Domestic Economy in the Confederacy

“While war in the abstract had been vaguely apprehended for a generation, war in the concrete took the South, as all unpleasant things are apt to take optimistic human nature, by surprise.”

Among the many remarkable features of the war between the States the blockade system was perhaps the most extraordinary. For extent and effectiveness it stands without a parallel in history. Isolation on the part of one of the belligerents doubtless shaped the result in larger measure than in any preceding war of anything like the same magnitude. For it is to be questioned if there was ever before a great people so far from self-sustaining as was the South in 1861. Indeed, only by means of the modern facilities of transportation could it have been possible for a territory so large and populous to have fallen into a state of such absolute dependence on the outside world. Not only was steam an indispensable auxiliary of the Federals, rendering the invasion and retention of the revolting territory practicable, but it had fostered at the South a fatal economic condition which made the failure of the Confederacy a foregone conclusion from the first. How this abnormal state told when isolation came, and how desperately the people strove to remedy it, forms a curious and pathetic chapter of the war history.

While war in the abstract had been vaguely apprehended for a generation, war in the concrete took the South, as all unpleasant things are apt to take optimistic human nature, by surprise. And optimism was as peculiarly characteristic of the Southern mind up to Appomattox as the opposite quality has been ever since. Moreover, the political axiom of the day, that even should war arise the imperative need of cotton would at least force the European powers to keep their ports open, lulled the South into such security that hostilities overtook her with little more than the scant stock of crude and manufactured articles necessary for current use.

The few unvaried manufacturing establishments that existed were of course utterly inadequate to supply the needs of the people, and neither machinery nor artisans were to be had to found new ones. Many of the most skilled workmen were Northern men, who either returned home on the outbreak of war, or slipped through the lines later on, as our fortunes grew darker and our need sorer. All such as remained at the South were insufficient to meet the military requirements of the hour. For the people in their domestic needs there was nothing left but a recourse to the rude contrivances of primitive days, which fortunately were not yet entirely obsolete in the rural districts. To these, as the slender stock of manufactured articles in the country gave out and the European powers persisted in holding aloof, the people turned with such skill and material as they were possessed of, to provide the necessaries of life. Spinning-wheels were set agoing; the scattered members of shapeless, half-forgotten old looms were dragged to light; while the neighborhood blacksmith, cobbler, and other petty craftsmen found themselves suddenly spring into important personages. On the ingenuity of each family, often of each individual, depended sooner or later their comfort, almost their existence. There was a suggestion of primeval life in the manner in which even in the veriest trifles one was thrown wholly on his own resources. Not only had a way to be invented to make everything, but in most cases a substitute had to be discovered for the crude material of which they were made, till between makings, renovatings, and remodelings, we became a nation of Crusoes. Indeed, if that era of home life had to be characterized by one word, there could be no choice as to the term “substitute.” It may be added, in passing, that to this day the word is commonly used by the illiterate people of North Carolina as a synonym for all that is sorry and worthless. There was hardly a tree or plant that did not in the long run furnish at least one substitute; being laid under tribute to feed or clothe the people, or to cure their ailments. Of these substitutes, some were in the beginning a rage, but each in the end a necessity. The absorption of the Southern mind in the war issue, coupled with its inherent non-inventiveness, or, more accurately, its non-completiveness, can alone account for the paucity of permanently useful inventions that have arisen from that period of ceaseless experiment.

The most serious matter of all was the great dearth of the prime staples of life themselves that overtook the South almost on the very threshold of war. The Confederacy was self-sustaining in breadstuff alone, — and by breadstuff is meant Indian corn only, wheaten bread being regarded as a luxury by thousands in average circumstances, — and the inadequacy of transportation prevented a proper distribution of even that. There was only one considerable saline, and the probability of a total failure of the salt supply, from its exhaustion or capture, was a matter of ever-deepening anxiety. The meat product of the country was largely insufficient at first, and after the loss of so much valuable territory in Tennessee and Kentucky the government, by dint of buying, tithing, and impressing, was barely able to scrape together, week by week, the stinted rations of bacon indispensable to keep life in the soldiers. Urgent as the need of recruits soon became, the authorities perforce adhered to the arrangement whereby the overseers of plantations were exempt from military duty, mainly in consideration of the proprietors giving bond to furnish the army with a few hundred pounds of bacon or beef annually. Private individuals, having the advantage of only one of the resources of the government, and that the least reliable, that of purchase, often found it impossible to procure meat at all. It took time to render available the limited product of iron and leather of which the country was capable. Iron was known to exist in various localities, but few of the mines had been developed, and both appliances and skilled labor were lacking to work them to any extent. The petty rural tanneries, tanning hides “one half for the other” and consuming eighteen months in the process, were the only dependence for leather.

