The day Jefferson Davis faced Mary and Minerva


Sergeant Major
Aug 6, 2016

The Richmond Bread Riots
(Public Domain)

They carried axes and knives as they marched. They chanted “Bread! Bread! or even “Bread or Blood!”. They kept coming as they were joined by other angry marchers. As they marched toward the government run Richmond food storehouses they could not be stopped. The original one hundred now grown to a thousand. On they come but they cannot be stopped. They are women and today Richmond hears them roar!!

It had been a rough spring for Richmond residents. There were an incredible twenty-two measurable snowfalls during the winter months of 1882-1863 snowing as late as March of ’63. The melting snow left behind a muddy mess greatly restricting transportation of food into the city. On March 13th a massive explosion at Brown Island the home of the Confederate States Laboratory, cost the lives of forty-five and left twenty-three injured. Most of the losses were young girls who were employed at the laboratory that produced ammunition and other ordinances for the war effort.

The city also suffered from a population explosion as wounded soldiers arrived at hospitals complicated with an increase of government staffing that was required to supply needs for the people living in the capital city of the Confederate States. On March 27 Jefferson Davis issued a call for a day of “fasting and prayer” in part stating:

“Through many conflicts we have now attained a place among nations which commands their respect, and let the enemies who encompass us around and seek our destruction see that the Lord of Hosts has again taught them the lesson of His inspired word, “that the battle is not to the strong,” but to whomsoever He willeth to exalt. Again an enemy, with loud boasting of power, of their armed men and mailed ships, threaten us with subjugation, and with evil machinations seek, even in our homes and at our own firesides, to pervert our men servants and our maid servants into accomplices of their wicked designs.

Under these circumstances it is my privilege to invite you once more to meet together and prostrate yourselves in humble supplication to Him who has been our constant and never-failing support in the past, and to whose protection and guidance we trust for the future. To this end I, JEFFERSON DAVIS, President of the Confederate States of America, do issue this, my proclamation, setting apart Friday, the 27th day of March, as a day of fasting, humiliation and prayer.

I do also invite the people of the said States to repair, on that day, to their usual places of public worship, there to join in prayer to Almighty God that he will continue his merciful protection over our cause; that he will scatter our enemies and set at nought their evil designs, and that he will graciously restore to our beloved country the blessings of peace and security.” {3}

As noble and humbling a call to prayer may be; women had no food to feed their families and the proclamation only served to add anger and stress in the city.​

April, 1863

Mary Jackson was a mother with four children, who made quite the impression on the Confederate First Lady Varina Davis who described her as a “tall, daring, Amazonian-looking" woman”. She was believed to be thirty-four years old in April of 1863 although some report she may have been forty. This could possibly be closer to the truth for it was also reported she had a son that was serving in the Confederate army. Mary Jackson was angry and ready for a fight.

Minerva Meredith was not unknown to local authorities. According to an article in “The Richmond Dispatch” on May 1, 1862, she had been wrongly accused of causing destruction in a commodity shop for destroying a barrel of “sperrits”. Soon Miss Katy Duke and her friend Miss Sarah Hensworth attacked Meredith. As the article stated: “Miss Minerva bore their barbed shafts without a seeming murmur” however this only angered the two attackers as they gathered two boys to aid in their pursuits. In the end Minerva appealed to the Mayor for vengeance.

“The good character of Miss Meredith being attested to be sundry police officers . . . required each of the offenders to give security in the sum of $100 to keep the peace of twelve months.” {7}

On April 2 of 1863 the two ladies meet at the George Washington statue in Richmond to lead the march of protesters to Virginia’s Governor John Letcher mansion. It’s going to be a long day for the governor.​


The Gathering Location
(LOC/Public Domain)

An unknown Richmond resident wrote a friend on April 2, 1863 describing what she saw. She begins with a simple statement:

“Something very sad has just happened in Richmond” {5}

She had been taking her daily walk that morning when she discovered a crowd of women and boys standing around. She estimated the crowd size as several hundred.

As the crowd reaches the Governor’s residents they are denied an audience with Letcher. (Although some reported that the governor did meet with some of the ladies at the monument.) The women now turn their attention to Richmond’s business district. The ladies attract much attention and the crowd begins to grow and with each new lady added and each step - they grow more angry.

J.B. Jones a clerk at the Confederate War Department manages to ask some in the group what they were doing. As described:

“a gaunt woman raise a skeleton of an arm and scream, "We celebrate our right to live! We are starving!" Others heard a chant of "Bread or blood!” {4}

The unknown woman in Richmond continues her discourse relating how rapidly the crowd increased. It grew and grew she wrote “until it reached the dignity of a mob - a bread riot”. {5} She also claims she saw the rioters visiting the stores and emptying their shelves.

