Civilian Reaction in the Confederacy to the War: The Impact on Daily Life & the Economy Video

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  • 0:07 The War in the Confederacy
  • 0:54 A Tricky Government
  • 2:38 An Economy in Tatters
  • 4:42 A Social Fabric Torn
  • 5:55 A Home Front Destroyed
  • 7:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Troolin

Amy has MA degrees in History, English, and Theology. She has taught college English and religious education classes and currently works as a freelance writer.

In this lesson, we will study the Confederate home front. We will examine how the Civil War affected the South's government, economy, and social fabric, and we will see how the Southerners faced destruction and displacement throughout the war.

The War in the Confederacy

The Civil War came home to the people of the South in ways their northern neighbors could hardly even imagine. Challenges abounded in the government, which had to be built from the ground up amidst the raging war. Economic hardships were commonplace, as the South scrambled to create and support necessary industries that would supply both soldiers and civilians.

The southern social fabric, based as it was on a clear-cut hierarchy, was torn to shreds. Finally, most battles were waged in Confederate territory. Southerners faced large-scale destruction and displacement that often shattered their lives and families. We will explore each of these areas in turn.

A Tricky Government

The Confederate States of America was officially formed in February 1861. Eleven states eventually joined the Confederacy, which was led by President Jefferson Davis. Davis immediately saw the need to pull together a strong central government that could take firm control of the economy and the military. This, he believed, was the only way to win the war.

Problems developed in the South's political landscape from the very outset. Most Confederate leaders, especially those of individual states, were outspoken advocates of states' rights, and they hated the thought of a strong central government. After all, they had seceded from the Union in the first place because they believed that their rights were being violated by such a government. They wanted to keep their men and resources for themselves, within their states and serving their people.

This attitude led to conflicts on several levels as Davis tried to balance the Confederacy's needs with the states' desires. For example, the South never had quite enough men to fill the ranks of the Confederate Army. On April 16, 1862, Davis and the southern legislature passed the Conscription Act, which called for all men ages 18-35 to enroll for a three-year term of military service. The act offered exemptions for certain professions, as well as the 'twenty Negro' provision, which stated that one white man could remain on any plantation with over 20 slaves. Many Southerners complained that the war was quickly becoming 'a rich man's war but a poor man's fight.'

An Economy in Tatters

Just as it never had quite enough men, the Confederacy also never had quite enough money or supplies. With its long-time focus on agriculture, the South lacked most major industries, so Confederate officials had to scramble to build factories to manufacture even simple items like shirts and shoes. These factories could never produce nearly as much as the Southern Army needed.

Further, the Union quickly set up a blockade around Confederate ports that, over time, severely limited foreign trade. The South had great difficulty selling its cotton to overseas markets and importing the textiles, food, weapons and munitions that it so greatly needed to sustain its war effort.

Government efforts to raise money at home were challenging also. Confederate officials often seized the food and supplies they needed from private citizens, offering certificates of credit that they rarely ever paid back. They also placed a tax-in-kind upon southern farmers, requiring that 8% of the cotton crop and 10% of other crops be paid directly to the government. When these efforts failed to raise enough money and supplies, the Confederates simply issued more paper currency, but with no gold or silver to back it up, the so-called 'scrip' was virtually worthless.

Because of these economic trials, Southerners faced inflation (up to 9,000%), ridiculously high prices on staple foods ($15 per pound of bacon in Atlanta in 1864) and shortages of necessary items that often led to near starvation for soldiers and civilians alike. Needless to say, many Southerners were not pleased with the situation. Their discontent sometimes led to violence as it did in Richmond on April 2, 1863, when women poured into the streets demanding 'bread or blood.' They only dispersed when threatened by military fire.

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