Famine in the Post-War South

ErnieMac

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#1
While reading a biography of Frederick Law Olmsted I found a couple of pages outlining his work as the recording secretary of the Southern Famine Relief Commission in 1867. With a little further digging I was able to find that famine conditions existed in significant portions of the South during the years 1866 – 1867 as a result weather (flooding followed by drought) and disruption of pre-war southern economy and social conditions. On line material is scarce and I don’t remember seeing anything in Reconstruction histories about it. A number of accounts follow:

April 29, 1866, New York Times
We have already had accounts of lamentable destitution in Marshall and Blount Counties (Alabama). From this statement it will be seen that the suffering is yet more widely extended. It probably affects all the north-eastern and mountainous section of the state. ….
The suffering of the destitute white classes of Cherokee County is becoming frightfully alarming. The disasters of war and adverse seasons of 1865 were the controlling causes of the present scarcity.
The cry for bread is heard in all sections, and actual starvation is imminent. ….

February 26, 1867, New York Times.
“No southern state is probably suffering so generally and so severely as South Carolina. Fully one-fourth of her population are in distress from want of food. ….
A letter received yesterday from the Southern Relief Commission, dated Lancasterville, Lancaster District, Feb. 18 says:
“This district owing to the disasters consequent upon the war, and the almost total failure of the crops is in a most deplorable state of destitution of the necessaries to support its people and live stock. The district contains about ten thousand population, and not more, perhaps, than twenty families of the whole number have a supply of food for the season. There are about 500 individuals in a very alarming state of want, and unless immediate relief is afforded, many of them must perish by starvation.” ….

April 17, 1867, Daily Alta California.
“But in Northern Alabama, Georgia, the flooded district of East Tennessee, and Central North and South Carolina, where little cotton is raised, where there are few wealthy men, and where the drought of last summer, coming sharp upon the complete desolation left in the track of large contending armies, the distress and suffering are appalling. Their wheat was almost a total failure, and their corn amounted to just nothing at all. They were lacking in implements of husbandry and in horses and mules to propel the plough. Hence bad cultivation, concurring with a very bad season, caused the famine.”

April 30, 1867, Western Democrat (Charlotte, NC).
“The corn crop in Union having completely failed last year, the most of the people are suffering for grain for man and beast. We know men who always had corn to sell heretofore, who are now dependent on charity or their personal credit for supplies for their families. Many cannot obtain corn on credit, and as the donations so far have not proved sufficient, we fear that there will be much suffering among the women and children. ….
To make matters worse, the corn crop was almost a failure in those counties or the portion surrounding Union – such as Mecklenburg, Stanly and Anson; and in the adjoining Districts of South Carolina the distress is as great as anywhere. Therefore help must come from abroad.”

Relief from the disaster was provided first by the U.S. Army. Shortly thereafter the Freedman’s Bureau was authorized to distribute food to all in need regardless of race within the constraints of their existing budget. Commissioner Oliver O. Howard was able to free about $500,000 for the effort. Private agencies began to spring up in the north, among the more prominent of which was the Southern Famine Relief Commission. By the end of 1867 the famine largely abated.

I cannot say that I am surprised by the fact that the famine occurred. What is surprising is that so little information has been printed in the reconstruction histories. How much of Scarlett O’Hara’s plaintive cry “As God is my witness, I'll never be hungry again!” derived from memories of the famine known by Margaret Mitchell? Is anyone aware of additional news or personal stories of this famine?

http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=FB0A11FA3D551A7493CBAB178FD85F428684F9
http://freepages.genealogy.rootsweb.ancestry.com/~jganis/unionco/newspapers1867-1869.html
http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=9404E2DC1639E733A25755C2A9649C946691D7CF
http://cdnc.ucr.edu/cgi-bin/cdnc?a=d&d=DAC18670417.2.16#
 
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JPK Huson 1863

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#2
I'm not picking at your findings, Ernie, but your auto-correct has betrayed you badly- in the second line, it turned ' famine conditions ' into ' feminine conditions ', thereby revising southern history once again.

This is a super read, thank you- have to now dig out a great article included in the expo speeches, from Atlanta, a few years later. The South had determindly resurrected itself by then, somehow surviving all this, and the picture painted of agriculture is stunning since they get into how starved were the citizens post war. Bear with me, will take a little while- it's a pretty old book so I have it REALLY tucked away.
 

JPK Huson 1863

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#4
ps, Thinking about it, and responding to your question, possibly there would be mention of the actual famine in that book- will scan anything concerning it, if found, and person who wrote it.
 

ErnieMac

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#5
I'm not picking at your findings, Ernie, but your auto-correct has betrayed you badly- in the second line, it turned ' famine conditions ' into ' feminine conditions ', thereby revising southern history once again.

This is a super read, thank you- have to now dig out a great article included in the expo speeches, from Atlanta, a few years later. The South had determindly resurrected itself by then, somehow surviving all this, and the picture painted of agriculture is stunning since they get into how starved were the citizens post war. Bear with me, will take a little while- it's a pretty old book so I have it REALLY tucked away.
Thanks for the head's up - I have corrected. I just love machines that do my thinking for me.:stomp:
 

CheathamHill

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I'm not picking at your findings, Ernie, but your auto-correct has betrayed you badly- in the second line, it turned ' famine conditions ' into ' feminine conditions ', thereby revising southern history once again.

This is a super read, thank you- have to now dig out a great article included in the expo speeches, from Atlanta, a few years later. The South had determindly resurrected itself by then, somehow surviving all this, and the picture painted of agriculture is stunning since they get into how starved were the citizens post war. Bear with me, will take a little while- it's a pretty old book so I have it REALLY tucked away.

Please reply when you find that. Would enjoy reading it...thanks
 

JPK Huson 1863

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#8
Yes- did not get a chance to pull that out yesterday, am hoping to get to it today. The speech I'm thinking of I THINK was made by the then- gov of Georgia, addressing the various delegates who had been chosen ( do not know what the requirements were ) by each state and sent to the expo as representatives. It's a long one, but he goes pretty throughly into the economics of agriculture in the South, past and present and why.
 

ErnieMac

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#9
While searching for more information about the famine I ran across this publication entitled The New York Ladies' Southern Relief Association published in 1926. It contains numerous thank you letters from recipients of the donations from across the South (Virginia, the Carolinas, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi). Many of the letters contain accounts of conditions in the writers respective locations. There seems to have been a broad range of recipients from people of modest means struggling to survive as well as to wealthy and distinguished families who had been rendered destitute and don't seem to be able to figure how to go about actually working.

In reading the introductory paragraphs I was a bit surprised by the tone of the introduction thinking it seemed like it should have been written in one of the Southern states as opposed to New York City. A little further reading led me to observe the book was published by Mary Mildred Sullivan Chapter of the United Daughters of the Confederacy, New York City. How a UDC chapter ended up in New York City will be in another thread I'm working now.

https://archive.org/stream/NYSRA#page/n1/mode/1up
 

Nathanb1

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#10
I know there was also quite a drought in the Mississippi-Alabama region during the war; I'm thinking '62-63. There was also one in Texas during most of the war (surprise, surprise), which Gregory Michno documents in The Settlers War. That turned out to a blessing in one way, because Michno showed Comanche incursions actually dropped a bit -- they were more affected by the drought than any efforts of the Texas militia or troops to stop them. :smile:

What happened is that folks living along river valleys (Such as the upper Brazos) tended to get visits, rather than those away from better sources of water. Lucky guys!
 

gary

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#11
The Freeman Bureau assisted not only blacks but also the poor whites who were starving (so I've been told).
 
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#13
On the subject of famine during this time period, check local cemeteries for internments during this time period.

It seems not only was there a level of famine, but that there was also disease and pest issues that contributed to the suffering as well.
 
#15
Is there documentation that supports this?

Sounds like it would make for interesting reading.

"[A]t the last moment, Congress redefined the Bureau's responsibilities so as to include Southern white refugees as well as freedmen, a vast expansion of its authority that aimed to counteract the impression of preferential treatment for blacks."
Reconstruction: America's Unfinished Revolution 1863 - 1877, Eric Foner, pg. 69
 

rhp6033

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#16
I've always assumed that the "famine" would be the spring and summer of 1865. Both armies had tended to "requisition" the storage bins and root cellars of any area they passed through, and a stray chicken, duck, goat, or cow didn't have much of a chance. Fences were torn down for firewood or entrenchments, making it difficult to raise any cattle or horses which escaped the marauding army "forage parties", or less their less organized counterparts (surrendered Confederates, deserters, etc.)

But that's a lot different than 1866 or 1867.
 



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