No sooner did the war and the attendant blockade become a certainty than the speculators, with swift and concerted action, possessed themselves of almost the entire stock of salt, bacon, and leather, and withdrew them from market. Scarcely a country store or backwoods tan-yard escaped their visitation. A clique of half a dozen men obtained and held control of the only two nail factories in the Confederacy. By this means the speculators not only hastened and heightened the general stringency and distress, but through the exorbitant prices they were enabled to charge gave the first blow to the currency. In fact, into such a vast evil did speculation soon grow that efforts were made, in the convention called in North Carolina in 1861, to suppress it entirely by means of fines, imprisonment, and confiscation. The measure failed, except in respect to salt, as did that to limit the growing of tobacco and cotton; Virginia having restricted the planting of the former, and South Carolina and Georgia that of the latter. Nor was the detestation in which both practices were universally held much more efficacious. Speculation grew ever fiercer and more unfeeling. Although those who grew large crops of cotton and tobacco were discountenanced and regarded as half traitors, many persisted in raising and accumulating these staples, till the return of peace brought fabulous prices for all such stores as had been fortunate enough to escape the tithing, impressing, and burning agents of the Confederate government.

From first to last, salt was the most precious of all commodities. To be worth one’s salt was to have a value indeed. Its price, scarcity, and the methods by means of which its use could be largely dispensed with were subjects uppermost in every mind, and topics as common as the weather in every conversation. Its exposure for sale could draw even the long-hoarded pittance of silver from its hiding-place; and when the Confederate government could purchase supplies on no other terms, an offer of part payment in salt never failed to work wonders. It was possible to subsist, or at any rate to exist, with little leather and less iron. Old utensils might be mended and mended again, and their use extended almost indefinitely; people might go barefoot and yet live; but at least salt enough to cure the bacon was a sine qua non.

The State of North Carolina, after making it unlawful to speculate in salt, appointed a salt commissioner and made an appropriation to establish evaporating stations on the coast; and when these proved inadequate, and the approach of Federal fleets and armies rendered them insecure, state works were established at Saltville, Virginia, the great saline of the Confederacy. Even this last resource was uncertain, and the supply never continuous. Sometimes the government monopolized the wells, still oftener the transportation; while the danger of having teams impressed at the works by the military authorities became so great that nothing save extreme individual necessity could induce the people to run the risk. At times not a pound of salt could be bought at any price. Many were driven to dig up the dirt floors of their smoke-houses, impregnated with the meat drippings of years, and by a tedious process of leaching and boiling to obtain an apology for salt. Every method practiced by civilized or uncivilized man for the curing of meat without or with a modicum of salt was attempted. While many of these processes were failures, occasioning the loss of more or less priceless bacon, some effected cures which in point of durability might have competed with petrifactions themselves, and with fair prospects of success, supposing them to have been subjected to any agency of destruction short of Confederate hunger.

Boundless was the excitement and indignation in North Carolina when, in 1864, it was falsely rumored that the governor of Virginia had determined to prohibit by proclamation the removal of salt beyond the borders of that State, as the governor of North Carolina had long before done in regard to cotton and woolen fabrics. “We give Virginia blood,” cried the press, “and she refuses us salt. We have paved her soil with the bones of our best and our bravest, and now she forbids us to gather what may without blasphemy be called the crumbs of life, which she lets fall. Our women and children must die at her hands, in requital of their husbands and fathers having died in her defense.”

All the salt that the State was able to procure from Saltville and through the blockade was sold to the people—giving the wives and widows of soldiers the preference—at cost, which was usually about one fourth the market price. The greater part of the former was of very inferior quality; the coast salt especially, being quoted at just half the price of the imported article. The last installment of state salt, issued for the hog-killing in December, 1864, was at the rate of six pounds per capita of population. Shortly after that the works were destroyed by a Federal raid. Indeed, it was a matter of wonder to us, considering the vital importance to the Confederacy of this unique place, which had sprung into being and prominence with the suddenness of a mushroom city of the West, that the Federals should not earlier have put forth even more strenuous efforts than they did for its possession.

The dearth of leather also drove the people to all sorts of grotesque expedients. Sole leather especially, owing to the difficulty which the small tanneries experienced in its production, was extremely scarce. Wood, which had long been worn to a very limited extent by the slaves in some localities, now came into general use in the making of shoes. A wooden shoe was among the very first inventions patented under the Confederate government. In the beginning a considerable variety of shapes prevailed. Some could do no better than dig out a rude wooden receptacle for the foot, a travesty on the sabot worn by the French peasants; a strip of leather being attached to the top, by means of which the clog was secured to the ankle. But by far the best and most comfortable style, and one which was adopted whenever the additional leather required was to be had, was a simple sole of ash, willow, or some light wood, to which full leathern uppers were fastened with tacks. At first these were made so thick, in order to insure durability, that among their various other effects was, that of adding very sensibly to the stature of the community. Later on it was found better to make the soles thinner, and protect them from wear by nailing on their bottoms light irons, similar in shape to horseshoes. They were necessarily the noisiest shoes ever worn, always announcing the approach of their wearers at a good round distance. When the air was clear and the ground frozen, one was by this means kept well apprised of the movements of his immediate neighbors. Especially did their tell-tale clatter make them the abomination of the negro in his nocturnal rambles. The dismay of nervous people and careful housewives, their effect in-doors was indeed something terrific, though after irons came into vogue and lessened the impacting surface, the clatter was toned down to something under the tramp of a horse. Nor were they much less destructive to floors, while carpets simply did not exist in their wake. Despite the scrubbings and scourings of a quarter century, their marks are yet to be seen in some houses.

