Features

March 31, 2013

This Week in The Civil War, for week of Sunday, March 31

The Richmond bread riot

Dire food shortages triggered violent bread riots in Richmond, capital of the Confederacy, 150 weeks ago during the Civil War. The rioting on April 2, 1863, began when hundreds of women demanding emergency provisions became the flashpoint for a mob protest that surged across the city’s business district. Many shattered windows and looted storefronts before the rioting subsided. The New York Times quoted a newly released Union prisoner in a dispatch April 8, 1863, as saying he witnessed the upheaval through the window of a prison where he had been held in Richmond. The former POW told the newspaper he saw a crowd that swelled to hundreds — several armed with clubs, guns and stones. The account quoted the witness as saying: “They broke open the Government stores and took bread, clothing and whatever else they wanted.” Military action in Virginia had depleted food stocks and conditions for civilians crowding Richmond were severe. The report said order was restored only after Confederate President Jefferson Davis warned his militias could use force to intervene. But ultimately his government released more food for the hungry. Many in the South lacked basic foodstuffs well before the war began. Inflation also soared in the wartime South amid an ongoing Union blockade of Confederate seaports intent on exporting cotton for badly needed goods and weapons for the war effort.

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