The Confederacy Begins to Collapse

by Steven Mintz

By early 1863, the Civil War had begun to cause severe hardship on the southern home front. Not only was most of the fighting taking place in the South, but also as the Union blockade grew more effective and the South's railroad system deteriorated, shortages grew increasingly common. In Richmond, food riots erupted in April 1863. A war department clerk wrote: "I have lost twenty pounds, and my wife and children are emaciated."

The Confederacy also suffered rampant inflation. Fearful of undermining support for the war effort, Confederate leaders refused to raise taxes to support the war. Instead, the Confederacy raised funds by selling bonds and simply printing money without gold or silver to back it. The predictable result was skyrocketing prices. In 1863, a pair of shoes cost $125 and a coat, $350. A chicken cost $15 and a barrel of flour $275.

Defeatism and a loss of will began to spread across the Confederacy. Military defeats suggested divine disfavor. Hardships on the home front generated discontent within the ranks.

In the South, the imposition of a military draft in April 1862 produced protests that this was "a rich man's war and a poor man's fight." Although the law made all able-bodied men ages 18 through 35 liable for three years' service, the draft law allowed draftees to pay a substitute to serve for him (the North adopted a similar draft law in March 1863). Further aggravating tension was enactment of the "Twenty Negro Law" in October 1862, which exempted one white man from the draft on every plantation with 20 or more slaves.

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