The use of wooden bottoms for shoes was by no means confined to the negroes. They were worn by the majority of laboring people, as well as by many of both sexes who had been reared in affluence. The scarcity of the last winter of the war drove whole families into them, except the little feet which could not be trusted to steer such craft, but bore their share of martyrdom by being imprisoned indoors throughout the live-long dreary months.

Great skill and caution were requisite to keep afoot in wooden bottoms at all. A queer spectacle it was, too, to see one’s fellow-beings stepping gingerly around, as if there were universal misgivings as to the safeness of the earth’s crust. One may forget his first feat with firearms and even his first exploit on skates, but never his first flight on—or, to be accurate, his first abduction by—wooden bottoms. If the soles, which in a clumsy attempt to fit the foot were shaped like rockers, were once set in motion, they persisted in inexorably tilting one forward, especially if descending a hill, till volition was utterly lost, and nothing short of an ascent or a fall could arrest them. However, in time they became comparatively manageable, one getting able to choose his own path, as well as to have some small voice in stoppages.

Uppers were made of such random pieces of leather, or of anything bearing the faintest semblance to leather, that could be lighted on. Carriage curtains and buggy tops were acceptable. In some cases old morocco pocket-books were converted into children’s shoes; while many ladies managed to fashion themselves a sort of moccasin out of the most heterogeneous and unpromising materials. Woe to the careless wight who suffered his saddled horse to stand out near church, store, or post-office after nightfall! The chances were that when he went to mount he would find that some one had appropriated his saddle skirts for sole leather, unless indeed he had forestalled such an act by appropriating them to that end himself.

Iron was now the precious metal. War not only monopolized the entire product of the South, but so sore was the need that frequent calls were made for plantation hells to be cast into cannon. Many church bells were also given. In the cry for iron! iron! a large society of ladies undertook to furnish material for building an iron-clad by collecting all the broken pots, pans, and kettles in the Confederacy. The home folk had to depend almost entirely on the reworking of old iron. An active and unremitting search was maintained for every superfluous or cast-away scrap. All old vehicles and farm implements not absolutely indispensable were demolished, and the iron they contained was diverted to the pressing needs of the moment. All idle nails were carefully drawn and laid away for future use. A sharp lookout was kept for stray pins. Womenkind made their boast of the weeks or months they had passed without missing a single pin; while the loss of a good darning-needle would have been a calamity involving perhaps half a neighborhood. The rapidity with which such indestructible articles as pins, needles, buttons, etc., disappeared from the face of the earth after the blockade was established was as unaccountable as the speed with which larger things wore out. Many a hard-beset housewife, in her distress, “vowed,” and half believed, that the Yankee manufacturers, with a prophetic eye to the future, had purposely made the wares sent South of the most worthless description, in order that their collapse might embarrass us in the prosecution of the war.

Of all manufactured articles, cotton cards were, under the circumstances, of most vital importance, and their scarcity the source of most anxiety. A small patch of cotton was now planted on every farm, to be made into clothing. Fingers were a good, if very tedious, substitute for gins, which existed, of course, only in the cotton district; but without cards to prepare the lint for spinning, the wheels and looms had been resurrected to no purpose. These wanting, the cotton was useless, and there was no other resource. As every thread of clothing had to be homespun, tireless activity was necessary to provide for even a moderate-sized family of whites and blacks. The hum of the wheel and thump of the loom were necessarily almost as ceaseless as the tick of the clock; and as few families possessed more than one pair of cards, they had to be plied far into the night to keep rolls ahead for the women at the wheel. When it is remembered how much depended on these frail implements, and that their replacement was altogether problematical, it may be believed that their wear brought as many care wrinkles into the face of the materfamilias as the diminution of the stint of salt itself. Only the trustiest hand on the place, usually the black “mammy” herself, was ever allowed to touch them; nor was ever chancellor with his seals, or priest with his relics, more vigilant or self-important. Despite the numberless attempts, it was late in the war, if at all; that a really successful pair of cards was made in the Confederacy. The renovation of old ones, so as to prolong their usefulness for a few weeks, was, I believe, the most that was ever achieved. Indeed, the wire from which they were made, being of foreign manufacture, was as unattainable as the cards themselves. Every pair had to run the gauntlet of the blockade. The most valuable part of the cargo of the state blockade-runner, the Ad-Vance, consisted of bales of card-facing, to be attached to backs and handles on arrival. By this means Governor Vance was enabled almost to the very last to furnish the wives and widows of Confederate soldiers with good cards at ten dollars a pair, which could not always be obtained at one hundred dollars in the open market.

