Thieves and inflation
To make matters worse, north Georgia’s mountains provided a haven for thieves. As early as December 1862 citizens of Whitfield and Gilmer counties were pleading for protection against roving gangs who stole horses and corn. A Whitfield County minister complained that renegades were “robbing little children who will have to suffer after bread.” He begged Gov. Brown for assistance, declaring, “We must have help or our county is ruined.” By late 1863 outlaw bands preyed upon civilians throughout Whitfield, Murray, Walker, Dade, Chattooga, Floyd and Catoosa counties.
At the same time, civilians faced rampant inflation. The Confederate dollar was not backed by hard assets, but was simply a promissory note based on expectation of Southern victory. As the war began to turn against the Confederacy, confidence in the currency diminished and the value of the dollar dropped. Furthermore, Georgia, like other Confederate states, tried to fund the war by issuing bonds and treasury notes and by printing money, instead of through taxes. Paper money poured into the economy, and prices soared.
Food prices varied across the South, but inflation was drastic everywhere. In Raleigh a pound of bacon cost 33 cents in 1862, $1 in 1863, $5.50 in 1864, $7.50 in 1865. In Richmond the monthly food cost for a family of four rose from $6.65 in 1860 to $68 in 1863. By early 1864 in Atlanta, when a Confederate private received $11 a month, corn sold for $10 a bushel and flour for $120 a barrel.
Ultimately, the suffering on the home front contributed to the defeat of the Confederacy. Deprivation finally drained the will of the people to continue the war. While some women were able to find employment in arsenals or factories, or by sewing uniforms or tents, others were forced to accept public or private relief. Many women wrote letters begging their soldier-husbands to abandon the cause and come home, resulting in a significant increase in military desertions.
As conditions worsened, class tensions led to internal opposition to the war. The poor were hurt the most, and for the longest, by food shortages and skyrocketing prices. This class disparity on the home front, combined with a similar perception of inequity in the military, led many to oppose the “rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.”
By 1864 the two great arenas of the war, the battlefield and the home front, had merged. Destruction of the South’s food crops and agricultural facilities were part of the Union military strategy. The battle line was drawn on the dinner table.
From May to December, Union Gen. William Sherman slashed and slaughtered his way through Georgia, making “a hostile people … feel the hard hand of war.”
When a weeping, desperate mother begged a Union soldier not to take all her chickens, he replied, “Madam, we’re going to suppress this rebellion if it takes every last chicken in the Confederacy.” By then, the South’s fate was sealed.
This article is part of a series of stories about Dalton and life in Dalton during the Civil War. The stories run on Sunday and are provided by the Dalton 150th Civil War Commission. To find out more about the commission go to www.dalton150th.com. If you have material that you would like to contribute for a future article contact Robert Jenkins at (706) 259-4626 or email@example.com.