“Governor Letcher sent the mayor to read the Riot Act, and this had no effect on the crowd. The city battalion came up. The women fell back with frightened eyes, but did not obey the order to disperse.” {5}

She concludes with this observation - - -

“The President [Jefferson Davis] then appeared ascended a dray, and addressed them. It is, said he was received at first with hisses from the boys, but after he had spoken some little time with great kindness and sympathy, the women moved quietly on, taking their food with them.” {5}

The “getter upper” gets her comeuppance

More than sixty were arrested after the riots including Mary and Minerva. The Richmond Examiner on Saturday April 4th described Jackson as a “huckster in the market and a leader of the women’s riot”. Their description echoed that of Mrs. Davis:​

“The prisoner was a good specimen of a forty year old Amazon, with the eye of the Devil.” {7}

The Richmond Dispatch on April 16, 1863 had this as their first sentence in the story of the aftermath:

“Hustings Court, April 15th. – Recorder Caskie and others presiding. – Mary Jackson, the alleged getter up of the recent riot, was examined and sent on before Judge Lyons to be tried for felony.”

Testimony against Mrs. Jackson included a Mr. A.A. Hughes:

[he] testified that he heard Mrs. Jackson tell two women in the market that the goods of merchants were to be taken at Government price; though he believed it to be a joke, tried to discourage the idea of violence; Mrs. Jackson said it was no joke, and asked me to lend her a pistol; I told her I would; she said she meant to be armed; and that she would be assisted by the military in Richmond; Mrs. Jackson stopped and communicated the plan to some twenty women; had no idea of lending her a pistol; regarded the whole matter as a joke.” {7}

Mr. Robert Redford testified that he saw Mrs. Jackson between eight and nine o’clockwith a bowie knife and a six-barreled pistol; the pistol was not loaded at the time”. {7}

The article concludes with this about Mrs. Jackson:

“She is the same party who, two weeks ago, bought two veals at the roll gate for one hundred dollars and offered the same for sale at two hundred and fifty dollars, on the same morning.” {7}

According to a report in the “Richmond Sentinel” on July 17, 1863, Mary Jackson was sent to Circuit Court for trial on an indictment for misdemeanor.

Minerva Meredith was one of those arrested and on May 8, 1863 she was put on trial for her actions that day. She was found guilty of stealing beef from Henry Myers and fined $100. She was also sentenced to jail for six months. One month later she was pardoned when the court received a certificate from Dr. Pollard that she suffered from a tumor on her neck and the confinement would have a serious effect on her health. {7}

The Richmond City Council in their April 15, 1863 minutes recorded:

“Accounts for the property taken by the late rioters in this City, one in the name of J. T. Hicks amounting to the sum of $13,530.00 and one in the name of Tyler & Son amounting to the sum of $6,467.55, were laid before the Council and referred to the Committee on Claims.” {8}

The powers that be in Richmond addressed the bread riots by dividing the people into two groups. They were either the “worthy poor” (those that did not participate in the riots) and the “unworthy poor” (those that did). The “worthy poor” were given to use their government tickets to purchase food at below-market government rates. The “unworthy poor” paid a price for their rioting on April 2. I assume Mary Jackson and Minerva joined the latter group.

The Richmond Examiner editorialized on Saturday, April 4, 1863 and they concluded by saying:

“For citizens who have arms in their hands and yet permit their money and property to be ravished from them by cowardly burglars and thieves, because they are incited too come in a gang of fifty in broad daylight, instead of by twos or threes at midnight, we have no sympathy. If the officers of the law, with the ample force and power in their hands, have not enough decision and energy to do more than arrest highway robbers and disperse a mob of idlers at their heels, whose presence there deserved immediate death quite as well, no words or arguments can furnish them with the pluck they lack.” {7}

Unfortunately the southerners continued to experience many dark days ahead.


Harper’s Weekly - June, 1862
(Public Domain)

1. Richmond Bread Riots - Britannica
4. The Curious Story of Richmond Women Rioting in the Streets for Bread
6. The Richmond Dispatch Mary Jackson
9. Browns Island Munitions Explosion


Lt. Colonel
Apr 4, 2017
Denver, CO
Good post. All of which occurred after March 1863 when the consequences of US occupation of Tennessee, and US control of the Mississippi River, even prior to the fall of Vicksburg, began to have consequences. After March 1863 people began to horde commodities which were rising in value and get rid of paper money which was rapidly falling in value.


Sep 15, 2018
South Texas
I've got a question or two on this interesting story. Those two back-to-back sentences, "Their description echoed that of Mrs. Davis". And "The prisoner was a good specimen of a forty year old Amazon, with the eye of the Devil". Was this Varina Davis they were referring to when "Mrs. Davis" was mentioned? And who actually did the referring , the Richmond Dispatch or the Richmond Examiner?
I also seem to recall another story about the Bread Riot. In it after giving his talk to the rioters Jefferson Davis emptys his pockets and throws loose change to the crowd. I've always been curious as to what sort of change the citizens of Richmond used.Would it have been U.S. currency?


