By Gary W. Gallagher, University of Virginia
Besides manpower, money was also needed in order to fund a war such as this, and both the Union and the Confederacy used the same combination of ways to raise money in order to pay for everything that they needed. They used paper money, loans, and taxes to finance their war efforts.
Inflation in the Confederacy
In the South, taxes made up about five percent of the total, loans about 35 percent, and paper money 60 percent. The paper money proved virtually worthless by the end of the war in the Confederacy.
If the Confederacy didn’t have large reserves of gold and silver, it just cranked out this paper, and as more and more were printed, inflation soared. In 1864, it took about $46 to buy what $1 had purchased in 1861; by the end of the war, it was up to $92 in some places.
Inflation roared out of control, reaching about 9,000 percent in parts of the Confederacy, in the course of the war. This was partly because the blockade cut off trade and made a number of goods quite scarce. The northern military forces occupied large parts of the Confederacy, which also disrupted the movement of goods from one part to another.
The transportation infrastructure broke down in the course of the war for the Confederacy. Perhaps the most important factor was that the Confederacy essentially had an agricultural economy that was not up to the enormous demands of fighting a modern mid-19th century war. Most of the money in the Confederacy had been invested in land and slaves.
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Strong Union Economy
Conditions were much better in the United States. Thirteen percent of the money for the war came from fairly stable “greenbacks”, paper money. Paper money in the North was made legal tender, it was receivable for virtually all debts, public and private. That was not the case in the Confederacy.
Twenty-one percent of the money in the United States came from taxes, and two-thirds came from loans, mostly bonds bought by northern civilians, anticipating the example in World War I and World War II, where massive bond drives tied common people to the national cause. The robust northern economy proved perfectly able to provide both guns and butter. Inflation ran to about 80 percent, with no government controls in the United States during the Civil War.
Supply of Arms and Ammunition
Both sides proved quite effective in supplying their armies. The soldiers on both sides were generally armed with modern, muzzle-loading rifle-muskets. The Confederacy imported about 600,000, produced a quarter of a million of their own, and captured about 100,000 from the United States.
The United States imported one million from Europe, produced two-and-a-half million, and also produced a number of repeating weapons that the Confederacy did not have—weapons that would fire more than one round before they had to be reloaded.
The United States did a better job of producing ordnance, that is, ammunition than the Confederacy did. The Confederacy produced enough of it, but these were unreliable and would explode prematurely. The Confederacy did have enough powder, though, and they did have enough rounds.
Food and Clothing Supplies
Confederate armies were generally well enough supplied in those ways, but not so well supplied as their United States counterparts. The Civil War began the pattern in United States wars of American soldiers being abundantly supplied, far better supplied, than most of their opponents.
Now, sometimes, Union soldiers did do without some things. Those who were involved in the Shenandoah Valley campaign in 1862, for example, were quite needy in many ways, but not as often as their Confederate counterparts.
The Dearth of Supplies in the Confederacy
There were a number of points during the war when Robert Lee’s army went for long stretches with a daily ration of two to four ounces of uncooked bacon, and about a pint of cornmeal. That’s a diet that made marching and fighting quite difficult; there were simply not enough calories in it to really keep someone going. That didn’t happen very often with the United States armies.
In some of the campaigns, deficiencies in these areas hurt. Lee’s campaign across the Potomac into Maryland, in 1862, is perhaps the most famous example of that. Many of Lee’s soldiers didn’t have shoes, and when they got to the macadamized turnpikes north of the Potomac, that is, the turnpikes with crushed stone on the top, their feet were simply cut to pieces. They also had gone without rations for a long time in that campaign, and the absence of provisions and adequate clothing and shoes probably led to some of the straggling and desertion.
A Self-sufficient Confederacy
However, no shortages of weapons, ammunition, food, or clothing resulted in a Confederate defeat. The Confederacy found a way to produce or import enough of what it needed to provision and arm its soldiers.
Overall, the Confederacy proved able to produce most of what it needed and to produce it in such a way as to place its armies on pretty much equal footing with United States armies in the field. Beyond diplomacy and the challenge of filling their armies with well-supplied men, the United States and the Confederacy struggled with internal political debates, and experienced significant economic change during the war.
Common Questions about Sustaining Armies During the Civil War
When the Confederacy didn’t have large reserves of gold and silver, it just printed out paper money, and as more and more money was printed, inflation soared.
The Confederacy imported about 600,000 rifle muskets, produced a quarter of a million of their own, and captured about 100,000 from the United States. The United States imported one million from Europe, produced two-and-a-half million, and also produced a number of repeating weapons that the Confederacy did not have, weapons that would fire more than one round before they had to be reloaded.
Confederate armies were generally well enough supplied with food and clothing but not as well as their United States counterparts. However, no shortages of weapons, ammunition, food, or clothing resulted in a Confederate defeat. The Confederacy found a way to produce or import enough of what it needed to provision and arm its soldiers.