Wartime Whisky Prices

There’s a story, of unknown veracity, that in 1863 President Lincoln asked what whiskey General Ulysses S. Grant drank. Nobody knew the brand, so Lincoln purportedly replied, “Because, if I can only find out, I will send a barrel of this wonderful whiskey to every general in the army.” The timing was particularly poor — that same year, whiskey prices were soaring.

The chart below, courtesy of the David Rumsey Collection, appeared in Henry Gannett’s 1883 Statistical Atlas of the United States, using the American Almanac and Treasury of Facts as its source. You can see prices jumping from roughly 19 cents a gallon to $1.92 a gallon in just 3 years (and soaring even higher after that)…

A jump so big, it soars off the chart. No wonder those New York City Irish were ornery to the point of rioting in 1863! Also interesting to learn that the Confederacy tried – and failed, as in so many other attempted social legislation – to enact prohibition.

via The horrific spike in whiskey prices during the Civil War, in one chart – Vox.

How Cotton Remade the World

As a historian, one of my favourite aspects of study is to see the ripples that one stone cast in the global pond can have.  This article is an excellent little summary of how the American Civil War – fought entirely in the US and by American participants – became a force for change in Britain, India, Egypt and elsewhere.

Yet given all that attention, it is surprising that we have spent considerably less effort on understanding the war’s global implications, especially given how far-reaching they were: The war can easily be seen as one of the great watersheds of 19th-century global history. American cotton, the central raw material for all European economies (and also those of the northern states of the Union), suddenly disappeared from global markets. By the end of the war, even more consequentially, the world’s most important cotton cultivators, the enslaved workers of the American South, had attained their freedom, undermining one of the pillars on which the global economy had rested: slavery. The war thus amounted to a full-fledged crisis of global capitalism—and its resolution pointed to a fundamental reorganization of the world economy.

How Cotton Remade the World – Sven Beckert – POLITICO Magazine.

The Role of Cotton

This site was suggested to me by a reader, which is always a thrill – it’s nice to hear from you, and to exchange new knowledge!

Reading about cotton was a bit like reading about salt; it’s one of those commodities that’s so omnipresent I never spared it much thought.  But this tshirt sales site surprisingly offers a good little history about the cultivation of cotton.

As mentioned above, cotton and cotton cloth that date back 7,000 years have been recovered. With that fact in mind, it’s no surprise that by 3,000 BC, cotton was being grown and woven on a commercial scale in the Indus River Valley and along the Egyptian Nile. Cotton traveled to Europe at around 800 A.D., courtesy of Arabian traders. It was not, however, passed along to America in the same way. When Christopher Columbus landed in 1492, he was surprised to discover cotton in the Bahaman Islands. Cotton began growing in the southern United States around 1556, and by 1793, it was being spun by Eli Whitney’s cotton gin. The cotton gin completely revolutionized the speed with which cotton could be produced. Before its introduction, laborers had to struggle to pick clean one pound of cotton per day. With the help of the cotton gin, a single worker could clean and produce fifty pounds of cotton per day. Of course, this meant that more laborers would mean more money for plantation owners, and this put slaves at high demand.

via From Cotton to T-Shirts: The Role of Cotton in the Civil War – ooShirts.com.

Podcast #4 – “The Country is in Peril; We Must Have Money”

So said Thaddeus Stevens. In this edition of the Civil War Podcast, on the sesquicentennial of the Confederate Act of Congress that issued the “cotton bonds”, I try to explain how that money was had.  To learn more about how the war was financed, click here and download the latest episode of the Civil War Podcast.

Confederate Currency

The risible quality of Confederate currency during the war is well known.  This little tidbit, however, was news to me.  I wonder if there are currency speculators disguised as land speculators in the South, buying post-bellum properties in the hopes that their once worthless now priceless insulation is intact?

At one time, he said, Confederate currency was so abundant that huge amounts of it were used as insulation in homes built after the war.

“Using currency was cheaper than buying paper at that time,” he said. “Sometimes you’ll hear about tearing into an old house and finding Confederate money. It’s not all that surprising.”


via Aiken author explores Civil War’s Confederate currency | The Augusta Chronicle.


The New York Times’ “Disunion” feature keeps presenting essays on topics I considered for my podcast!  Luckily (unluckily?) I couldn’t find a gap for the story of this master counterfeiter, whose story is notable. (Ahem, little money-printing joke, there…)

Upham didn’t look like a counterfeiter. He didn’t hide out in the woods or perform daring jailbreaks. He didn’t run from the police. He was a respectable small-business owner and devoted Northern patriot. He ran a store that sold stationery, newspapers and cosmetics. But he was also an entrepreneur with an eye for easy profit, and the Civil War offered the business opportunity of a lifetime: the ability to forge money without breaking the law. Confederate currency, issued by a government that was emphatically not recognized by the Union, had no legal status in the North, which meant Upham could sell his “fac-similes” with impunity.

Over the next 18 months he built the most notorious counterfeiting enterprise of the Civil War — one that also happened to be perfectly legal. His forgeries flooded the South, undermining the value of the Confederate dollar and provoking enraged responses from Southern leaders. He waged war on the enemy’s currency, serving his pocketbook and his country at the same time.

via A Counterfeiting Conspiracy? – NYTimes.com.