Much less than four years had sufficed to reduce the unreplenished wardrobes to nothing. Besides the effect of constant use, inroads had been made into them for every sort of purpose. Not to speak of the silk dresses, which amid the enthusiasm of the earlier, brighter days of the war had been converted into battle-flags, woolen dresses and shawls had, later on, been made into shirts for the soldiers, as the carpets had been made into blankets, and the linen and curtains into lint and bandages for the wounded. Homespun or calico at ten dollars a yard was the only alternative for dress goods. In order that in point of dress all might be on the same footing, large societies of ladies bound themselves to wear nothing but the product of their own looms. These societies also had in view the discovery and dissemination of the best methods of dyeing and weaving, as well as the endless minutiæ of this strange, perplexing economy. For besides the difficulties of cards, wheel, and loom, a host of obstacles had yet to be sur-mounted. Sightly and permanent dyes had to be concocted from the roots, herbs, and barks of the country. Then perhaps vexatious thread, and implements in the way of scissors, needles, etc., the handiwork of a smith who had never till now attempted anything more delicate than plough-points or grubbing-hoes, had to be contended with. As a last resort, buttons were made of persimmon seed, through which holes were pierced for eyes. In many cases a mourning dress went the rounds of the neighborhood, as death entered one door after another. The æsthetic faculty, then, proven to be ineradicable in womankind, was confined mainly to the selection and grouping of dyes for cotton cloth, and to elaborate hats and bonnets, made at infinite pains from shucks or straw, garnished with mysterious bits of finery reclaimed from no one knew where. However, the rag-bag proved a magical repository of boundless possibilities, whence the conjuring hand drew always just what was needed.

Coffee had been almost the sole table beverage of the South, and no privation caused more actual discomfort among the people at large than the want of it. There was nothing for which they strove so eagerly and unceasingly to procure a substitute. Few indeed were the substances which did not first and last find their way into the coffee-pot. Wheat, rye, corn, sweet-potatoes, pea-nuts, dandelion seed, okra seed, persimmon seed, melon seed, are but a few of the substitutes which had their turn and their day. “A fig for the difference between Ri-o and ry-e,” said the wits. “Eureka!” cried an enthusiastic newspaper correspondent. “Another of the shackles which holds the South the commercial thrall of the world is severed. Let South America keep her Rio and the antipodes its Java. It is discovered to be true beyond peradventure that as a beverage the seed of the sea-island cotton cannot be distinguished from the best Java, unless by its superiority; while the seed of the ordinary variety is found to be not a whit behind the best Rio.” What a flutter of excitement and joy it raised in many a household—and doubtless the scene in ours was typical—to find that the great national plant, the very symbol of the Confederacy, was indeed so many-sided! It gave us greater confidence, if it were possible to have greater, in the power and possibilities of the South, now that Cotton, the great king, had had another crown laid on his brow. So opportune was the discovery, too, that it struck us as almost a divine revelation, indicating the interposition of Providence in our favor. So eager were we to test it—or rather to confirm it, for it was too good not to be true—that we could not await meal-time. Residing in North Carolina and up the country, we had never seen any sea-island cotton, but the prospect of being confined to Rio was by no means appalling. A pickaninny was forthwith hurried off to the cotton patch, then sparsely flecked with newly opened boles. The apronful of precious stuff, now a veritable manna, was hardly indoors before a dozen hands, of all sizes and colors, were tearing, picking, at the discredited fibre, in quest of the more priceless seed. The Rio was made and drunk. Despite the sorghum sweetening, the verdict was unanimous in its favor. I hope that the communication of this stupendous discovery to our neighbors added as immensely to our happiness as to our self-importance. But if in the last respect we sinned, retribution could not have been laggard. For although, owing to the fact that happily the recollection of disappointments and humiliations is less abiding than the opposite feelings, I am unable to tell exactly why and when we returned to parched bran, it is nevertheless true that we did.

Receipts for making “coffee without coffee” (when the real article was alluded to, strong emphasis on the word left no doubt as to which kind was meant) were extensively advertised in the newspapers, and in some instances sold by canvassing agents. But rye, okra seed, and meal or bran held in the long run the popular favor. Those who could afford an infinitesimal quantity of the real article, counted out by the grain, to flavor the substitute, were the envy of the neighborhood. A cup of pure and genuine coffee would in the eyes of many have been an extravagance akin to Cleopatra’s famous draught itself. The contents of a small gourd, which held our entire stock of the genuine article for many months before the close of the war, must have gone towards the making of an incredible lake of coffee.

The few votaries of tea consoled themselves as best they could on a decoction of raspberry leaves or sassafras root. Some genius discovered in corn-fodder the exact flavor of black tea. Sugar, after the fall of Vicksburg, was almost as scarce as coffee. But in sorghum the people found a substitute which came perhaps nearer a success than any of the numberless makeshifts of the period. Sorghum, or Chinese sugar-cane, as it was then known, had been raised to some small extent in the State as early as 1857. It began to be largely planted in 1862, and during the two succeeding years its cultivation became general; sorghum-boiling adding another to the great Southern festivals of corn-shucking and hog-killing. It was about the sole thing of which there was no stint in the Confederacy. Verily the land was “submerged in sorghum.” It sweetened the coffee, tea, and all the desserts of the time; sorghum candy was the national confection, sorghum “stews” the national festival. The strange creaking hum of the cane-mills pervaded the land. Every place was redolent of it; everything was sticking with it.

