Hardships on the Confederate Home Front

April 10, 1863 – Southerners endured greater hardships than ever before this year, especially west of the Mississippi River. This led to growing unrest and widespread discontent.

Confederate President Jefferson Davis | Image Credit: Wikipedia.org

President Jefferson Davis responded to a letter written by Arkansas Governor Harris Flanagin in January about the importance of the Mississippi River to both his state and the Confederacy. Flanagin also asked Davis to send him more troops from Arkansas and Missouri who were currently serving in other theaters.

Davis wrote, “The defense of the Mississippi River on both banks has been considered by me as of primary importance, and I can assure you that you cannot estimate more highly than I do the necessity of maintaining an unobstructed communication between the States that are separated by the river.”

Referring to Vicksburg and Port Hudson as indispensable, Davis stated:

“If we succeed, as I have confidence we shall, in maintaining these two positions, we preserve the ability to furnish the munitions and ordnance stores necessary for the supply of the troops on the west bank, and to throw across the river adequate forces for meeting the enemy, if he should transfer his campaign from Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama to Arkansas and Louisiana.”

Regarding more troops, Davis wrote that “we are sadly outnumbered on all our lines of defense… (though) it will be found that the disproportion between the opposing forces has been more largely against us on the eastern than on the western side. Yet, if we lose control of the eastern side the western must almost inevitably fall into the power of the enemy. The defense of the fortified places on the eastern bank is therefore regarded as the defense of Arkansas.”

As Davis explained:

“Our safety, our very existence, depends on the complete blending of the military strength of all the States into one united body that is to be used anywhere, everywhere, as the exigencies of the contest may require for the good of the whole. The discipline and efficiency of our armies have been found to be far greater when the troops were separated from their homes, and thus delivered from the constant temptation to absent themselves from duty presented by proximity to their families.”

Davis pledged to do his best “to protect your State to the utmost extent of our ability,” and he hoped that the recent appointment of Lieutenant General Edmund Kirby Smith to head the Trans-Mississippi Department would have a “good effect in satisfying the good people of your State, and supplies of arms and munitions will be constantly forwarded as rapidly as our resources and means of transportation will permit.”

Shortages of nearly every necessity began plaguing the Confederacy to the point of causing civil unrest. As a result of the Richmond “bread riot” and other similar incidents, South Carolina Governor Milledge L. Bonham asked legislators to enact measures halting the growing speculation and hoarding of flour, corn, bacon, and other goods.

A North Carolina woman wrote to Governor Zebulon Vance expressing the hardships that she and many other women and children endured on farms. She stated that “a crowd of we Poor wemen went to Greenesborough yesterday for something to eat as we had not a mouthful of meet nor bread in my house what did they do but put us in gail in plase of giveing us aney thing to eat… I have 6 little children and my husband in the armey and what am I to do?”

Several women wrote to Confederate officials begging for them to discharge their husbands from the military. One wife assured the secretary of war that her husband “is not able to do your government much good and he might do his children some good and thare is no use in keeping a man thare to kill him and leave widows and poore little orphen children to suffer while the rich has aplenty to work for them.”

The military draft was also becoming increasingly unpopular and unmanageable. Lieutenant General D.H. Hill, commanding Confederates in North Carolina, wrote a letter to the War Department explaining that enforcement of the draft law in North Carolina was inefficient and corrupt. Confederate officials reported that in Virginia, the Confederate state with the highest population, the draft was netting just 700 recruits per month.

The Confederate Congress recognized the growing unrest as well as the fact that the war would not be won anytime soon. Members approved a resolution declaring that although “a strong impression prevails throughout the country that the war… may terminate during the present year,” the people should instead “look to prolonged war as the only condition proferred by the enemy short of subjugation.”

This contrasted with Davis’s January message to Congress (after the victories at Fredericksburg and Chickasaw Bayou, and before the consequences of the Battle of Stones River had come to light), in which he predicted total victory would come soon. As such, he felt compelled to issue a proclamation to accompany the congressional resolution, addressed “To the People of the Confederate States.”

Davis conceded that he was “fully concurring in the views thus expressed by Congress,” but he urged the people to “point with just pride to the history of our young Confederacy… We must not forget, however, that the war is not yet ended, and that we are still confronted by powerful armies and threatened by numerous fleets… Your country, therefore, appeals to you to lay aside all thoughts of gain, and to devote yourself to securing your liberties, without which those gains would be valueless…”

Davis then called on non-combatants to sacrifice even more for the war effort. He asked planters to grow vegetables for the troops rather than cotton or tobacco for profit:

“Let fields be devoted exclusively to the production of corn, oats, beans, peas, potatoes, and other food for man and beasts, and let all your efforts be directed to the prompt supply of these articles in the districts where our armies are operating.”

Focusing on shortages in the army rather than shortages among civilians, Davis stated, “The supply of meat for the Army is deficient. This deficiency is only temporary, for measures have been adopted which will, it is believed, soon enable us to restore the full ration.”

Claiming that the Confederacy enjoyed a food surplus, Davis announced:

“Even if the surplus be less than is believed, is it not a bitter and humiliating reflection that those who remain at home, secure from hardship and protected from danger, should be in the enjoyment of abundance, and that their slaves also should have a full supply of food, while their sons, brothers, husbands, and fathers are stinted in the rations on which their health and efficiency depend?”

The proclamation did little to either reduce the suffering among southerners or boost morale for the war effort.

—–

References

CivilWarDailyGazette.com; Denney, Robert E., The Civil War Years: A Day-by-Day Chronicle (New York: Gramercy Books, 1992 [1998 edition]), p. 271, 273-74; Foote, Shelby, The Civil War: A Narrative: Volume 2: Fredericksburg to Meridian (Vintage Civil War Library, Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2011), p. 166; Fredriksen, John C., Civil War Almanac (New York: Checkmark Books, 2007), p. 279; Long, E.B. with Long, Barbara, The Civil War Day by Day (New York: Da Capo Press, Inc., 1971), p. 334-35; McPherson, James M., Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era (Oxford History of the United States Book 6, Oxford University Press, Kindle Edition, 1988), p. 613; White, Howard Ray, Bloodstains, An Epic History of the Politics that Produced and Sustained the American Civil War and the Political Reconstruction that Followed (Southernbooks, Kindle Edition, 2012), Q263

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