- 01 Apr 2021 14:04
April 2, Thursday
The Southern people have grown discontented with growing shortages of food and other necessities—and by new measures the government has taken to deal with the problem. As time passes, the Federal blockade grows ever tighter, pinching off outside supplies. Many good farms cease to produce because their owners have gone to war—or have been disabled or killed on the battlefield. The Confederate Congress has exacerbated the supply situation for civilians this spring by passing a sweeping bill that taxes property, income, and profits. The most intrusive of its various measures is a tax in kind on each farm family. The government is demanding ten percent of all corn, wheat, rice, cotton, oats, sugar, salt, potatoes, buckwheat, peas, beans, bacon, and other meats for the Army. The levy has little effect on a wealthy planter’s fami, but to a backwoods couple who can barely feed their children and indigent relatives in the best of times, taking away ten percent of the food can mean real hardship. To make matters worse, last year the Confederate Army began the practice of requisitioning, or “impressing,” whatever food and other supplies the gaunt regiments need as they maneuver through the countryside. Secretary of War James A. Seddon admits that impressment is “a harsh, unequal, and odious mode of supply.” But since in the government’s view the alternative to impressment and the tax in kind would be the collapse of the Army, the two despised practices continue. Meanwhile, the Richmond administration is hardpressed to provide relief programs for the destitute home front. State governments are left mostly to their own devices, and several of them do their best to muster resources to feed and clothe their people.
But ultimately, even the most powerful public figures in the South can do little to ease the hardship caused by the war. Nor do they possess the means to stem the tide of corruption that compounds the crisis on the home front. As shortages worsen, hoarding escalates and price gouging by shopkeepers becomes common. Others sell cotton to the Union. But the worst graft is practiced by so-called commissary vultures, who use their employment in Army depots as a license to steal. These men receive the food and other goods seized from the people and brought into the depots—but never pass it on to the troops. Instead, they sell the goods surreptitiously at prices beyond the reach of all but the wealthy. Partly as a result of such corruption, the average family food bill, in the estimation of the Richmond Dispatch, has climbed from $6.65 per month at the time of secession to $68. Tolerance for such speculators among the people has expired, and nasty incidents occur in a dozen places around the South this spring. In Atlanta a pistol-carrying woman led a group of citizens into a butcher shop and asked the price of bacon. When advised that it was $1.10 per pound, the leader showed her gun, telling her companions to take all they wanted. She then led them into other shops; they quickly persuaded a number of storekeepers to sell at lower prices, but the stubborn ones among the owners were told simply to hand over the goods.
Today, it is Richmond’s turn. A group of angry women meet at a Baptist church on Oregon Hill under the leadership of one Mary Jackson, a “tall, daring, Amazonian-looking woman with a white feather erect from her hat” and a “six-shooter” in her hand. In a rousing speech, Mrs. Jackson tells the women they should demand food at fair prices or take it by force. Her listeners pour out onto the streets, their numbers swelling to several hundred, men among them, as they march to Capitol Square. There the crowd halts while Mary Jackson and others present their grievances to Governor John Letcher. The Governor listens sympathetically, but when he fails to make concessions, the mood of the group turns violent. Shouting and brandishing knives and hatchets, the mob surges into the city’s shopping district. The women smash windows and rampage into stores, wrecking the interiors, taking clothing along with food. The crowd even invades a hospital and loots 300 pounds of beef from the commissary. A company of soldiers arrives and begins pushing the mob up Main Street. As the people glare at the soldiers and the situation seems certain to end in bloodshed, President Jefferson Davis climbs atop a wagon and calls on the mob to disperse. The rioters hiss and boo in reply, and surge restlessly around Davis’ wagon. “You say you are hungry and have no money—here is all I have,” Davis cries out, slinging the contents of his pockets into the crowd. Then from his vest Davis removes his watch and holds it up for all to see. “We do not desire to injure anyone, but this lawlessness must stop. I will give you five minutes to disperse. Otherwise you will be fired upon.” The crowd grows silent. The soldiers prepare arms while Davis continues to look at his watch, then at the unhappy gathering around him. At last, by ones and twos and then by dozens, the crowd leaves the square, melting into the side streets of Richmond. The bread riot is over. Although a minor incident, it gives pause to the Confederate government and is unsettling throughout the Confederacy.
Fighting includes an engagement at Hill’s Point on Pamlico River in North Carolina. Skirmishing occurs on the Little Rock Road, Arkansas; on the Carter Creek Pike, and at Woodbury and Snow Hill, Tennessee; and an affair occurs in Jackson County, Missouri. April 2-6 there is a Union scout in Beaver Creek Swamp, Tennessee, and a reconnaissance by Federals from near Murfreesboro. A Federal expedition operates until the fourteenth to Greenville, Black Bayou, and Deer Creek, Mississippi.
Major General O.O. Howard supersedes Major General Carl Schurz in command of the Eleventh Corps of the Army of the Potomac.
President Lincoln revokes exceptions to his August, 1861, proclamation banning commercial intercourse with insurgent states. Experience has shown, he says, that the proclamation as it is cannot be enforced. Trading is restricted to that permitted by the Secretary of the Treasury.
President Davis, in response to criticism of Northern-born General Pemberton, writes, “by his judicious disposition of his forces and skilful [sic] selection of the best points of defence he has repulsed the enemy at Vicksburg, Port Hudson, on the Tallahatchie and at Deer Creek, and has thus far foiled his every attempt to get possession of the Mississippi river and the vast section of the country which it controls.”
The expert is more aristocratic than the aristocrat, because the aristocrat is only the man who lives well, while the expert is the man who knows better.
—G. K. Chesterton