Bread Riots

18thVirginia

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#21
The New York Times published an article about a food riot near Raleigh, NC on April 19, 1863 about MOBS OF FAMISHED WOMEN HELPING THEMSELVES TO FOOD.

The Raleigh, N.C., Standard of March 25, gives an account of a bread riot that has just taken place near that city. A company of women, most of them soldiers' wives, went to the store of WILLIAM WELSH, at High Point, rolled out several barrels of molasses and divided it. The Standard remarks on this occurrence: "WELSH is a great war man, and favors general impressment of supplies by the army." http://www.nytimes.com/1863/04/19/news/bread-riot-in-raleigh-nc.html.

The article goes on to give details about the bread riot in Salisbury, NC as well. The Times stated that the women garnered 10 barrels of flour at the Railroad Depot, where it had been stored by a speculator. The story repeats the allegation that the women chopped down the door of one flour speculator with a hatchet, which led him to part with 10 free barrels of floor. It notes that a Dr. Enniss gave the women 3 barrels of flour and that Sprague and Company provided them with half a barrel of molasses.

vance 1862 zeb_vance3jpg.jpg


Zebulon Vance, Governor of North Carolina during the food riot period. The soldiers' wives saw Vance as their champion and wrote him numerous letters and petitions requesting that he act on their behalf. In 1863, Governor Vance tried to convince Jefferson Davis to change the conscription rules to allow married men who were the sole support of their families to be exempt, although Davis was not able to make that change. Vance remained sensitive to the needs and demands of the wives throughout the rest of the war.

 
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18thVirginia

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#22
According to Steven Hahn in The Roots of Southern Populism : Yeoman Farmers and the Transformation of the Georgia Upcountry, at Marietta, Ga., 28 women ambushed a Confederate supply wagon. They had armed themselves with knives and pistols.

Hahn recounts the disdain of the newspapers for these women who sought to settle scores with the speculators and hoarders.

“The Atlanta Southern Confederacy warned These [women] seizures were a preconcerted movement among very wicked and ignorant women, generally instigated thereto and led by rascally individuals who aim at plunder and robbery.”Conceding that “these bad men and women received their first lessons from those high officials who set the example in lawlessness by appropriating what did not belong to them without any necessity for it," the paper nonetheless insisted that “decent respectable and sensible ladies no matter what may be their circumstances…will never unsex and disgrace themselves by joining in such forays.” The Athens Southern Watchman reminded its readers, more ominously, that “The “French Revolution was inaugurated…by women and men dressed in women’s clothes” and called upon "those hoarding provisions and refusing to sell to change their policy,” while prescribing severe punishments for rioters.

https://books.google.com/books?id=_LyGBzIYbgoC&pg=PA333&lpg=PA333&dq=food riots in GA&source=bl&ots=goHZVuvqv5&sig=ezzt-PrTUVhmWqDOI59fTvXZxsY&hl=en&sa=X&ei=7B0UVfzWBYyogwTexIGoBA&ved=0CCoQ6AEwAjgU#v=onepage&q=food riots in GA&f=false

marietta.jpg

Marietta, Ga., Harper's Weekly.

http://www.sonofthesouth.net/leefoundation/civil-war/1864/august/sherman-marietta-georgia.htm
 
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JPK Huson 1863

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#23
So there were men making zillions from the shortages, those men somehow not off fighting in the war? Seems outrageous! How does that happen? It is unsurprising a cork would pop, the women see their men fighting for what was then their country while speculators make their fortune from everyone else's patriotism.

In the book I just reviewed, the shortages show up in the medicines- a farmer brings 2 trees with medicinal properties, things like that but you don't see what the civilians are suffering.
 
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#24
OK see, the account I read? A group of women rioted in the streets- ONCE. Jefferson Davis strode to the middle of them and shamed them with a patriotic speech about suffering nobly for their cause and everyone hung their heads and slunk away home The End. I know we have to provide sources here and could not- but it is what I read somewhere. I was wondering how in earth the bread riots got so famous- should have certainly looked into it further. Gee whiz!! This makes more sense. Plus, I understand the blockade certainly made things tight but the South was such a fertile, productive place. Someone had food! There are always men making grand speeches about sacrifices and causes; those same men rarely get to experience sacrifice, it's just a head's up for everybody else.

