Civil War 150: “Bread! Bread!” The Confederate Bread Riots

Southern Women Bread Riots. Library of Congress image: LC-USZ62-42028 (b&w film copy neg.).

In April of 1863, the drastic inflation on southern currency was officially out of hand. Pressure on farmers to provide the necessary crops to feed their families and the armed forces along with rising taxes and inflated food prices led Confederate women to initiate Bread Riots. In villages and towns throughout the south, women with starving families began to raid shops and food storages.

Sometimes armed, these women would steal food that they now believed was outrageously overpriced. Many of these women were the wives and mothers of soldiers who fought for the Confederacy and now felt that the government was blatantly abusing them.

The riots came to a head in Richmond, Virginia, when a mob was met by the militia and Confederate President Jefferson Davis. Davis threw coins from his own pockets into the crowd to calm them and advised them to collect themselves and return to their homes. When no one dispersed, Davis took out a pocket watch and informed the rioters that they had five minutes until the militia would open fire. No one budged for four minutes. Upon announcement that they had one minute left, the crowd began to disassemble and the leaders were arrested.

Unidentified confederate soldier and wife. Library of Congress image: LC-DIG-ppmsca-50638.

While the situation could have gone terribly wrong, the rioters seemed to claim a small victory, as the Confederacy released some of its food reserves back to the people and food prices began to drop. The Bread Riots represented the growing unrest and anger of people trying to live their lives in a fledgling country at war. This unrest would continue to grow for the remainder of the war.

Connie Golding earned a bachelor’s degree in History with a minor in Fine Arts from The George Washington University.