previous next

Chapter 44: the lack of food and the prices in the Confederacy.

To those who insist that the prisoners from the Northern army were maliciously starved, with murderous intent, I dedicate the following statistical compilation of the prices of provisions in Richmond and other places.

Our hapless soldiers starved and froze in the Northern prisons in the midst of plenty, but the benefit release would have been to them would not have been an increase in their comfort or in their bill of fare; the improvement in their state would have been induced by the sunshine and freedom. The sense of abject want would have been less insupportable in a community of deprivation and suffering with their comrades, as well as of active patriotic effort to serve the country.

Some quotations are taken from the diaries of private individuals, and also from my own domestic experience.

If, after reading these statistics, my readers [525] will weigh the facts impartially, our vindication will be complete. Thousands of men were quartered upon us, at Andersonville and elsewhere, for whom we had neither food, clothes, nor medicine; the supplies in the country had been exhausted, the blockade prevented manufactured goods or medicines from being brought in to replenish our stores. The enemy had made medicines contraband of war, the food was not plentiful enough to feed our armies in the field, or the officers of the Government, much better than the prisoners; and the United States Government would not carry out the provisions of the cartel for fear of reinforcing our army by the return of the prisoners in their hands, and their prisoners and ours died of want and homesickness. To whom belonged the shame and the inhumanity of the needless sacrifice?

In July, 1862, both sections issued fractional notes in enormous quantities, and at first there was a sense of relief, and they fluttered from hand to hand “like leaves in wintry weather ;” but gold rose in New York to ten per cent., and in Richmond to almost any per cent. the traders charged. By July 14th, it had advanced in New York to fifteen per cent.; the prices of provisions in the Confederacy on July Ig, 1862, were: [526]

Beef, pork, and mutton, 371 cents per pound; shoat, 50 cents per pound; chickens, 57 cents to $i apiece; ducks, $I to $1.50 apiece; goslings, $2; pullets, $i to $1.50 apiece; eggs, 75 cents to $I per dozen; butter, 75 cents to $I per pound.

Vegetables-beans, 50 cents per bunch: onions, 50 cents per quart (or one shilling apiece for the largest size) ; cymlings, $i per dozen; cucumbers, $i per dozen; string beans, $2 per peck; cabbage, 50 cents to 75 cents per head; Irish potatoes, $6 per bushel; tomatoes, $ r.50 per dozen; blackberries, 25 cents per quart; whortleberries, 35 cents per quart; plums, 50 cents per quart; peaches, $i per dozen.

Prices increased steadily for all varieties of food, as the supplies decreased and the value of Confederate money declined.

Ham was, on July 23, 1862, 75 cents per pound; small quarters of lamb from three to four dollars each; eggs, $ i per dozen; coffee, of poor quality, $2.50 per pound; butter, $I and upward per pound; tea, $5 per pound; boots, $20 to $25 per pair; shoemakers' wages, $5 per diem.

November, 1862-coffee, which had in four months nearly doubled in price, $4 a pound; all good tea from $18 to $20 a pound; butter, $I.50 to $2 a pound; lard, 50 cents; [527] corn, $15 per barrel; wheat, $4.50 a bushel; muslin, $6 to $8 a yard; calico, $1.75 a yard; bleached cotton, $3.50 a yard; cotton, 50 cents a spool; soap, $[ a pound.

The price for coffee was now prohibitory to those who were not speculators.

The Confederate women made a substitute for coffee out of parched sweet potatoes and parched corn, and also of the grain of rye; for sugar they used sorghum syrup. They wove cotton cloth for blankets, and sewed up coverings for their feet out of old carpets, or rather such bits as were left after cutting them up for soldiers' blankets. They had only carpet or canvas soles. Blankets could not be had, and Bishop Meade sent his study carpet to the soldiers for blankets. One gentleman of Halifax County, in 1862, sent eight to be cut up for the same purpose.

“July-calico, $2.50 a yard at a bargain, and $3.50 and $4 a yard. The ladies paid, on January, 1863, for canvas boots made of old sails, cut out by the shoemaker but stitched and bound by the ladies, for sewing on the soles, $50. Last year he soled them for $10, and they were blacked with gun blacking.” Shoes, $125 to $150. Ink was made of elderberries; flour cost $300 a barrel. [528]

February 10, 1863.-General Lee wrote to the Secretary of War, on January 22d, that his army was not fed well enough to fit them for the exertions of the spring campaign, and recommended the discontinuance of the rule of the Commissary-General allowing officers at Richmond, Petersburg, and many other towns, to purchase government meat, etc., for the subsistence of their families, at schedule prices.