Super, super thread 18th! Thank you! In my imaginary spare time will try to remember to get to Fulton Postcards and tool around for era articles on these wonderful women. They're on my list now, " Who you would like to meet ".
At the risk of inciting ire that bit about the patriotic speech sounds like Lost Cause mythology although I will be the first to admit it could have happened. I'm sure someone with an interest in Jefferson Davis would know if there is any record of him making such a speech.
 

JPK Huson 1863

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#25
At the risk of inciting ire that bit about the patriotic speech sounds like Lost Cause mythology although I will be the first to admit it could have happened. I'm sure someone with an interest in Jefferson Davis would know if there is any record of him making such a speech.

I'm guessing this did happen? Probably one of the bread riots in one of towns was quelled by the force of Davis's personality alone. Can imagine it made quite an impact, it's just that I do not have a source for what I read so have to limp along with he impression that it left me with- which was this was pretty much it for the entire event.
 

18thVirginia

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#26
At the risk of inciting ire that bit about the patriotic speech sounds like Lost Cause mythology although I will be the first to admit it could have happened. I'm sure someone with an interest in Jefferson Davis would know if there is any record of him making such a speech.
J. B. Jones was a clerk at the War Department in Richmond who saw the procession of women beginning outside his window and wrote a sympathetic account of it. He described it as highly organized, with pre-designated targets with a level of discipline and order about it. According to Jones, the crowd paused when Governor Letcher threatened to have them fired upon.

Jones stated that the women had first approached Governor Letcher's office, where his staff instructed them that the Governor was unavailable. The Governor then relented and stepped out to speak to the crowd of women, telling them "it was out of his power to afford them any relief, as the government demanded all the provisions it was possible to get for the army." http://emergingcivilwar.com/2014/10/24/the-richmond-bread-riots-2/

In Jones's account, Letcher gave them 5 minutes to disperse or he would have them fired upon. Jones also stated that the Governor had Mayor Mayo read the women the Riot Act.

Jones's stated that then Jefferson Davis appeared and addressed the crowd:

He urged them to return to their homes, so that the bayonets there menacing them might be sent against the common enemy. He told them that such acts would bring famine upon them in the only form which could not be provided against, as it would deter people from bringing food to the city.

Davis said he was willing to share his last loaf with the suffering people… and he trusted we would all bear our privations with fortitude, and continue united against the Northern invaders, who were the authors of all our sufferings. He seemed deeply moved….”

Jones, J.B. A Rebel War Clerk’s Diary at the Confederate States Capital, (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co, 1866), 278.
 
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18thVirginia

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#29
civil-war-116.jpg

Richmond, Virginia

Okay, the Richmond Bread Riot. First, a little history about events immediately prior to the Bread Riot in Richmond on April 2, 1863. The riots in Atlanta and Salisbury, NC had occurred within 2 weeks prior to this date. There was also a riot in Petersburg, but very little information is available about it.

The other incident that preceded the food riot in Richmond was the explosion at the Brown's Island Ammunition Factory, which happened in early March of 1863, only a few weeks before women in Richmond mounted their attacks on the establishments of merchants. 45 young girls and women were killed in the explosion at the ordnance plant.

Also, in an unusual event, a foot of snow fell in Richmond in the week prior to the food riots and the city's waterworks had been overwhelmed and citizens had to receive their water from one well. Some observers noted that many of the local vendors for the city markets had not been able to bring food into the city.

The Richmond Bread Riot had been in the planning and organizing stages for at least a week. A large meeting of the women had convened the night before at a Richmond Baptist Church, with 300 women meeting to plan the events of April 2. The leader of the women was Mary Jackson, a soldiers' wife who sold meat as a "huckster" in one of the markets in Richmond. Mrs. Jackson had worked to recruit women through her contacts in the market, but had also reached out to women in Hanover, New Kent and Henrico counties to encourage them to come and join the demonstration against "the extortioners."

"She said she didn't want the women to go along the streets like a parcel of heathens," one woman testified later, "but to go quietly to the stores and demand goods at Government prices and if the merchants did not grant their demands they were to break open the stores and take the goods."

Stephanie McCurry. Confederate Reckoning: Power and Politics in the Civil War South (Kindle Locations 2479-2481). Kindle Edition.
 
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18thVirginia

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#30
On the day of the riot, the women gathered at 8 a.m. and marched to the Governor's office, where the Governor eventually came out and addressed them, leaving the women even angrier. The crowd attacked two warehouses as they marched toward the river in Richmond. At one warehouse, a toothless old lady, Mary Walker, attacked the door with a hatchet. She would eventually be sentenced to 5 years in prison for her acts on April 2.