As the juice, after being expressed by rude wooden mills on the farm, was boiled by unskilled hands in vessels of every imaginable shape and size, the most divers and surprising results often ensued. Here one farmer left his sorghum so underdone that it soured; there another so overcooked his that it refused to leave the barrel in which it had been poured. In short, every result between candy and vinegar was obtained. The product of no two farms, indeed of no two kettles, was alike in color, taste, or consistency. While a few succeeded in making a tolerable syrup, the majority were only learning the art when the war ended. As the sorghum was in most cases unavoidably boiled in iron vessels, the habitual users of it were easily to be distinguished by their abnormally black teeth. Controversy as to its healthfulness and unhealthfulness, its effect upon the teeth and the system in general, was almost as rife as that now carried on respecting whiskey and tobacco; and it may be added that it exerted about the same influence on the millions of consumers.

Confederate stationery was a thing no less unique and characteristic than the other products of the time. The writing-paper, of a dingy salmon color, rough and furzy, was ruled with heavy, glaring blue lines, doubtless on the principle that the plainness of the landmarks should be in proportion to the difficulty of the way. But with this paper, such as it was, at $10 a quire, and envelopes in proportion, it was resorted to only after every available bit of paper, every page of old account-books, whether already written on one side or not, and even the fly-leaves of printed volumes had been ferreted out and exhausted. Envelopes were made of scraps of wall-paper and from the pictorial pages of old books, — the white side out, stuck together in some cases with the gum that exudes from peach-trees. Ink had almost as many substitutes as coffee, and with nearly as great a variety of results. Sumac-berries, poke-berries, “oak balls,” and green persimmons set with rusty nails were oftenest used in concocting the fluids with which we blotted paper. We found that black-gum roots made fair corks. One of the very few things, if not the sole thing, that could be achieved with a dime was to post a letter. The ten-cent stamps, which were small and blue, bore a profile to all appearances a compromise between those of the rival Presidents.

The newspaper was of course the great institution of those feverish days. The war, in that it gave a powerful impetus to reading and writing, and led the minds of the country people farther afield, was undoubtedly a great educator. Newspapers now found their way to the occupants of numberless cabins, whose literary needs and curiosity as to the outside world had hitherto been fully satisfied by two books: one written a couple of thousand years ago in Palestine, the other a couple of hundred years ago in England. Few indeed were the households which had not a member at the perilous front, and the war news was matter of personal interest to all. One of the many pathetic sights of home life was the eager expectation with which an illiterate wife, or mother, or father hurried off, on securing the long-coveted newspaper, in quest of a reader, and doubtless as column after column was gone over in vain, to wonder, simple souls, how so much could be written without a word of mention touching the one in their eyes all-important. The condition of each copy when it came from the country post-office proved it to have been already thoroughly fumbled by the eager crowd which always collected around such places for the perusal of all papers not called for immediately on the opening of the mails. To such an extent was this practice sanctioned by custom, or by mutual forbearance, that if one called and found his paper missing, the tone in which he was informed that some of the boys must have got hold of it and carried it off somewhere showed that an explanation rather than an apology was intended. Once in the hands of the people, the papers passed swiftly from door to door as long as they held together. Between this ceaseless thumbing and the manifold household needs for paper, which had to be supplied wholly from this source, it is not to be wondered that extremely few copies are now extant.

Strange and peculiar to the times in matter and material were the weekly papers that reached us. Pregnant as the days were, space could be found only for the most salient events. Here half a column described a pitched battle; there a paragraph told all that we ever knew of a sharp skirmish, costing a hundred lives; again, a single sentence chronicled the daring and death of a dauntless handful. No one could form an idea as to what a day might bring forth.

As the press was naturally reticent respecting such matters as might dishearten friends, or encourage foes, — not even then escaping frequent threats of bridling measures at the hands of the Richmond government, — the newspaper advertisements have a peculiar value, as giving within certain limits a true, because unconscious, presentation of the condition and attitude of the people. Most of these notices, which were no less characteristic of the times than the news matter, fell under three heads: the orders of the Confederate conscription and commissary officers; notices that certain worthies, “urgently and unavoidably detained at home,” wished to hire substitutes; and rewards offered for deserters and runaway negroes. It is remarkable that in giving the approximate or probable whereabouts of the latter they were almost invariably represented as having returned to the old neighborhood from which they had once been removed, instead, as might be supposed, of making their way towards the Federal lines. The disproportion between the large quantity of land and the small number of slaves advertised for sale strikes one, under the circumstances, as very singular and unaccountable. Neither the fact that the method followed in selling the two species of property was different, nor that much land was thrown on the market owing to the proximity of the advancing Federal lines, the slaves being removed to a place of safety, will, I think, entirely account for it. The true explanation, doubtless, lay largely in the spirit of combativeness which prompted men to cling with all the more tenacity to a species of property which they regarded as unjustly and maliciously attacked, coupled, too, with the scarcely formulated belief that if emancipation ever came, confiscation and all that was dreadful must, as a natural consequence, come hand in hand with it. To the very last the newspapers referred to the high price of slaves as a proof of the determination and confidence of the Southern people in the struggle.