This letter was referred to the Commissary-General, who, after the usual delay, returned it with a long argument to show that General Lee was in “error,” and that the practice was necessary, etc.

To this the Secretary responded by a peremptory order, restricting the city officers in the item of meat.

“Sugar is $20 per pound; new bacon, $8; and chickens, $12 per pair. Soon we look for a money panic, when a few hundred millions of paper money is funded, and as many more collected by the tax collectors. Congress struck the speculators a hard blow. One man, eager to invest his money, gave $100,000 for a house and lot, and he now pays $5,000 tax on it; the interest is $6,000 more; total $11,000.”

Here is a notice from the livery stables in 1863:


Notice — Owing to the heavy advance of feed, we are compelled to charge the following rates for boarding horses, on and after the first of March:

Board per month$300
Board per day15
Single feed5

Virginia Stables.
James C. Johnson, W. H. Sutherland, B. W. Green.

The family of the President had no perquisites, and bought their provender as they did their provisions, at the public marts and at the current prices. The President must have horses to perform his duty toward the army; but, after disposing of everything else available, Mr. Davis had sold every horse he could spare; and during his absence in the West, I sent my carriage and horses to be sold by a dealer. Some gentlemen of Richmond heard of it and bought the horses, and returned them to me. The note accompanying them was greatly prized, but how the horses, which of course could not be again sold, were to be fed, could not be foreseen.

Our deprivations were far less than those of persons not holding such high official positions, but they were many. A notice written by General R. Ransom, which is quoted in another part of this volume, gives an account [530] of a breakfast at the Executive mansion, to the meagreness of which our necessities, not my will, consented.

February 21st.-I saw a ham sell to-day for $350; it weighed fifty pounds, at $7 per pound. The fear is now, from a plethora of paper money, we shall soon be without a sufficiency for a circulating medium. There are $750,000,000 in circulation, and the tax bills, etc., will call in, it is estimated, $800,000,000.

February 22d.-The offices are closed today, in honor of Washington's birthday. But it is a fast day; meal selling for $40 per bushel. Money will not be so abundant a month hence.

To-day bacon is selling for $6 per pound, and all other things in proportion. A negro (for his master) asked me to-day $40 for an old, tough turkey gobbler. I passed on very briskly.

It is rumored by blockade-runners that gold in the North is selling at from 200 to 500 per cent. premium. If this be true, our day of deliverance is not far distant.

February 18, 1864.-Sugar has risen to $10 and $12 a pound.

February 20th.-The price of turkey today is $60.

March 12th.-Flour at $300 per barrel; meal, $50 per bushel; and even fresh fish at [531] $5 per pound. A market-woman asked $5 to-day for half a pint of snap beans to plant.

Those having families may possibly live on their salaries; but those who live at boarding-houses cannot, for board is now from $200 to $300 a month. Relief must come soon from some quarter, else many in this community will famish.

About noon to-day, a despatch came from Lieutenant-Colonel Cole, General Lee's principal commissary, at Orange Court House, dated 12th inst., saying the army was out of meat, and had but one day's rations of bread.

March 18th. I saw adamantine candles sell at auction to-day (box) at $10 per pound; tallow, $6.50. Bacon brought $7.75 per pound by the 100 pounds.

Flour selling in Columbus, Ga., 75 cents a pound, from wagons. Flour by the bushel, $5, meal $1, in 1864.

March 25th.-Flour, $15 a barrel.

March 2gth.-Great crowds are funding their Treasury notes to-day; but prices of provisions are not diminished. White beans, such as I paid $60 a bushel for early this month, are now held at $75. What shall we do to subsist until the next harvest?

April 1, 1864.-Tea, $22; coffee, $12; brown sugar, $10; flour, $125 a barrel; milk, $4 a quart.


Part of this diary is taken from the “Diary of a Southern Refugee.”

“ The following prices are now paid in this city: boots, $200; coats, $350; pants, $100; shoes, $125; flour, $275 per barrel; meal, $60 to $80 per bushel; bacon, $9 per pound; no beef in market; chickens, $30 per pair; shad, $20; potatoes, $25 per bushel; turnip greens, $4 per peck; white beans, $4 per quart; or $120 per bushel; butter, $15 per pound; lard, same; wood, $50 per cord. What a change a decisive victory-or defeat --would make!”

