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Bill Thayer

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Chapter 3

This webpage reproduces a chapter of
History of North Carolina

The Lewis Publishing Company
Chicago and New York, 1919
Volume III by
J. G. de Roulhac Hamilton

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
If you find a mistake though,
please let me know!


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Chapter 5
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

Vol. III
Chapter 4
Economic Conditions in War

North Carolina was but poorly prepared for the economic strain which the necessities of modern warfare placed upon its population. An agricultural people, there was but little which equipped them for meeting the conditions which quickly and inevitably arose. In the years preceding the war a few political leaders had preached industrial preparedness and independence but the practice had not followed upon the precept. In 1860, the manufacturing interests of the state were of but slight importance. There were thirty-nine cotton factories, all of them small. Of the seven woollen mills, only two, at Rock Island and Salem, were of any importance. Iron was worked to a small extent, but the total capital invested was only $200,000 and this was distributed among more than thirty plants. Of every kind there were only 3,689 manufacturing establishments in the state, and out of a population of 992,622, only 14,217 were employed in these factories. It is true that home manufacture supplied many of the domestic needs, but this was of small aid in solving the economic problems which the war imposed. Thus almost completely dependent upon the outside world for manufactured articles, the work done in supplying and equipping troops was little short of miraculous. But all energies were bent in that direction and as time passed the lack of all manufactured goods became a serious question.

Nevertheless the people did not despair. Substitutes of every sort were tried. Home industries were generally revived, and spinning and weaving vied with knitting as occupations for women. Rough homespun replaced the finer fabrics, most of which went into the making of comforts and necessities for soldiers. The blacksmith, the carpenter and  p47 the tanner assumed a new importance in society and developed amazing ingenuity. But almost from the beginning the labor problem was acute in some places and as the years passed it was so everywhere except on the large plantations which of course were a rarity in North Carolina. Many able-bodied negroes were impressed for work upon fortifications or other public works and the loss of their labor was keenly felt. When the conscription laws went into effect many of the millers, weavers, bosoms, tanners, wagon-makers, shoemakers, and carpenters were taken away from productive activities and their places could not be filled. The state was so stripped of able-bodied white men that practically all the work was done by old men and boys, you women and children, and by negro slaves. It was a desperately hard task to plant, cultivate, and gather crops on the small farms where there were no negroes, or at best one or two. When it is remembered that of the whole white population of 629,942, at least 456,652 were of non-slave-holding families, and that 52,282 more belonged to families owning only one or two slaves, a clearer view of the situation in the state is obtained. Clothing became more difficult to get and the coarsest cloth was valuable. The attics were ransacked and old clothes of every sort brought once more to light. Straw was braided at home for hats. Old letters were opened again for blank sheets of paper and the blank pages of books were used. There was scarcely anything for which some sort of substitute was not found and used. Many of the children went barefooted throughout the war. Scarcity and a depreciated currency inflated prices to an absurd degree and enough calico for a dress often brought as much as $500. Bacon ranged in price, between September, 1862, and March, 1865, from 33 cents to $7.50; corn, from $1 to $30; eggs, from 30 cents to $5; molasses, from $3 to $25; wheat, from $3 to $50; flour per barrel, from $18 to $500; potatoes, from $1 to $30, with other supplies on a similar scale.

Food was really scarce in some sections as the war progressed and starvation was not far away from some families all the time. Even in families of comparative wealth there  p48 was often scarcity. Corn bread, cowpeas, and sorghum became valued and stock articles of diet. The black-eyed pea, or cow-pea, was extensively cultivated and was a most nutritious article of food. It is said that General Indicates a West Point graduate and gives his Class.Lee on one occasion called it, "the Confederacy's best friend." Sweet potatoes, to which the soil of North Carolina was particularly well adapted, were also planted largely and were particularly valued on account of the absence of sugar. Wheat and flour were scarce and tremendously expensive. There was of course much corn raised, but the demand upon it for bread and for feeding stock was great and while it formed the staple article of diet it was never in any too great abundance. The Government constantly urged upon the people to abandon cotton and tobacco and plant grain crops and raise stock. The latter industry suffered greatly during the war from the prevalence of cholera and other diseases which swept away whole flocks, herds, and droves. Meat became to the average family a complete rarity. Tea and coffee disappeared and leaves of blueberry, raspberry, or holly made a vain pretense of replacing the one; while for the other, rye, okra seed, corn, hominy, and pieces of dried and roasted sweet potato made poor substitutes. Sugar was so scarce that sorghum molasses, or "long sweetening," was well-nigh universally used.

