TVCWRT Civil War Tutorial, Part IV: The Home Front, 1862

Inflation surged, the Union blockades impacted life, and Confederate foreign policy was not helping. The Union military success in Arkansas, Tennessee, Kentucky, Missouri, West Virginia, South Carolina, Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, and Virginia altered the lives of nearly all southern residents. Women, regarded as noncombatants initially, demonstrated a willingness to defend their communities as activists and combatants and contraband women were forced into marriage by the cultural policies of the time. 

The Confederate government began issuing postage stamps and currency. Initially a Confederate dollar bought one gold dollar. By January 1862 it had inflated 69.8% and by the end of December 1862 the inflation hit 136.36%. (A Confederate dollar worth $1.20 in January by the following December was worth $2.50) The southern family felt the inflationary pain and shortages began to materialize. The price of flour, coffee, sugar, salt, and other commodities impacted every southern family. The Confederate conscription act took more manpower from home and with inflation growing, merchants were accused of holding back goods to make more money as they expected the upward spiral to continue. The targets were frequently Jewish merchants. Deserters added to the domestic challenges both Union and Confederate.  

The industrialized North did not feel an economic impact similar to the rebelling states. Unemployment remained at 6.7% and the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) rose 3.4%. As the war escalated the Morrill Tariff, passed in 1860, was revised upward twice between 1861 and 1862. The Republican-controlled Congress initially doubled the tax. One irony was the U.S. Government never placed a tariff on goods from the Confederacy because they never recognized the legal existence of the C.S.A. But, trading between the two country’s flourished in some sectors. 

The Confederate government foreign policy of withholding cotton from the foreign market to garner international recognition of the Confederate state cost the country dearly. Cotton, the Souths’ cash crop, piled up on docks and in warehouses in anticipation that European countries would recognize the Confederacy. And because of the Union blockades of Southern ports, tariff collections in fell dramatically.

In locations occupied by the Union Army domestic help (slaves) began to drift off leaving families to plant and tend to gardens and domestic animals. Some residents in Union occupied territory vacated their farms and home to cities or safer havens further inland. When Confederate partisans disrupted the resupply of Union formations causing ration shortages, the commanders made up the shortage by confiscating what they needed from southern farmers. Union soldiers were constantly patrolling and confiscating livestock and burning farms within a few miles of a railroad because Confederate partisans were derailing trains and targeting the blue coats. Farmers hid their stock and valuables in the woods and established lookouts to warn when Union patrols were spotted.  Consequently, partisans often exacerbated the trouble for families contending with an occupying Army.   

Placing food on the family table was a challenge. The social status of Southern women in war became a challenge for Federal authorities. A women’s legal right had long been considered dependent upon her husband who was their protector under law and social status. A women’s place was defined by her husband’s status in the community. In the absence of her man, particularly in areas occupied by Union authority, many women joined the fight as partisans and spies along with congenial defiance. It challenged President Abraham Lincoln’s concept of a “soft war” prompting a change in war aims. Some of Lincoln’s generals responded to the female belligerents with insulting orders like General Butler in New Orleans but many began to be treated in a fashion similar to men. The consequence of Southern women’s disobedience and active support of the war effort had consequences beyond the Civil War. It influenced the women’s suffrage movement in American and as recently as 2000 influenced the international Rules of War regarding women’s standing.

 An entirely new dilemma presented itself with regard to contraband (slaves). Single woman did not have the legal status as men. Consequently, escaped slaves were encouraged to take a wife as a single woman was not entitled to Federal support. Slaves had common law spouses but now it must be legalized.   

Eighteen Hundred Sixty-two could be considered a turning point for the South. The isolation from the world perpetrated by the Federal war strategy; the South’s liabilities regarding manpower, war material manufacturing, and the availability of domestic goods and services became evident. Slaves migrating to Union lines influencing the drafting of President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation and reconstruction rehearsals. 

In the South, the optimism for independence from a Union oppressor remained and few realized surviving would become much more difficult.