Domestic Economy in the Confederacy

From an 1886 Atlantic Monthly article by David Dodge

            Thus straitened were the people on whom were imposed the enormous taxes necessary to the maintenance of war, — burdens which grew ever heavier, as the people became poorer. In an estimate made in the beginning of 1865, it was reckoned that the government would require for the support of the war that year a sum more than twice as great as the total circulation of the South. The Confederate tax was then five per cent. on all property, twenty per cent. On incomes and profits in trade, besides a special tax on hundreds of other articles, heavy in proportion as they could be construed to be luxuries. But long before this the government had seen that something more tangible than even an unlimited amount of its own notes, with their shadowy values, was indispensable to its existence. The tithing system had been established as early as April, 1863. This exacted a tenth of all farm produce not absolutely too perishable for transportation, sweet-potatoes included. When tithes and taxes combined proved inadequate, as they soon did, recourse was had to the last resource of impressment. When the restrictions by which the impressing power was surrounded, forbidding the seizure of provisions virtually from any save speculators, and even then, if on the way to market, prescribing a tedious method of appraisement, bade fair to render utterly barren this dernier ressort, the Confederate agents ignored all trammels, and summarily impressed supplies wherever they could be found, paying for them at schedule rates, which were usually about one fourth the market price.

            The most vehement protest of the state press could never administer more than a temporary check to this practice. Among other things impressed were all pleasure horses, to be used in cavalry service, and all firearms of every description, except a gun for each household.

            In addition to the national taxes, tithes, and impressments enumerated above, the State of North Carolina, which, besides ministering largely to the wants of her sons in the regular service, maintained a considerable armament of her own, consisting of boys and old men not within the Confederate conscription limits, also levied a tax of two per cent. On all property, and at the close of the war was on the eve of exacting half a tithe additional. She also drafted slaves and free negroes, as she had need of them, for work on the fortifications. Although the slaves were impressed for only short periods, and their labor was paid for as liberally as the authorities paid for anything, this created more discontent and disaffection than any other measure of that trying time. So morbidly sensitive had the people become in regard to this species of property that not even a friendly hand could touch it in the direst extremity without giving offense. So manifest was this spirit that the press taunted the slave-holders with being more willing to risk the lives of their sons than the value of their slaves in the support of the cause.


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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