North Carolina was a whiskey-drinking community and the scarcity of grain called attention to the amount that was being employed in the distillation of liquor. Public sentiment was aroused and after efforts to check the evil by means of public opinion had failed, a law was passed prohibiting it. None of this had any temperance significance but was purely a matter of food conservation. But in spite of all efforts to prevent it, much grain was employed in this way throughout the war.

While scarcity prevailed in some quarters, in other parts of the state the crops were sometimes allowed to rot in the fields because it did not pay to gather them. This situation of affairs was due to the impossibility of transporting the food crops and stock produced in the state. At the beginning of the war there were approximately about nine hundred miles of railroad in the state. Fifty miles more were built during  p49 the war, connecting Greensboro with Danville. All the roads were poorly equipped when the war came and with a scarcity of engines, cars, and rails, and no possibility of securing new supplies in quantity as the old wore out, and with a vastly increased demand upon them, they quickly deteriorated and by the end of the war almost every one had been forced practically to cease operations except on the smallest scale. This was one of the heaviest handicaps to the Confederate armies and to those at home.​a

The state was even without an adequate source of supply of salt. The convention elected a commissioner to manufacture salt and sell it to the people at cost. John M. Worth and later D. G. Worth were commissioners. Works were established at Morehead City and were at once captured by the enemy. They were then located near Wilmington, and although the work was interrupted by yellow fever and by enemy raids, it was carried on until the close of the war, and salt was produced in large quantities. In 1864, 66,100 bushels were made. Private works were also established at various points. The state also had an interest in works at Saltville, Virginia. Here there were large deposits of salt and Nicholas W. Woodfin was placed in charge of the state's work there. The following account shows the problems he had to meet:

Woodfin in Virginia reported in November, 1862, that he had erected furnaces and kettles, had employed slaves from Warren County at $20 per month, and that his greatest difficulty was to get food supplies. To meet these needs he agreed to refill sacks of grain with salt. So the grain supply was met. To get his beef, he sent to the mountains and drove down a herd of cattle. The hides were tanned by Rankin, Gaines and Company of Asheville for half the leather. From Nash, Johnston, Wayne and Pitt he got bacon in exchange for salt; from Randolph County he secured 4,500 yards of osnaburg to make clothes for the slaves and salt bags in exchange for salt; from Lenoir thirty-seven thousand pounds of kettles. In November he wrote that one hundred thousand bushels would be needed to save the pork crop, and that he expected to make that much during the winter. He urged upon the pork makers to kill in installments, — December, January, February — so that he might keep them in salt. The Sunday problem confronted him, but he decided that it was necessary to keep his furnaces and kettles going on Sunday. He estimated that it was costing fifty cents a bushel. Various States bought salt at this place, but North Carolina was the only State that owned and managed its salt concerns. The great trouble was distribution.

 p50  In spite of these sources of supply, salt remained a scarce commodity and sold in Wilmington as high as $19 a bushel, reaching $70 in Raleigh. When the rare indulgence in fresh meat came in the interior there were many who learned the taste of hickory ashes.

Speculation in food and other supplies was common, and both Governor Clark and Governor Vance had to place embargoes upon exportation. The convention made speculation in the necessaries of life a misdemeanor, punishable by a heavy fine, but the law was without effect and the practice continued until the end of the war in spite of official threats and hostile public opinion. A board was appointed to set prices and a new schedule was published every two months for public information, but their prices were far below the market and were usually ignored.

Many families had every male member in the army and no other means of support but their pay. The pay of a private, or for that matter, of an officer, in the Confederate army, was not sufficient for the support of even one person, and consequently widespread distress soon appeared. In and around Raleigh, everyone could get a living by working in the factories and hospitals. But this only affected a small part of the population. Early in his administration, Governor Vance saw the condition which would arise, and took immediate steps to prevent suffering so far as possible. He asked Weldon N. Edwards to assemble the convention to consider what plan should be adopted to relieve distress, but this request was refused.

