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The Southern Bread Riots were events of civil unrest in the Confederacy on April 2, 1863.

The riots were triggered mainly by foraging armies both Union and Confederate, who ravaged crops and devoured draft animals. The staggering inflation created by the Confederate government was also a primary cause. The drought of 1862 created a poor harvest that did not yield enough crop in a time when food was already scarce. From 1861 to 1863, the price of wheat tripled, while butter and milk quadrupled. Salt, which at the time was the only practical meat preservative, was very expensive if available at all as a result of the naval blockade and the capture of Avery Island by the Union.[1]

Similar to the French Revolution, citizens, mostly women, began to protest the exorbitant price of bread. The protesters believed a negligent government and speculators were to blame. To show their displeasure, many protesters turned to violence. In Macon, Atlanta, and Augusta armed mobs attacked stores and warehouses. In North Carolina, mobs destroyed grocery and dry goods stores. In the Confederate capitol of Richmond, Virginia, thousands of people, mostly women, broke into shops and began seizing clothing, shoes, food and even jewelry before the Militia arrived to restore order. At this time Jefferson Davis himself gave a speech and even threw the money from his pockets to the rioters asking them to disperse, saying "You say you are hungry and have no money; here, this is all I have,". The mob stayed put: only when Davis threatened to have militiamen fire on the mob did they disperse.

It was far more profitable for plantation owners to grow cotton and tobacco instead of food. The taxes on clerks, apothecaries and teachers were a mere 2% while taxes on agricultural produce were 10%. This created obvious tensions between differing classes and robbed the farmer of his income and means of providing for his family. Because of this, food crops suffered tremendously through supply and demand.

Food riots were occurring before the arrival of Union troops because the Confederate Army was suffering the same food shortages and was taking food stocks for its own needs. Additionally, as the cost of war for the Confederate government exceeded the tax revenue, legislation was enacted that exacerbated the situation by deflating the Confederate currency and inflating prices of goods.


  1. Mark Kurlansky, Salt: A World History
  • Flagel, Thomas R., and Allers Jr., Ken (2006). The History Buff's Guide to Gettysburg. Cumberland House Publishing Inc. ISBN 1581825091. 
  • McPherson, James M. (1988). Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era. Ballantine Books; Random House Publishing Inc. ISBN 0-345-35942-9. 
  • Kurlansky, Mark. Salt: A World History. 

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