The crowd appropriated carts and drays as they marched down Cary Street. The mayor at one point read the Riot Act to them, but they continued breaking into stores, removing the contents and placing them in their confiscated carts and buggies. The mayor, the governor, the president of the Confederacy, even a Catholic bishop had no influence on the crowd of women, which now numbered close to 1,000, according to observers. Eventually, the Governor ordered the women to leave within 5 minutes and the Public Guard, originally organized to put down slave revolts, threatened to fire upon them. The crowd left by 11 a.m. and did not resume as planned the next day, perhaps in reaction to the Governor's order that cannons be placed in the business district and near the Capital.
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DaveBrt

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#31
The economic ignorance of the educated men of the time is remarkable. There are many, many newspaper letters and editorials condemning the railroads for raising fares -- ignoring the great increase in prices of everything the railroads had to buy in order to operate. Others complained about the railroads paying such high dividends (usually about 8% per year) without reading the railroads' own reports that they had decided that their owners needed the money and, since the railroad could not find the items to buy that they needed, they were returning the money, rather than just holding it -- and warning that the money would again be required when the goods could be found to purchase.

Likewise, there are many articles about the hording of food, though with very few examples of it actually happening. The view was that hording was obviously taking place because the prices had gone up and availability had gone down.

The law of supply and demand appears to have never been heard of in the offices of the newspapers. Of course, prices went up when supplies became scarce!!

The question that should have been asked was: why are the things we need so scarce that the prices are higher than we can afford? The answer appears to have had three parts: 1. Wages, especially to soldiers, did not go up as fast as prices, so the poor were short of money. 2. The South's railroads were not designed to carry food from the producing areas to the consuming areas. Such movements before the war had been entirely different from what was required during the war and the railroads were terribly stressed trying to meet this new requirement. 3. The war induced all kinds of interruptions to normal rail traffic -- rail cars were taken from one area and sent to another with Government goods and the cars not returned (cannon from Norfolk to Vicksburg, for example); private food shipments were interrupted by troop movements and other critical movements; cars were used as warehouses when the armies were in places without covered storage for supplies; etc.

Though I could be convinced otherwise, at this time I believe the South had enough non-meat food through out the war. The great problem was transporting the food to where it was required -- the cities and the armies. The armies foraged and did without; the cities rioted and did without.

What the Confederacy needed was far beyond its capacity to create -- a transportation bureau that could address the entire nation's needs, not just the Government's needs.
 

matthew mckeon

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#32
The famous engraving of the bread riot in Frank Leslie's Weekly can be best characterized as enemy propaganda, rather than an accurate representation of the incident.

The rioters in Richmond were not dispersed by an appeal to their latent patriotism but by the threat of being shot to death.

The chronic lack of food wasn't just transportation, although its part of it. Its the labor force in food production being in the army, and the choice of many of the wealthy planters who had access to slave labor, to continue to plant cash crops, not food crops.
 

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#33
The way in which Mobile had handled their food shortages indicates that it wasn't just a lack of transportation, but also a willingness of officialdom and of the wealthy to address the problem. Because of the blockade which affected Mobile and the disagreements between military commanders which resulted in Pemberton refusing to allow Mississippi grain to be transported to Mobile, the situation was at least as dire in Mobile in 1863 as in Richmond.

As part of their response, the wealthier citizens of Mobile had put together a fund, Mobile Supply Association, which purchased food supplies and made them available at cost to those in need, in an attempt to combat the rampant inflation, which had increased the cost of molasses from $.30 to $7.00 a barrel by the time of the riot in 1863. The city and the wealthier citizenry had worked together to assist soldiers wives and the needy prior to the food riot, although they were eventually unsuccessful. As mentioned earlier, the restrictions on fishermen in Mobile had been loosened in order to provide the city with another food source.

The Mayor of Mobile addressed the citizens in the evening paper on the day of the riot there. He promised the creation of a Relief Committee which was created and which went throughout the wards of the city, attempting to find and assist those in dire need of food.
 

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#34
In Richmond, the authorities requested that the newspapers keep quiet about the bread riot to avoid it becoming an issue known to Northern newspapers. However, John Moncure Daniel wrote a scathing article published the next day his newspaper, The Richmond Examiner, in which he labeled the participants in the Bread Riot of Richmond "a handful of prostitutes, professional thieves, Irish and Yankee hags, gallows birds from all lands but our own." And it is that characterization of the soldiers wives and mothers who which has largely been picked up and repeated by historians without looking at the record, at least according to historian Michael Chesson. In his article, Harlots or Heroines?, he notes that many newspaper accounts of what happened in Richmond are no more than a summary of Daniel's allegations and that many historians have simply recounted, in very similar language, the details set forth by The Examiner.

