Richmond Bread Riot
Cross-posted from the Civil War 150th Blog.
Although the majority of southerners supported the war effort and voted for secession, it was not unanimous. There was a sizable belt of opposition centered in the Appalachian Mountains from West Virginia down to western North Carolina. West Virginia. The opposition during the war was fueled by the Confederacy’s financial problems.
One problem both sides faced during the war was rampant inflation. They turned to printing paper money to help pay for the war. However this increased the money supply, raising prices and decreasing the value of everyone’s money. The problem was more acute in the Confederacy. The North approximately doubled its money supply during the war, the South increased theirs by 20 times. Inflation rapidly increasing prices in the south, quickly doubling, tripping and quadrupling. At the beginning of 1863 a barrel of flower could be bought for $70, but by the end of the war it would cost $250. That barrel of flower would have been only $10 when the war began.
Complaints from the southern people came to a crisis in Richmond on April 2nd, 1863. There had been a drought in 1862 and much of the food that was grown was destroyed by moving armies. Food was scarce and very expensive. The riot began when a woman named Mary Jackson riled up a crowd by complaining of the cost of food. Pulling out a revolver and bowie knife, she led a crowd of 300 women with shouts of “Bread! Bread!” The governor came out and read the Riot Act, but the mob ignored him, smashing the windows of shops and stealing not only food, but anything they could lay their hands on. A company of militia was brought out, and Jefferson Davis himself came to try to disperse the crowd. Reached into his pockets, he pulled out all the money he had and thew it to the rioters, shouting:
You say you are hungry and have no money. Here is all I have. It is not much, but take it. We do not desire to injure anyone, but this lawlessness must stop. I will give you five minutes to disperse. Otherwise you will be fired on.
The women, knowing that Davis was not making an idle threat, began to disperse. Davis was able to quell this riot with the threat of the soldiers rifles, but there were others elsewhere throughout the south. Similar events occurred in Georgia, Alabama and North Carolina. Although they turned out not serious in and of themselves, they were signs of growing discontent with the government.