At the governor's recommendation, the legislature authorized him to purchase and store provisions to sell to the poor at cost and appropriated $500,000 for the purpose. A large quantity was purchased in the fall of 1862, but only a small part was needed, as the crops were unusually good. But the value of the plan was seen in the later years of the war, when the crops were smaller and food more scarce. More money had been appropriated and the relief given was beyond any calculation. In all over $6,000,000 was appropriated by the state for relief work. This action of Vance served to explain the devotion to him, akin to adoration, which was felt by so  p51 many women and younger people, particularly those in the humbler walks of life. They could not forget what the relief work had meant to them. Of course this amount of relief did not touch at all much of the suffering in the state. With conditions as they were, especially in respect to transportation, that was an impossibility. And, of course, as has been said, in spite of the widespread distress, there were portions of the state where the amount of suffering was very slight. The few records that remain of the tithe collection, show that in many places the crops were good and food abundant. But impressment and foraging by detachments of Confederate troops, and the foraging and destruction by the enemy, in the eastern and western portions of the state, led to the loss of a great part.

A great cause of suffering was the lack of drugs. Such as were used were mostly of home manufacture as the United States, in defiance of humanitarian sentiment, made medicines contraband of war. Great ingenuity was displayed in the discovery and use of substitutes. North Carolina has always been particularly rich in its supply of crude vegetable drugs, and an immense industry began at once. A laboratory was established at Lincolnton; and Wilkesboro, Asheville, and Statesville became important collection centers. The "Ad‑Vance" brought in great quantities of drugs from abroad which were almost all sent to the front or used in the military hospitals in the state. Sickness, as might be expected, was very frequent. Smallpox existed in many neighborhoods and the lesser epidemics were everywhere. In 1862, Wilmington was visited by a virulent type of yellow fever which in two months caused 441 deaths. The total number of cases was 1,505. New Bern also had a sharp epidemic of yellow fever, but it was during Federal occupation and no statistics are available.

As was to be expected taxation was heavy. The first Confederate tax was assumed by the state which in turn levied a tax to pay it. This was never wholly collected. The state taxes were increased several times during the war. The tax on real estate in 1861 was one‑fifth of 1 percent, and in 1863 it was two‑fifths of 1 percent, and in 1864 was 1 percent.  p52 The revenue consequently more than doubled in amount, but in specie value fell one‑third in 1862 and one-half in 1863. The revenue acts show a decided extension. That of 1862 included a graduated inheritance tax on all amounts exceeding $100, and also an income tax. Of all the taxes, the Confederate tax in kind bore most heavily and was, consequently, the most unpopular. To it North Carolina was the largest contributor, furnishing with Georgia and Alabama two‑thirds of the whole amount of produce collected. The Confederate tax system was intended to get what the Confederacy needed and leave no room for evasion. As Professor Fleming thus describes it:

First there was a tax of eight percent on all agricultural products in hand on July 1, 1863, on salt, wine, and liquors, and one percent on all monies and credits. Second, an occupation tax ranging from $50 to $200 and from two and one-half to twenty percent of their gross sales was levied on bankers, auctioneers, brokers, druggists, butchers, fakirs, liquor dealers, merchants, pawnbrokers, lawyers, physicians, photographers, brewers, and distillers; hotels paid from $30 to $500, and theatres, $500. Third, there was an income tax of one percent on salaries from $1,000 to $1,500, and two percent on all over $1,500. Fourth, ten percent on all trade in flour, bacon, corn, oats, and dry goods during 1863. Fifth, a tax in kind, by which each farmer, after reserving fifteen bushels of sweet and fifty bushels of Irish potatoes, twenty bushels of peas or beans, one hundred bushels of corn or fifty bushels of wheat out of his crop of 1863, had to deliver (at a depot within eight miles) out of the remainder of his produce for that year, ten percent of all wheat, corn, oats, rye, buckwheat, rice, sweet and Irish potatoes, hay, fodder, sugar, molasses, cotton, wool, tobacco, peas, beans and peanuts; ten percent of all meat killed between April 24, 1863, and March 1, 1864.

To the tax in kind North Carolina had contributed, along with many other things of which no record can be found, by June, 1864, 3,000,000 pounds of bacon, 75,000 tons of hay and fodder, 70,000 bushels of wheat, besides other produce valued at $150,000. For the other Confederate taxes, the state paid, by 1864, $10,000,000.

The bonded indebtedness of the state at the time of secession was $11,119,500. Almost all of it had been contracted for internal improvements. During the war new bonds to the amount of $1,619,000 were issued for the same purpose. As an offset to this debt the state held corporation stocks and bonds to the amount of $9,297,664.