As JPK Huson notes, it's made it easy to overlook the Bread Riots as insignificant events, merely crowds of unhappy women, and foreign and Yankee women at that. Overlooked is the fact that the "professional thieves" had been stealing that which they wanted, with one newspaper reporting--on the day of the riot--the theft of 625 pounds of bacon, 77 pounds of sugar, as well as coffee, tea and candles. Had these women been of the poorest sort, unwilling to work as some have alleged, or thieves, they would have simply stolen the goods they needed. The difficulty that soldiers wives had in dealing with inflationary costs of food when a private's wages were only $11 a month when bacon cost $1.50 a pound, butter cost $3 a pound, and potatoes were available at $12 a bushel was often not recognized by those of the elite classes, who severely criticized the women rioters in their accounts and diaries.

The words of Daniel and the Examiner were also undermined by accounts of the trials to which the authorities in Richmond chose to subject these women. In all, 44 women and 29 women were arrested, among them the leaders Mary Jackson and Minerva Meredith. Examination of records indicates that Mary Jackson was a mother of 4 whose husband was a painter and who worked herself at selling meat in a Richmond market. She was also the mother of a son in the Confederate army, whom she had petitioned the War Department many times to try and get him out. Minerva Meredith was the mother of 2 children ages 10 and 12, all of them natives of Virginia. She was supposedly 6 ft tall, strong and muscular, and some sources have indicated she worked as a butcher. She attempted to steal a wagonload of beef, but when the owner stated that it was bound for a hospital, Meredith walked away. However, other women jumped on the cart and absconded with the meat.

One man arrested with the rioters was the husband of a woman killed in the explosion at the ammunition factory, whose body did not turn up until after the riot. It's interesting that The Examiner's Daniel chose to blame the bread riot on Irish hags, when many of those employed at the Brown's Island factory were Irish immigrants.
 

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#35
The way in which Mobile had handled their food shortages indicates that it wasn't just a lack of transportation, but also a willingness of officialdom and of the wealthy to address the problem. Because of the blockade which affected Mobile and the disagreements between military commanders which resulted in Pemberton refusing to allow Mississippi grain to be transported to Mobile, the situation was at least as dire in Mobile in 1863 as in Richmond.

As part of their response, the wealthier citizens of Mobile had put together a fund, Mobile Supply Association, which purchased food supplies and made them available at cost to those in need, in an attempt to combat the rampant inflation, which had increased the cost of molasses from $.30 to $7.00 a barrel by the time of the riot in 1863. The city and the wealthier citizenry had worked together to assist soldiers wives and the needy prior to the food riot, although they were eventually unsuccessful. As mentioned earlier, the restrictions on fishermen in Mobile had been loosened in order to provide the city with another food source.

The Mayor of Mobile addressed the citizens in the evening paper on the day of the riot there. He promised the creation of a Relief Committee which was created and which went throughout the wards of the city, attempting to find and assist those in dire need of food.
My post addresses both your points. My #2 -- new routes for getting food from production to market. Mobile got its food pre-war, mostly by ship from New Orleans. Because of the blockade, the Louisiana sugar and rice had to get to Mobile from Louisiana by way of Vicksburg and Jackson. My #3 -- interruptions to regular transportation, ie a general (Pemberton) stopping the departure of food from his department in order to build up the supplies he needed. This was not uncommon and is documented in many letters asking for exemptions to such restrictions and newspaper articles addressing the problems created. And some of these restrictions were enacted by civilian government -- Governor Brown and Governor Vance specifically.

Again, there was no one in Government who was trying to even out the needs and resources of the entire population. The Government was only regulating in order to supply its own forces; no one was looking out for the population, except when a crisis arrived.
 

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#36
The Richmond Enquirer reported on the difficulty of merchants in dealing with The Impressment Act, which required that they have a passport to enter or leave the cities.