The fewness of trade advertisements indicate a situation in which solicitation was incumbent on the buyer instead of the seller. An occasional cheap john, as a proof of his enterprise and philanthropy, announced that he had been able to reduce the price of coffee to $40 a pound, sugar to $15, nails to $10, calico to $10 a yard, salt to $100 a sack, and other things to prices proportionally low. Grotesque and ironical to the last degree, and in more than one way, was an advertisement of the last winter of the war, in which an undertaker, in as lively fanfare of type as the font was then capable of, gave notice that he had just received through the blockade an assortment of mahogany coffins, with which he would be pleased to supply his friends and the public generally. However, in view of the fact that the columns were profoundly silent as to the whereabouts of food and raiment, there was unquestionably much timeliness in the tender of such wares.

After the rapid depreciation of the currency set in, no newspaper received subscriptions for more than six months in advance. With everything else at a hundred prices, $40 per half year for the dailies, and $20 for the weeklies, seemed strangely low. And although, between rough paper, worn type, and bad ink, they were sometimes only partially decipherable, and almost without exception were reduced to half a sheet before the war was two years old, they nevertheless maintained a standard of excellence striking in those days of bungling attempts and lame efforts. The fact that the number of papers in North Carolina was reduced only from fifty-seven in 1861 to twenty-six in 1865, while at least nine tenths of all other business enterprises were ruined, proves journalism to have been the least unsuccessful occupation of the war period.

The Confederate currency was too remarkable a feature of the times to be omitted in any account of them. The depreciation which began spontaneously at various places was many months in becoming general; nor was it ever nearly uniform throughout the South. In the beginning it arose from no distrust of the currency itself. The great majority of the people were willing to receive, and actually did receive it at par, till the action of speculators forced up prices. Even then it passed as gold in the rural parts of North Carolina to the close of 1862. In fact, till the great twin disasters of July, 1863, destroyed ninety per cent. of the value of Confederate notes, there had been no great difference in the price of gold North and South. After that the currency sank with ever-increasing rapidity. The attempt of the Confederate Congress, by the act of February 11, 1864, to restrict the circulation by forcing the conversion into bonds of all notes over five dollars, the first of the ensuing April, under penalty of a repudiation of one third their value, proved not only futile, but really disastrous. We felt the instant effect in the destruction of thirty-three per cent. of the value of every dollar in circulation, the small notes sympathizing with the larger ones. When the new issue, of which so much had been fondly hoped, was at last uttered, it had far less purchasing power than the old before the damaging currency bill was passed. But for the device of the government in bolstering up the currency by steadily selling gold, for many months towards the last, at sixty for one, the notes must have lost even the shadow of value they retained. During 1864 returned prisoners protested that a dollar in “bluebacks” would buy more at Point Lookout than in Richmond.

Indeed, to the extreme scarcity of all goods and supplies in the South, as much as to the inflation and consequent distrust of the currency, must be ascribed its depreciation. Excepting the considerable influx of counterfeit Confederate notes smuggled through the lines from the North, there were just fifteen times as many dollars in circulation per capita, counting the population actually within the limits of the Confederacy, in January, 1864, as in the same month of 1860. The fact that specie possessed five times its normal purchasing power is an apparent but not a real refutation of this assertion. Owing to the urgent demand for specie for the blockading and smuggling trade, gold was no longer a standard of value. Some idea of the influence of this demand on the value of specie may be formed from the fact that the fall of Wilmington and the close of the blockade lessened the price of gold appreciably, although the Confederacy was tottering to its fall, with scarcely two months of life before it. Such an object of cupidity did the all-powerful silver—gold being rarely or never seen in general circulation—become to the whole people that years of vexatious experience with the unwieldy medium have hardly yet destroyed their veneration and affection for it.

As for the last two years, at least, no one hoarded or even husbanded Confederate money, it seemed a great deal more abundant than it really was. Never before, away from the gaming-table, did money ever change hands so rapidly. Each individual being bent and determined not to hold it, the whole community was on the rack to keep the last dollar in circulation. That this should have been at all difficult, in face of the exorbitant prices that prevailed, is sufficient proof of the extreme scarcity of everything that man needs or wishes. A young subaltern in Richmond, in 1864, who, on a day’s furlough, before leaving for camp, went into a restaurant to disencumber himself of $400 in Jeff Davis shucks, and to make doubly sure took two acquaintances with him, found, when the reckoning came, after a by no means sumptuous repast, that he had not only succeeded in doing so, but had incurred an indebtedness of $800 besides. Then indeed money burned every pocket. If there was anything that the people valued less than money I never heard of it. A practical treatise pointing out reliable ways of spending money would doubtless have had as many students then as one giving the opposite process now.

