant rate of 10 per cent a month. Officers' uniforms by 1864 were selling for $2,000 and shoes for $200 to $800 a pair. Currency at last became so worthless that much daily business was carried on by barter.
The women were left behind to wait and to worry. Ladies who never worked before were hard at work making uniforms and tents.Such women felt a sense of deep personal involvement in the War partly because planter society resembled a huge, extended family. when Mary Chestnut noted despairingly in May of 1864 that " the dreadful work of death is beginning again," she was referring not only to the death of a favorite cousin at the head of his regiment but also to the fact that virtually every day's casualty lists contained the names of distant relatives or family friends.
Many of the South's 260 institutions of higher learning closed during the War, including the state unversities of Georgia, South Carolina and Louisiana. Even so, the universities were less endangered by the War than were the public secondary schools---for public education in the South was a recent experiment of uncertain durability.Only North Carolina, Kentucky,Tennessee, and Alabama had organized systems of mass public schooling like those common in the North. In many rural areas schools simply shut down, leaving many children to grow up in ignorance.
Textbooks supplied by Northern publishers were discarded and new ones written. Johnson's Elementary Arithmetic, published in 1864, posed the question, "If one confederate soldier kills 90 Yankees, how many Yankees can 10 Confederate soldiers kill?" And Mrs Marinda B. Moore's Geography of the same year explained that the principal obstacle to Confederate trade was "an unlawful Blockade by the miserable and hellish Yankee nation."
Women in all classes of Southron society were called on to assume difficult and unfamiliar roles in the absence of able-bodied men. Women became government clerks and factory workers in a society where they had been regarded as fit solely for housekeeping. Women for the first time replaced male teachers in Southron schools, and assisted male nurses in the crowded hospitals--although notions of female innocence and purity made it impossible for women to attend to the more clinical needs of the wounded. Instead they might read to wounded soldiers, or write letters for them or, on occasion, send notes of condolence to the families of those who died. Many women of the South who were left to fend for themselves and their families began to question the wisdom of waging a war that was proving so costly in so many ways.
The civilians of the Union suffered nothing like these agonies of invasion and displacement. Few northerners faced soldiers at their own front doors. Few saw their homes burned, their food confiscated, their livestock and wagons driven off. Thus when a Virginia woman named Judith McGuire heard rumors of an impending battle in Pennsylvania, she wrote: "So may it be! We are harassed to death with their ruinous raids, and why should not the North feel it in its homes? Nothing but their personal suffering will shorten the war. I want their horses taken for our cavalry and wagons, in return for the hundreds of thousands that they have taken from us; I want their fat cattle driven into Virginia to feed our army."
Mary Mallard of Georgia bitterly recorded what it was like "to see my house broken open, threatened to be burned to ashes, refused food and ordered to be starved to death, told that I had no right even to food or water, that I should be 'humbled in the very dust I walked upon,' a pistol and a carbine presented to my breast, cursed and reviled as a rebel, a hypocrite, a devil. Every trunk, box, bureau, room, closet opened or broken open and searched."