American Civil War for Kids and Teachers - Civilian Life in the South Illustration

American Civil War, Civilian Life in the South

The overwhelming fact of daily life in the South was coping with shortages.

The population in the South was around 9 million when the Civil War started. This included the 4 million or so slaves. Slaves worked as laborers, but not as soldiers. The North had around 22 million people, and only the border states had slaves. Simply, the North had more fighting men. Because of this, the North could man blockades on waterways, to block Southern transportation systems, and send armies to fight on Southern soil. This caused great destruction and disruption. The South lacked factories, skilled laborers, and materials to make repairs.

Most of the South was composed of small farms. Most small farms had no slaves. When the men went off to war, woman and children were left to run the farms. Some farm women found themselves unable to handle the heavy farm work needed to grow crops. Others were overrun by the enemy, just as they had feared. When their food and supplies ran out, or were taken or destroyed by the Union army, or stolen by Confederate soldiers and deserters, farm women and children found themselves facing poverty and starvation.

Thousands of farm women abandoned their farms and traveled to the cities with their children. They were refugees. They brought little with them except hope for help. Their desperate migration from the farms to the cities made food shortages in the cities even worse. Food became more and more expensive as need outweighed supply. As the war continued, the Confederate dollar shrunk in value each month until it was nearly worthless. To buy food, people exchanged goods and services. Some women found jobs in the new factories established to produce weapons, uniforms, and ammunition. Women were provided with food and shelter as payment.

Some people and many churches tried to help. But their supplies were also limited. When the Union army arrived in a town, one of the first things they did was to close  churches and schools as these were places of information exchange and distribution of supplies. The Union plan was to starve the south so they could not survive and would be forced to surrender. Ultimately, that plan worked.

Compare: The Homefront in the North during the Civil War

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