On the Civil War homefront, Confederate families and their slaves often fought with plows and hoes to feed and clothe themselves.
For the Poore family and many others, having some cash didn’t help much. Confederate inflation ate away the value of any money they may have saved as prices soared for the few items they usually bought.
In Southeast Mississippi, the price for five pounds of sugar rose from 40 cents in 1860 to $5.75 in 1863, and the cost of 4 pounds of coffee increased from 50 cents to $20. In place of expensive coffee, the Poore family may have used, as many Southern people did, parched sweet potatoes, parched corn, corn meal, beans, rye or acorns.
The price of calico cloth, the one material almost all farm families bought to make their clothing, rose to $10 a yard in Newton County, Mississippi, where the Poore family lived.
Many people took to trading what they had for what they needed. Farmers traded chickens, bacon and sweet potatoes for shoes, cloth and tools.
How can you find the prices of goods in the area where your ancestors lived?
- Diaries. A wife, mother, daughter or sister may have made an entry about the cost of local goods.
- Local newspapers. Even if there were no store ads, there may have been letters, editorials or news stories complaining about prices.
- Local histories. Authors may have lived through the period or have used sources that don’t exist anymore.
- Letters. Family members often wrote to their soldier relatives complaining about conditions at home.
Do you have any other tips for finding how the war affected your family on the homefront?