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North Carolina Civil War Money

This debt was speedily increased by the convention and the legislature, both of which authorized from time to time large issues of treasury notes and of bonds. In the war period, thus, a total of $20,400,000 in treasury notes was authorized, and of this $8,507,847.50 were issued, $3,261,511.25 being withdrawn later, leaving in circulation at the close of the war $5,246,336.25. Bonds were issued to the amount of $13,121,500. After deducting the unsold bonds in England, those redeemed, and those in the sinking fund, the balance was $9,119,000. Unpaid interest and similar items made the total war debt, including treasury notes and internal improvement bonds, $16,596,485.61. But corporation bonds amounting to $6,800,000 were held as a partial offset to this. In addition to the state debt individual counties owed a sum estimated in 1864 at $20,000,000. This debt had been contracted by the county courts, chiefly to provide for the destitute families of soldiers.

The banks of the state suspended specie payments in November, 1860. Resumption, as has been seen, was delayed until the state debt should be paid. In May, 1861, the banks agreed to lend the state 20 percent of their capital stock. This proportion, in most cases, was largely increased later. Bank-note extension never went so far in North Carolina as in the other Southern states, and consequently depreciation  p54 was less. But Confederate currency fell in value to such an extent that the legislature in 1863, attempting to raise it passed a resolution pledging that the state would resist any attempt to repudiate it. Naturally, with such an immense volume of currency, depreciation began soon in the state's notes as well. This continued until the end of the war. The following table gives an idea of the process of depreciation which began in November, 1861:

1862 1863 1864 1865
January $1.20 $3.00 $21.00 $50.00
April 1.50 5.00 20.00 100.00
July 1.50 9.00 21.00
October 2.00 14.00 26.00

By November, 1864, a state bond for $100 was worth $7.40, and a Confederate bond of the same amount was worth $4. At the beginning of the war the banks had more than $1,000,000 in specie, and at the close they still had about $800,000.

Life of course went on as it does when people become accustomed to war. With almost every house a house of mourning, gloom hung over the state as indeed it did over all the South. Yet young people danced and were gay, there was  p55 marriage and giving in marriage, and birth in the midst of death. All classes rallied to support of the cause. Mrs. Spencer well describes the splendid way in which the people met the demands of the time:

Few were the hearts in any part of the land that did not thrill at the thought that those who were fighting for us were in want of food. From the humble cabin on the hillside, where the old brown spinning-wheel and the rude loom were the only breastworks against starvation, up through all grades of life, there were none who did not feel a deep and tender, almost heart-breaking solicitude for our noble soldiers. For them the last barrel of flour was divided, the last luxury in homes that had once abounded was cheerfully surrendered. Every available resource was taxed, every expedient of domestic economy was put in practice * * * I speak now of Central North Carolina, where many families of the highest respectability and refinement lived for months on corn-bread, sorghum, and peas; where meat was seldom on the table, tea and coffee never; where dried apples and peaches were a luxury; where children went barefoot through the winter, and ladies made their own shoes, and wove their own homespuns; where the carpets were cut up into blankets, and window-curtains and sheets were torn up for hospital uses; where soldiers' socks were knit day and night, while for home service clothes were twice turned and patches were patched again; and all this continually, and with an energy and a cheerfulness that may well be called heroic.

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Home Made Articles

And so the war went on. Women, giving themselves, with all their enthusiasm to the cause of the South, held men in the ranks to fight what they came to regard as in a peculiar sense their battle; and overseeing the negroes at home, or doing field work themselves when, as in the majority of cases, there were no negroes, kept the system going. It was a frightful responsibility, but they lived up to it, splendidly supported by the negroes who, wherever Federal troops did not penetrate, displayed a loyalty and devotion which could scarcely be surpassed. Unprotected women were safe in their care and the later South owes still a debt of gratitude which Reconstruction, even if the negro had been responsible — and he was not — could in no wise conceal.

When 1865 came the state was financially prostrate and the complete economic breakdown and ruin which were in sight were only averted by the close of hostilities.

Thayer's Note:

a Details, including some bibliographical references (to Gov. Vance's letter-book, etc.) are given in "The Confederate Government and the Railroads", AHR 22:794‑810.

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Page updated: 29 Feb 12