Sergeant Major
Aug 6, 2016
I've got a question or two on this interesting story.
This gave me some perplexity as well but I will try my best to explain.

1. My first source states: “Led by Mary Jackson, a mother of four, and Minerva Meredith, whom Varina Davis (the wife of President Davis) described as “tall, daring, Amazonian-looking,”
2. The Richmond Examiner gave the same definition of Mrs. Jackson as indicated in footnote #7.

Did Varina get it from the Examiner or the Examiner get it from Varina or did they get the description from Jefferson Davis? Now this source states: “Minerva Meredith, 40, “six feet tall, rawboned and muscular,” was busy seizing a wagon loaded with beef destined for a hospital. Jefferson Davis’s wife, Varina, recorded her husband’s comment that Meredith, a butcher’s apprentice who likely knew Jackson, was as “a tall, daring Amazonian-looking woman who had a white feather standing erect from her hat, and who evidently was directing the movements of the plunderers.”

However I found more sources stating it was Mary Jackson that was the tall woman rather than Meredith.

Would it have been U.S. currency?

Whatever currency he gave - it wasn’t enough - - -

“Letcher and Confederate President Jefferson Davis both came to the scene with Davis offering food and money from his own pockets, but it did not satisfy the mob.”

I hope this helps - - somewhat.


Sergeant Major
Aug 6, 2016
I have understood that bread riots occurred in other southern cities besides Richmond. Is this correct?
You are correct!

Women began peaceful marches as early as November 1862. They wrote letters to their government officials but when that didn’t accomplish anything they began to march in stores (armed with farming equipment) demanding affordable prices. When that didn’t work they resorted to grabbing whatever they wanted. These marches were seen anywhere from Georgia to Virginia.

It was reported that when the soldiers heard what their womenfolk were doing - they “rejoiced at the hardiness of the women they had left behind”. {*} There have been estimates there were dozens of such riots.

Richmond however only had the one, for after the riots cannons were “strategically” placed to stop any further disturbance.



Sergeant Major
Aug 6, 2016
unable to keep things too quiet.
If I remember in my research I believe the role of Jefferson Davis during the riots made it into the Northern newspapers - especially the New York papers and it all they needed to make the story especially if it could make the traditional stereotype of the "Southern Belle" into a less than perfect lady (as the illustration portrays).
The “Bread or Blood” picture is actually one-half of a picture that has been called “Sowing and Reaping” and is described:

"Before and after pictures of 'Southern women hounding their men on to rebellion' and 'feeling the effects of rebellion and creating bread riots'."


Published in Frank Leslie’s Newspaper May 23, 1863
(Public Domain)


Sep 15, 2018
South Texas
The Bread Riot in Galveston, Texas was more of a protest I think. The ladies were upset that flour would no longer be sold in the commmissary to military families.And so they showed their "unhappiness" by marching plus it was almost a year after Richmond's Bread Riot which was a shortage problem. But it was still classified as a Bread Riot.I wonder if they had an Amazon leading this one?
  • Like
Reactions: DBF


Sergeant Major
Aug 6, 2016
I wonder if they had an Amazon leading this one?
I don't know about Galveston - but apparently they didn’t always need an “Amazon” as was reported in the Salisbury North Carolina newspaper “The Carolina Watchman” on March 23, 1863.

“Salisbury has witnessed to-day one of the gayest and liveliest scenes of the age. About 12 o’clock, a rumor was afloat that the wives of several soldiers now in the war intended to make a dash on some flour and other necessities of life, belonging to certain gentlemen, who the ladies termed ‘speculators.’

They alleged that they were entirely out of provisions, and unable to give the enormous prices now asked, but were willing to give Government prices. Accordingly, about 2 o’clock they met, some 50 or 75 in number, with axes and hatchets, and proceeded to the depot of the North Carolina Central Road, to impress some there, but were very politely met by the agent, Mr.__ “What on earth is the matter?” The excited women said they were in search of flour which they had learned had been stored there by a certain speculator.

Finally… they returned to the depot… and again demanded the agent that they be allowed to go in. He still refused, but finally agreed to let two go in and examine the flour, and see if his statement was not correct. A restlessness pervaded the whole body, and but a few moments elapsed before a female voice was heard saying: ‘Let’s go in.’

The agent remarked: “Ladies… it is useless to attempt it, unless you go in over my dead body.”

[Not the best choice of words]

A rush was made, and they went in, and the last I saw of the agent, he was sitting on a log blowing like a March wind. They took ten barrels, and rolled them out and were setting on them, when I left, waiting for a wagon to haul them away.” {*}

What is amazing the paper did not blame the ladies but the government officials for failing to provide “adequate help for the soldiers’ families”.​