The very appearance of the majority of the notes in circulation was calculated to destroy the traditionary respect of the people for money. While the execution of some of the larger Confederate notes was, under the circumstances, of extraordinary merit, the popular complaint that the smaller bills and fractional currency, especially the state notes, did not even look like money was a just one. At their lowest ebb, neither in material nor execution would they have reflected credit on a village printing-office. A few months’ use sufficed pretty thoroughly to efface the letter-press, and at the same time to reduce the note to as many fragments as there had been creases in it, which fragments were commonly kept together by being pasted on a backing of newspaper, homespun cloth, or other material that came to hand.

While the abnormal economic condition of which I have endeavored to give the most prominent features imposed more or less hardship on all, it bore very unequally on people of different occupations. The professional class and those who worked for salaries and wages naturally fared worst at a time when the struggle for bare existence taxed the energies of the majority to the utmost, and when the value of money was the most uncertain thing in a situation where nothing was certain. Besides, although the price of the necessities of life increased fifty and a hundred fold, professional emoluments, salaries, and wages advanced not more than ten, rarely more than five, fold. The monthly pay of a Confederate foot-soldier—$15 a month, and that oftener than not in arrears—would, for many months preceding Lee’s surrender, have barely sufficed, in Richmond, to buy a pound of bacon to eke out his pitiful rations, or a swallow of poor whiskey to induce momentary forgetfulness of hunger, although, perchance, in Raleigh, at times, that amount might have put him in possession of both. The sum of $50, which the privates received annually in commutation for clothing, was, when the method was abolished, hardly less inadequate than his pay. As the currency depreciated, even civilians, who could command some increase of pay, found that prices so outgrew their salaries that, if obliged to depend on them alone, they remained hopelessly impecunious. However, any one with the opportunity and inclination to speculate—which, in view of the fact that there was nothing but the bare necessities of life in which to speculate, was held a shameful thing—found little trouble in making more money than he could use. At the same time that the speculators were cudgeling their brains to devise new ways of spending the flood of Confederate money that poured in on them, the families of soldiers, and even of officers, unless they had independent means of support, were reduced to penury, and but for the charity of neighbors, and the aid extended by the State in furnishing them food at cost, or, in extreme cases, without charge, must have starved. The concentration of refugees within the Confederate limits, as the Federal lines advanced, increased still faster the constantly widening disproportion between demand and supply in all the essentials of life.

As has been aptly said, necessities became luxuries; and there were no comforts. It is such tests as these that reveal the wide differences between our real and imaginary needs. Many families who before the war had held it impossible to live on less than one thousand dollars a year found now that a sum with the purchasing power of one twentieth of that amount not only sufficed to keep soul and body together, but that enough was left to enable them to give a meal to every Confederate soldier who came within their reach. Meanwhile, the women of the household, the men being at the front or perhaps dead, after performing such domestic duties as were indispensable, devoted every moment to gratuitous work for the soldiers, usually giving the material—sheets, valances, curtains, carpets, shawls, and woolen dresses, the accumulations of better days—from which the articles were made. Many families lived mainly on sorghum and sweet-potatoes. Cases were known in which a sick person, the recipient of some chance delicacy, transmitted it to another, regarded in still greater need of it, who did likewise; and after passing in turn through various hands, till all knowledge of the first donor was lost, it came back to the house from which it started. In keeping with the severe economy of the times was the action of the boarding-schools, which, in order that the students might be deterred from taking more food than they could eat, imposed a penalty on all who left anything on their plates.

It would be a strong arraignment of the wastefulness of a normal period to compare the quantity of even the most indispensable staple used per head with that used, say, in 1864, could either be exactly known. The straggling Confederate who, when detected in a persimmon-tree by his commanding officer, the fruit being yet unripe and powerfully astringent, declared in extenuation that he was compelled to draw up his stomach to fit his rations, described in homely phrase a process of which there was very wide need.

Fortunate were those who were producers and as little dependent as possible on the caprice and uncertainties of markets. Not only did the difficulty of transportation and the consequent inequality of distribution cause the greatest diversity of prices to prevail in the State, or even in a much more restricted area, — it was not uncommon to find a difference of fifty or seventy-five per cent. in prices at places not fifty miles apart, both being on the railroad, — but one could form no idea one day what he would have to pay the next, nor was there any certainty that he would be able to buy at all. Guided by rumor, a veritable Ariel in those days and on such errands, he might set out with one hundred dollars in pocket to buy a sack of salt, a pair of cotton cards, or even two barrels of corn or ten pounds of bacon, and learn on reaching the distant store, even if the coveted articles turned not out to be myths, that the whole stock had been exhausted the first half day, or that the merchant, falling suddenly into doubt as to finding opportunity to reinvest his money, had doubled prices, or closed his doors and refused to sell at all.

Feuds strangely characteristic of the times sometimes arose between neighboring places. The speculators from one town, making a sudden foray into another, would strip it of everything that money could buy, carrying off their spoil for a profit. As a consequence, prices in the raided town leaped up a hundred per cent. at a bound, even if a downright famine did not ensue. A storm of indignation arose. The newspapers inveighed against it, the people resented it, and the feelings thus engendered in some instances outlived the war.

