Sunday, February 23, 2014

The Cost of Civil War Provisions


In all places and periods, supply and demand dictate market prices. Retail food price comparisons between the North and South during the Civil War are complicated because they had different money and inflation rates at different points during the War. Context is key.

Most of the American Civil War was fought on Southern soil. Historians confirm Union forces specifically targeted Confederate food supply to gain physical advantage. Transportation blockades (railroads, rivers, ports), supply reallocation (commandeering forts and merchants inventory) and farm destruction (pillage, burning) proved effective. Food was scarce; prices rose. Northern food prices reflected lack Southern produce but most folks above the Mason Dixon line were not starving. And, of course, seasonal availability was still a consideration. Enter: bartering.

About food supply in the South
"The Confederate-controlled Fort Henry and Fort Donelson protected major agricultural areas in Western Tennessee and well as crucial railroads and rivers on which provisions were transported withing the Confederacy...Fort Henry fell to Union naval forces, and the Union army proceeded overland to take Fort Donelson. Despite its strategic location, the garrison at Fort Donelson ran out of provisions...The effects of these losses were felt as far east as Macon, Georgia, where beef prices went from ten to twenty cents a pound in a few days...The scarcity of provisions for the arm and the price for food in the marketplace caused concern throughout the South." ---Starving the South: How the North Won the Civil War, Andrew F. Smith [St. Martin's Press:New York] 2011 (p. 32-33)

"When food became unaffordable for many Southerns, the Confederate government stepped in and tried to place price controls on various commodities in the hope of keeping prices down. However, farmers hoarded staples rather than sell them at the artificially lower prices, resulting in less food on the open market. Price controls were discontinued, but inflation then ran rampant." ---ibid (p. 41)

"[In Richmond VA] By February 1863 the price of flour had more than doubled. Bacon, which cost $1.25 per pound in 1860, sold for $10, while the price of sugar increased more than fifteen-fold and coffee cost forty times what it had previously...Rapidly escalating prices encouraged hoarding and speculation, which drove prices up even more. Since the salaries of soldiers, government workers, and factory laborers were fixed--or at least did not rise quickly enough to cover inflation--food became unaffordable." ---ibid (p. 53)

"[In Atlanta, 1864] food prices...escalated--a pound of butter cost $15, a bushel of potaotes sold for $24, a barrel of flour went for $250, and one hundred pounds of bacon cost $500." ---ibid 9p. 168)

"Even before the sieve of Vicksburg commenced, food was a problem in the city. Confederate soldiers engaged in 'the customary pilfering--fruits, vegetables, chickens, and livestock disappeared; troops drained the sity of supplies, created shortages, and sent prices soaring. Food became scarce. Butter sold for $1.50 a pound, and flour was virtually unavailable...Although food was plentiful outside Vicksburg...plantation owners were often unwilling to sell food to the military authorities, simply because farmers could get better prices on the open market. Well before the arrival of the Federal army, Vicksburg residents had to drive into the countryside to purchase salt for $45 a bag and turkeys at $50 each, which were unavailable in the city."
---ibid(p. 99-100)

Prices in the Macon [Georgia] market.--The prices for all leading articles are considerably lower than in any other city, as is conclusiveley demonstrated by the fact that our merchants are daily shipping goods to all the principal cities in this and adjoining States. Retail country dealers have therefore only to choose whether they will pay the prices demanded by our merchants and thus keep the good share, or let them be sold to other points. Our merchants, so far, have not ran the prices up to correspond with other cities, and prices have only advanced with the heavy demand. For instance, the single article of Lard Oil is quote in New Orleans at from 2.50-3.00 per gallon; it is quoted in our market at from 2.75-3.00 per gallon.

Bacon.--The market has been stationary. Clear sides held firm at 2-3 cents. Hams 24 to 26 cents and Shoulders 24-25 cents. The stock on hand is nearly exhausted. Canvasses and country ham, 28-30 cents.
Lard.--Stock exhausted. Selling at 25 cents
Flour. Advancing. Superfine, 3.50-3.75, Family, 4.00. Stock light
Corn meal. Good demand at 1.00-1.05
Coffee.--Very light stock. Rio, 40-45 cents. Laguria, 45-50 cents. Java, 45-50 cents.
Rice. Very good stock. Sells from 3.5-4.5 cents
Sugars.--New Orleans, 9.5-13.5 cents. The stock of A, B, and C Refined Coffee Sugars have become exhausted. Crushed and Powdered, 25 cents.
Molasses.--Declined 5 cents per gallon. Cuba 50-55 cents. Golden Syrup, 80 cents-1.00. New Orleans Syrup, 50 cents.
Soda.--Super Carbonate, 25 cents. Considerable advance. Salt.--7.50-8.00. This article is rapidly advancing.
Wheat-In good demand at 1.25
Corn.--New corn is selling at 75 cents
Oats.--But few in market quoted at 60-65 cents shelled
barley.--Barley brings 1.50/bushel
Peas.--In great demand. A large quantity can be disposed of at from 85-90 cents.
---SOURCE: Macon [Daily] Telegraph, Macon Georgia, October 31, 1861


Found this very useful for a school project on inflation of goods, P.S. should make the picture on price of goods during specific time ranges a bit more clear/better definition.

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