“ April 7, 1864.-Sugar was $900 a barrel; bacon and lard fell to $8.25 a pound; corn, $12 a bushel; fodder, $12 a cwt. Breakfast, $10.”

“In General Lee's tent meat was eaten twice a week. His bill of fare was a head of cabbage boiled in salt water, sweet potatoes, and a pone of corn-bread; when he invited an officer to dinner, he had to his astonishment four inches of middling-everyone refused from politeness, and the servant excused the smallness of the piece by saying it was borrowed.”

“April i th.-Potatoes sell at $i per quart; chickens, $35 per pair; turnip greens, $4 per peck. An ounce of meat daily is the allowance to each member of my family, the [533] cat and the parrot included. The pigeons of my neighbor have disappeared. Every day we have accounts of robberies, the preceding night, of cows, pigs, bacon, flour; and even the setting hens are taken from their nests.”

“On July 21, 1864, wheat was $30 a bushel.”

“July 2, 1864.-Tomatoes about the size of a walnut were $20 a dozen.”

“Baby shoes, in 1864, cost $20, and for a fine cotton dress-what is now known as a French print cotton gown-unmade, $45. Boys' shoes, $100 a pair in the spring of 1865.”

“ February, 1865.-Gold, 60 for one. Early York cabbage seed, $10 an ounce; 230 defeated the Senate bill to put 200,000 negroes in the army. Virginia alone for specie could feed the army.”

“An outbreak of the prisoners is apprehended; and if they were to rise, it is feared some of the inhabitants of the city would join them; they too have no meat-many of them --or bread either.”

If a frank answer could be elicited from the men who sincerely believe our Government starved the prisoners in our hands, could they, after reading these extracts, reaffirm that opinion? [534]

Travelling expenses of an officer of artillery en route from Richmond, Va., to Augusta, Ga., March and April, 1865.1

March 11thMeal on the road$20.00
March 17thCigars and bitters60.00
March 20thHair-cutting and shave10.00
March 20thPair of eye-glasses135.00
March 20thCandles50.00
March 23dCoat, vest, and pants2,700.00
March 27thOne gallon whiskey400.00
March 30thOne pair of pants700.00
March 30thOne pair of cavalry boots450.00
April 12thSix yards of linen1,200.00
April 14thOne ounce sul. quinine1,700.00
April 14thTwo weeks board700.00
April 14thBought $60, gold6,000.00
April 24thOne dozen Catawba wine900.00
April 24thShad and sundries75.00
April 24thMatches25.00
April 24thPenknife125.00
April 24thPackage brown Windsor50.00

Prices on bill of fare at the Oriental Restaurant, Richmond, January 17, 1864.

Soup, per plate$1.50
Turkey, per plate$3.50
Chicken, per plate3.50
Rock fish, per plate5.00
Roast beef, per plate3.00
Beefsteak, per dish3.50
Ham and eggs3.50
Boiled eggs2.00
Fried oysters5.00
Raw oysters3.00
Pure coffee, per cup3.00
Pure tea, per cup2.00
Fresh milk1.00
Bread and butter1.00
Wines, per Bottle.
Liquors, per Drink.
French brandy3.00
Rye whiskey2.00
Apple brandy2.00
Malt Liquors, per Bottle.
Ale, one-half bottle6.00
Fine Havana1.00
Game of all kinds in season.
Terrapins served up in every style.


Bill for a dinner for nine poor Confederates at the “Oriental,” January 17, 1864.

Soup for nine$13 50Brought forward$132 50
Venison steak31 50Apples12 00
Fried potatoes9 005 bottles of Madeira250 00
Seven birds24 006 bottles of claret120 00
Baked potatoes9 00Urn cocktail65 00
Celery13 50Jelly20 00
Bread and butter14 00Cake20 00
Coffee18 001 dozen cigars12 00
$1132 50$631 50

Approximate value of gold and Confederate currency from January 1, 1862, to April 12, 1865.

January 1, 1862$100$120
December 20, 1862100300
December 20, 18631001,700
January 1, 18641001,800
December 20, 186410002,800
January 1, 18651003400
February 1, 18651005,000
March 1, 18651004,700
April 10, 18651005,500

1 Colonel Miller Owen: in camp and battle with the Washington artillery.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide People (automatically extracted)
Sort people alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a person to search for him/her in this document.
Custis Lee (4)
Ham (2)
Early York (1)
E. C. White (1)
Sherry (1)
Robert Ransom (1)
Porter (1)
Miller Owen (1)
Meade (1)
Jefferson Davis (1)
Cole (1)
Bacon (1)
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: