Postal Service During the Civil War

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amhistoryguy

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Mail has always been very important to soldiers. During the Civil War, as it is today, the arrival of mail was highly anticipated. Those of you who have been in the service can attest to that.
Franklin Bailey wrote to his parents in 1861, that, getting a letter from home was more important to him than "getting a gold watch."
Soldiers did not just sit back and wait for their loved ones to write to them. They very actively solicited their friends and family by writing voraciously.
Even after the firing on Fort Sumter the postal service continued to serve those states declaring themselves out of the Union. Southerners continued to use U.S. postage. On June 1, 1861, the postal services separated themselves from one another, the date choosen by the Confederate Post Office Department.

By October of 1861, the seceded states still had in their possession, postage valued at over $200,000. As a result, the design of U. S. postage was changed and stamps, and envelopes were destroyed throughout Northern post offices.

In the Union ;

According to Bell Wiley's "Billy Yank," a civilian worker with the U. S. Sanitary Commission, who visited a number of units in 1861, reported that many regiments sent out an average of 600 letters per day.
About 45,000 pieces of mail per day were sent through Washington D. C. from the eastern theater of the war, and about double that in the west, through Louisville. Areas with heavy troop concentrations were bogged down with incredible amounts of mail.
A soldier who kept track of his own outgoing mail reported that in 1863 he sent 109 letters to "homefolk," 55 letters to other friends and another 37 letters were written by him for fellows who could not write. He was pleased that he received 85 letters in return.
In order to process the estimated 8 million letters per month, postal reforms were enacted. Prior to the war, the postal service carried a large deficit, mostly due to southern routes. In 1860 alone, mail service in the eleven Confederate states cost about $2,897,530 while producing receipts of $938,105, a deficit of nearly 2 million dollars. With secession, unproductive routes were eliminated so that by 1863 the U. S. postal service was actually showing a profit. This profit helped bring about a number of important postal reforms.
On July 1, 1863, free delivery of mail began in the 49 largest cities in the North, cities with over 50,000 in population. Within 3 years the free delivery was extended across the country.
Postal carriers walked about 22 miles per day, seven days per week, and were paid an annual wage of $670. It cost three cents to send a letter, except to the far west, it cost ten cents. In an 1863 reform, the cost of mailing a letter was standardized to 3 cents anywhere in the country.
In 1864, to speed up the process of delivery, the postal service began to sort the mail while still on the train, cutting about 24 hours off delivery time. While there were often lengthy delays, most CW soldiers received their mail within 2 weeks of it being sent.

According to several reports, about 90 % of white Union soldiers were literate and about 80 % of
Confederate.

In the Confederacy;

Shortages of ink, paper, and postage stamps limited
the amount of mail sent. The Confederate Post Office
Department raised its rate to 5 cents on a half ounce letter for the first 500 miles with double the rate after 500 miles.
The increase still did not meet the expenses, so on July 1, 1862, the rate was standardized to 10 cents per letter,
with newspaper and book rates dependent upon weight.
Service was also reduced to three times per week, instead of daily, but for the soldier it was much more infrequent. One Confederate soldier wrote home, "It is a constant incessant complaint in the army...in regard to not receiving any letters from home and their friends and relatives not receiving those they write to them. There is quite a defect somewhere not to say gross negligence on the part of some one."
When John G. Reagan took over as Postmaster General of the Confederate Post Office Department in March of 1861, one of his first acts was to send a friend to Washington D. C. in an effort to recruit southern born postal workers to come to work for the Confederacy. He asked these men to bring with them reports, route maps, forms, and anything else they thought could be useful in setting up the Confederate Post Office Department.
Reagan's recruiting effort was very effective, and he was even presented with the U. S. Postmaster General's appointment book.
Reagan negotiated with the railroads to haul the mail once a day, instead of twice, and at half the rate until the end of the war at which time Reagan promised premium prices.
At the June 1st switch to the Confederate Postal
Department, a date choosen by the Confederacy oddly enough, the department found themselves without any postage stamps. For 20 weeks, postmasters were forced to use hand stamps or provisional issues. The first issued Confederate stamp was a 5 cent stamp which bore the likeness of Jefferson Davis.
The supply of Confederate stamps never met the demand. Letters of value or containing money were most often sent via the Southern Express Company.
With the Postal Department in financial trouble, the Confederate Congress established an Express service for government letters travelling over 500 miles. The rate was a flat $1, but by 1864 the department operated at a profit, due to the extensive use of this $1 rate. The exchange of money from the Confederate Treasury
Department to the Confederate Post Office Department hid the true expense of the service.
Now showing a "profit," Confederate soldiers were allowed to send their letters postage due, and newspapers were allowed to be sent to the soldiers on the various fronts for free. Exchange of mail from the Confederate States to the United States was handled by private companies, primarily Adams - Southern Express.
Foreign mail was a problem, getting into the country was difficult due to the blockade, getting out of the country was problematic because Confederate postage was not recognized by any foreign nation. Ships captains carrying mail arranged to purchase postage at the port of entry.
Postal workers in the Confederacy were paid about $60 per month. In 1863, in Richmond, postal workers went on strike for higher wages. Reagan promised an increase and the workers went back to work on his promise. With the $1 express rate the workers were granted an increase.

At war's end mail service gradually returned to the control of the U. S. Postal Service. Special postal agents were assigned to assist in the restoration of service. By November of 1865, 241 Southern routes were restored. By November of 1866, 3,234 of 8,902 post offices in the South were back under Federal control.

Articles on mail, and the postal systems can be found in both of Bell Wiley's books, "Billy Yank" and "Johnny Reb," as well as in Richard Current's "Encyclopedia of the Confederacy." "The Union, a Guide to Federal Archives Relating to the Civil War," by Munden and Beers, contains not only a road map to finding more in the archives, but a pretty good description of postal reforms and activities of the Postal Department.Beers solo effort on the Confederacy, "The Confederacy, A Guide to the Archives of the Government of the Confederate States of America," provides much information on the Confederate Post Office Department.

Regards, Dave Gorski
 

unionblue

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Dave,

As a member of today's United States Postal Service, may I say you have done an excellent amount of research on the subject of Civil War era mail. Outstanding post!

I learned much from it and hope you continue to exercise this wonderful quality in other subjects on other threads.

Samgrant,

I am only one man and Chicago is on it's own with the Postal employee's you already have in place.:D

Sorry,
Unionblue
 
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ole

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I''s food for a lot of thought when you consider that the mail and newspapers went through, grain and flour went from west to points east and then across the pond. Fabric was woven, banks made small loans and the stock market worked. Iron went from east to west to feed the forges of the smithies and the small manufacturing plants. Kids went to school, canal boats, trains and freight wagons were running. If not for the vacant chairs, the casualtie lists and news from the front, could have been close to business as usual.

Ole
 

william42

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Dave, nice informative post. I had virtually no info at all previously on postal service during the Civil War.

In addition, I've alway heard the familiar joke, or tag line, of "lost in the mail". I've heard it all my life. Newman on "Seinfeld" didn't do much to help the reputation of the USPS, but, I believe if there are any "Newmans" out there in a Carrier's uniform, they are few and far between. Seinfeld is a comedy show anyway.

In my 52 years on the planet thus far, I have yet to have anything I have sent by mail or was supposed to receive by mail, "lost in the mail". Certainly there are many pieces of mail that I wish had been lost, but, that's a whole other story.

Terry
 

samgrant

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william42 said:
In addition, I've alway heard the familiar joke, or tag line, of "lost in the mail". I've heard it all my life. Newman on "Seinfeld" didn't do much to help the reputation of the USPS, but, I believe if there are any "Newmans" out there in a Carrier's uniform, they are few and far between.

In my 52 years on the planet thus far, I have yet to have anything I have sent by mail or was supposed to receive by mail, "lost in the mail". Certainly there are many pieces of mail that I wish had been lost, but, that's a whole other story.

Terry
I have postal problems on average about once a month

(eg. they say "undeliverable" while my apartment building has 7x24 personell here to receive anything, and then they say they left a "notice" which they did Not leave....., try to phone them? don't bother, they don't answer, and if one actually goes to the PO building they treat you like a criminal. Oh I could go on...)

Apparently they sent all the "Newmans" to Chicago.

Maybe they don't like me cause I order all those big, fat Civil War books?
 
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william42

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Sam, sounds like you might have the "postal service from hell" there in Chicago. Guess I've been lucky. I've lived in Denver and Boston, and had no mail troubles there either, so maybe it's a Chicago thing. :shrug:


TW
 
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My Dad, too!

unionblue said:
Dave,

As a member of today's United States Postal Service, may I say you have done an excellent amount of research on the subject of Civil War era mail. Outstanding post!

I learned much from it and hope you continue to exercise this wonderful quality in other subjects on other threads.

