Little Bits of History


Posted in History by patriciahysell on April 2, 2012

Richmond riot

April 2, 1863: Food shortages lead women to riot. The American Civil War began in 1861. Eleven states seceded from the Union and formed their own nation – the Confederate States of America (CSA). The Confederacy was led by President Jefferson Davis. As troops won or lost battles, the area of conflict would move. Troops retreated or advanced. These troop movements caused damage to fields. As all generals have said, armies move on their stomachs. Troops, Union and Confederate, appropriated both crops and draft animals.

The price of wheat tripled from 1861 to 1863. The price of butter and milk quadrupled in the same time period. Salt prices skyrocketed causing more problems with food shortages as it was used for curing or preserving meat. Making things worse, rampant inflation increased prices while the Confederate dollar lost value. The cost of the war exceeded the tax revenues and money was scarce. Plantation owners grew cotton or tobacco rather than food crops because they were more profitable. The taxation rates were divisive as well. Clerks, apothecaries, and teachers were taxed at a rate of 2% while agricultural produce was taxed at a rate five times as high. This caused a further loss for the small farmer trying to feed his family.

With all these factors, the number of starving citizens grew ever larger. Wives and mothers bitterly complained about the price of bread. They needed to feed their families and felt they were not being helped by the government. In Richmond, Virginia – the nation’s capitol – thousands of people, mostly women, gathered. They began by chanting “Bread, bread, bread” but got no response to their pleas for food or help. They started to riot. They broke into shops and stole food, clothing, shoes, and even jewelry. The Governor appealed to the rioters to stop to no avail. President Jefferson Davis spoke before the crowds and begged them to go home. They continued to loot until the militia was called in. Davis threatened his own people with armed men, bayonets flashing in the sun. The crowds dispersed.

The May 23, 1863 issue of Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper ran two lithographs along with the story of the riots. The first showed plantation owners and soldiers and was titled “hounding their men on to Rebellion.” The second showed the starving women wreaking havoc in the street and was called “feeling the effects of the Rebellion and creating the Bread Riots.”

You say you are hungry and have no money – here this is all I have. – Jefferson Davis as he flung his money at the crowd

Something very sad has just happened in Richmond – something that makes me ashamed of all my jeremiads over the loss of the petty comforts and conveniences of life – hats, bonnets, gowns, stationery, books, magazines, dainty food. – a woman in a letter to a friend

A hungry man is an angry one. – Buchi Emecheta

Hungry men don’t ask, they take. – Kenneth Kolb

Also on this day:

Giacomo Casanova – In 1725, Casanova was born.
US Coinage Act – In 1792, the Coinage Act was passed.
The Sunshine State – In 1513, Juan Ponce de  León discovered Florida.

2 Responses

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  1. Bobby Dias said, on April 2, 2012 at 11:12 am

    This bit of history shows how petty some of the things that americans protest about now really are.

    • Bobby Dias said, on April 1, 2013 at 9:44 am

      Much of the starvation was caused by the success of the cotton gin which put 100,000s out of work,mostly in the south. These out of work people really gave Lincoln the fear of uprising, that fear starting him to start building the north’s military long before the south succeeded. Some say that Lincoln had to pay for the increased military costs by robbing the southern states not to free the slaves-90% or more were free already because of no work,they had started to wander looking for food which caused a food shortage in both the north and the south..

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