Domestic Economy in the Confederacy
Cotton Cards  

From an 1886 Atlantic Monthly article by David Dodge

            Of all manufactured articles, cotton cards were, under the circumstances, of most vital importance, and their scarcity the source of most anxiety. A small patch of cotton was now planted on every farm, to be made into clothing. Fingers were a good, if very tedious, substitute for gins, which existed, of course, only in the cotton district; but without cards to prepare the lint for spinning, the wheels and looms had been resurrected to no purpose. These wanting, the cotton was useless, and there was no other resource. As every thread of clothing had to be homespun, tireless activity was necessary to provide for even a moderate-sized family of whites and blacks. The hum of the wheel and thump of the loom were necessarily almost as ceaseless as the tick of the clock; and as few families possessed more than one pair of cards, they had to be plied far into the night to keep rolls ahead for the women at the wheel. When it is remembered how much depended on these frail implements, and that their replacement was altogether problematical, it may be believed that their wear brought as many care wrinkles into the face of the materfamilias as the diminution of the stint of salt itself. Only the trustiest hand on the place, usually the black “mammy” herself, was ever allowed to touch them; nor was ever chancellor with his seals, or priest with his relics, more vigilant or self-important. Despite the numberless attempts, it was late in the war, if at all; that a really successful pair of cards was made in the Confederacy. The renovation of old ones, so as to prolong their usefulness for a few weeks, was, I believe, the most that was ever achieved. Indeed, the wire from which they were made, being of foreign manufacture, was as unattainable as the cards themselves. Every pair had to run the gauntlet of the blockade. The most valuable part of the cargo of the state blockade-runner, the Ad-Vance, consisted of bales of card-facing, to be attached to backs and handles on arrival. By this means Governor Vance was enabled almost to the very last to furnish the wives and widows of Confederate soldiers with good cards at ten dollars a pair, which could not always be obtained at one hundred dollars in the open market.


Dodge, David; “Domestic Economy in the Confederacy,” The Atlantic Monthly,  Volume 58, Issue 346; pp. 229-243; August 1886; Boston: Atlantic Monthly Co.

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