Samgrant,

I am only one man and Chicago is on it's on with the Postal employee's you already have in place.:D

Sorry,
Unionblue
My Dad was a Postal worker, too. Worked **** hard: a good man.

Capt. Coxetter
 
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Only profit makers?

I remember reading - maybe in Burke Davis' CIVIL WAR: STRANGE AND FASCINATING FACTS - that the Confederate Postal Service turned a profit, and was the only Confederate government agency to do so.

Capt. Coxetter
 
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ole

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According to Dave's post, if it turned a profit, is was temporary and dogggone little.
Ole
 

larry_cockerham

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Confederate mail

I've seen lots of letters written from Middle Tennessee in 1864 received in the mountains of North Carolina and Virginia. Since the roads are nothing to drive home on today, in 1864 they would have been trails at best, though perhaps well worn, since the Cherokee still moved about hunting and the white settlers had been there since the late 1700s. Another factor had to be at work. Some folks had to have had a desire to keep the communication open. My gg grandfather who served in the US 4th Cav spent a couple of years as postmaster post war at Benham, North Carolina. That's about as rural as you can get on relatively flat ground. Most small mountain communities had US postal service even during the war, if I'm not mistaken. Mountain folks depended on the communication. Postmen or rural carriers of freight, letters or food to the remote mountain areas were relatives of the customers. Part of their activity was based on love as well as necessity. I'm guessing they were often paid in ham and sweet corn rather than currency. Some of this service was added by trains but railroads weren't introduced to the mountains until the logging industry began about the turn of the 20th century. Methodist Circuit Riders also performed some of this duty in rural areas, but generally a few decades after the war.
 
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amhistoryguy

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The profit that the Confederate Postal Department showed, was at the expense of the Confederate Government itself. Government letters were charged an increased rate of $1 per letter, so the "profit" came when money was exchanged from the Treasury Department to the Postal Department.

Thanks for the kind words regarding my post. I appreciate hearing that I have made a worthwhile contribution.

Regards, Dave Gorski
 
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No franking!

amhistoryguy said:
The profit that the Confederate Postal Department showed, was at the expense of the Confederate Government itself. Government letters were charged an increased rate of $1 per letter, so the "profit" came when money was exchanged from the Treasury Department to the Postal Department.

Thanks for the kind words regarding my post. I appreciate hearing that I have made a worthwhile contribution.

Regards, Dave Gorski
At least, Confederate postal patrons didn't have to put up with franked junk mail from their representatives!:laugh1:

Dave, I think you made a very important contribution here.:smile:

Capt. Coxetter
 

samgrant

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No Time Like the Present

March 1, 2007, 11:18AM
Postal Service fixes long waits by removing clocks

Associated Press

FORT WORTH — The missing clock didn't stop postal customer Al Cunningham from noticing the amount of time spent waiting for service.

"It's always long here," said Cunningham, 49, an insurance adjuster and former postal employee who was standing in line at the Watson Post Office in Fort Worth.

The Watson Post Office is one of the nation's 37,000 post offices in which clocks have been removed from retail areas as part of a "retail standardization program" launched last year. The effort is designed to give the public-service areas a more uniform appearance, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram reported in Thursday editions.

"We want people to focus on postal service and not the clock," said Stephen Seewoester, Dallas spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service.

At the Fort Worth post office, the hook that once held up the small battery-powered clock now protrudes from a plaster wall. The clock was taken down months ago.

A customer-service expert at Texas A&M University was not impressed with the decision to take down the timepieces.

"It's silly," said Leonard Berry, holder of the M.B. Zale Chair in Retail and Marketing Leadership. "I guess they think people don't have watches."
 
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samgrant

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Neal,

You are SO provincial. Us cosmopolitan folks naturally consult our pocket watches frequently thoughout the day. Ha!, You probably wonder what that pocket in your waistcoat is for!

Sam
 
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Pocket Watches? Yes!

I've carried a pocket watch for some five years now. It broke me of the nervous habit of constantly looking at my wrist - whether I was really interested in knowing the time or not.

Capt. Coxetter
 
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ole

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Sounds like a good idea, Capt. I'd think sneaking a peek at your wrist wouldn't be as obvious as hauling out a pocket watch when you're impatient to be doing something other than what you're doing.
Ole
 
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Aye!

Yer a man after my own black heart, Ole! And besides: with a pocket watch, you get to hold it up to the boring person, pop the hinged cover open, dramatically snap it shut, etc.! :laugh1:

Capt. Coxetter
 
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