The owners of a number of country carts that used to bring supplies to this market have of late ceased to come, though the markets are destitute of vegetables common to the season. As many carts as formerly start for the city, but many now stop before reaching their destination, haul up at some convenient place by the roadside, sell their goods and put for home instantly. The market men allege, with show of justice, we presume, that when they come into the city, they are bothered half out of their wits to get out again. When applying for a passport, they have to produce somebody who knows them, as a voucher, a thing not easy to do. Then, again they say they are stopped on every corner of the street and subjected to cross questioning by the military guard whose importunities are not always to be resisted.”
Richmond Enquirer, June 15, 1864.
 

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#37
Although the leaders of the Confederacy in Richmond had hoped to keep the newspapers quiet about the Bread Riot, articles about it were printed in New York newspapers by April 13. Some thought that Union prisoners on their way from Libby Prison to be exchanged at City Point had seen the rioting and reported it. Government leaders were afraid that the Northern press would report exaggerate the reports of famine in the Confederacy.

As one of the North Carolina plantation mistresses, Catherine Edmonston, who owned 88 slaves, put it, “Their hope now is to starve us out. They think we are suffering, ignore the fact of the depreciation of our currency, & quote the high price of provisions to prove it, [they] are jubilant over some mobs & riots which they call, bread riots.‟ Beth Crabtree, “Journal of a Secesh Lady,” 378.

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JPK Huson 1863

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#38
It seems far too easy to miss the point of this thread. It is not by any means anti-South just as a thread on soldier's uniforms melting in the rain due to some swine selling below standard fabric to our government would be anti-North, It's really once again about our women, Sisters North and South who did what they did during those terrible years to keep families glued together, children fed, insisted justice be observed for the sake of humanity. There was something completely insane, inhuman and inhumane going on, their men giving their all for a cause- if that was to be patriotism, then the patriots homes and families could not be trampled under the vile feet of opportunists.

That munitions factory explosion was awful- I know there's a thread on the one out by Pittsburgh, not sure we did one on that tragedy. Must get to it, talk about tragedy in the midst of tragedy.

I wonder if Pat Young has anything on the Irish and the Bread Riots?
 

18thVirginia

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#39
This thread is about an enormous political awakening by a group of women who didn't have the right to vote at the time they were writing letters exhorting the governors of their states and the president of their nation to do something for them and their families. We have all kinds of historians who will state that the wives of the yeoman farmers encouraged them to desert, wrote them letters from home telling these men who were fighting that they were needed at home, that the wives couldn't raise enough crops to sustain themselves and their children were starving. But, there's very little attention paid to the importance of the food riots and all the political changes forced by the activities of this lower class of white women in the Confederacy. A description of the Bread Riots usually takes up a sentence or two and mentions what happened in Richmond.

We had a thread recently with a poll about the political roles of women during the Civil War http://civilwartalk.com/threads/the-political-role-of-women-during-the-civil-war.106451/#post-992306, and it seemed that very little was known about the powerful role that certain groups of women played in the South. This thread is about taking a closer look at those women, how their opinions affected the Confederacy and how the politicians of their day responded to them. We read from the diaries of the elite women of the South, but the very important role of the women of the non-slave owning, non-elite classes is often overlooked. This thread is about them.

Cornelia McDonald was the wife of a lawyer and daughter of a doctor and plantation owner, who'd been raised in a comfortable existence. Her family rented several slaves and didn't have a grand estate, but she was a part of the elite class of Southern women until her husband died during the war and she struggled to raise 7 children on her own, with a tiny income. This was her statement about the women that historians often overlook:

"I have often thought, that no greater despotism could be than that government was in the last months of its existence. To those whose education and habits of life made them enthusiastic, or whose pride acted as an incentive for them to endure and suffer, as was the case with the higher classes, it wore no such aspect, but to those who had but their poor homes and little pieces of ground by which they managed to provide little more than bread for their families, who knew that they would be as well off under one government as another, it was oppression to be forced into the army, and not ever to be free from the apprehension that their families were suffering."

Drew Gilpin Faust. Mothers of Invention: Women of the Slaveholding South in the American Civil War (Kindle Locations 3150-3152). Kindle Edition.



corneliamacdonald.jpg

Cornelia MacDonald

 
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JPK Huson 1863

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#40
I keep meaning to look this up for my Kindle- as I said earlier in the thread, my knowledge of the Bread Riots was pitiful. It really was limited to something silly I'd read and foolishly believed, where they were limited to an ' It ' somewhere. Without having it sound at all divisive you can see where shortages must have made women quite, quite desperate to feed their families. Given that most of any population is not composed of the wealthy elite, must have been some dreadful hunger in cities, and widespread.
 

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