Even in the larger towns it was a rare thing for the stores to stand open regularly. When a merchant could find anything to sell he opened his doors, disposed of it quickly, and closed while in quest of another stock. Especially was this the case if he sold only blockade goods. Some managed to do a less spasmodic business by dealing in rude articles of country manufacture, including always the ubiquitous sorghum.

We now came to regard the character of the North Carolina coast, so long deplored as a bar to her commercial prosperity, much in the nature of a divine blessing, foreordained from the beginning to be her salvation at this the supreme crisis of her fate. We felt that the sands and storms at the mouth of Cape Fear and the wild sea off Hatteras, rendering a thorough blockade impossible, were as powerful allies of the South as the one hundred and twenty odd thousand men the State sent to the field. Especial interest was taken in the state steamer, the Ad-Vance. Her safety was an object of scarcely less solicitude than that of a Southern army. In the poorest log cabin in the land, the minds of whose simple occupants had before traveled scarcely a dozen miles from home, the name of this steamer was a household word, inseparably associated with the priceless salt and cotton cards on which the very existence of the family depended. Prayers for her safety went up from every quarter, — from gray-headed deacons and from children who were babes in arms when Sumter was fired on. Not a few saw the hand of Providence in her long immunity from harm. Many a grudge was scored against the Richmond authorities, when in September, 1864, she was taken off Hatteras. Having had to surrender her anthracite to a Confederate cruiser, she had been obliged to put to sea with bituminous coal, which, lessening her speed and by its denser smoke betraying her whereabouts, led to her capture.

But blockade running, like the divers other schemes of the times on which so many hopes were built, proved fruitful mostly in disappointment. We were ever on the eve of an era of plenty from this source, but foreign recognition itself was not more of a mirage. Although the Confederate Congress early in 1864 prohibited the importation of luxuries, among which were numbered the finer fabrics of cotton and wool, in order that all possible space might be devoted to bringing in the prime necessaries of life, and we were assured that swift steamers, painted a light blue to blend with the hues of sea and sky, stole in and out the Cape Fear at the rate of ten a month, less than one in eleven being taken, we at last awoke to the fact that these supplies were but as a drop of water to a wretch dying of thirst. Then there was always more or less of a scrimmage over the cargoes of the blockade runners, and it required the alertness and push of a person on the spot, as well as Confederate money ad libitum, to put one in possession of anything like a stock of merchandise. Non-combatants were chary of trips from home, in those unsettled times. If a man’s age did not clearly place him beyond the conscription limits, the main object of his life, from which not even the passion for speculation could for a moment seduce him, was to avoid the conscription officers, whose methods were usually as summary as their power was untrammeled. As a consequence, the modicum of foreign goods that came in was not distributed even to the extent of which the deranged state of transportation would have admitted, the bulk of them going to the larger places.

Thus straitened were the people on whom were imposed the enormous taxes necessary to the maintenance of war, — burdens which grew ever heavier, as the people became poorer. In an estimate made in the beginning of 1865, it was reckoned that the government would require for the support of the war that year a sum more than twice as great as the total circulation of the South. The Confederate tax was then five per cent. on all property, twenty per cent. on incomes and profits in trade, besides a special tax on hundreds of other articles, heavy in proportion as they could be construed to be luxuries. But long before this the government had seen that something more tangible than even an unlimited amount of its own notes, with their shadowy values, was indispensable to its existence. The tithing system had been established as early as April, 1863. This exacted a tenth of all farm produce not absolutely too perishable for transportation, sweet-potatoes included. When tithes and taxes combined proved inadequate, as they soon did, recourse was had to the last resource of impressment. When the restrictions by which the impressing power was surrounded, forbidding the seizure of provisions virtually from any save speculators, and even then, if on the way to market, prescribing a tedious method of appraisement, bade fair to render utterly barren this dernier ressort, the Confederate agents ignored all trammels, and summarily impressed supplies wherever they could be found, paying for them at schedule rates, which were usually about one fourth the market price.

The most vehement protest of the state press could never administer more than a temporary check to this practice. Among other things impressed were all pleasure horses, to be used in cavalry service, and all firearms of every description, except a gun for each household.

In addition to the national taxes, tithes, and impressments enumerated above, the State of North Carolina, which, besides ministering largely to the wants of her sons in the regular service, maintained a considerable armament of her own, consisting of boys and old men not within the Confederate conscription limits, also levied a tax of two per cent. on all property, and at the close of the war was on the eve of exacting half a tithe additional. She also drafted slaves and free negroes, as she had need of them, for work on the fortifications. Although the slaves were impressed for only short periods, and their labor was paid for as liberally as the authorities paid for anything, this created more discontent and disaffection than any other measure of that trying time. So morbidly sensitive had the people become in regard to this species of property that not even a friendly hand could touch it in the direst extremity without giving offense. So manifest was this spirit that the press taunted the slave-holders with being more willing to risk the lives of their sons than the value of their slaves in the support of the cause.

How all these exactions were met, all these burdens borne, is one of those problems which inexorable necessity alone has ever been able to solve. That they were cheerfully borne, and that through all hardships and grievances the belief of the great mass of the people in the Confederacy survived to the end, are incontestable facts.