American Civil War for Kids - Payrolls & Sutler Stores Illustration

American Civil War for Kids - Payrolls & Sutler Stores

Payroll: Both Union and Confederate soldiers were paid a monthly salary. At the start of the war, privates in both armies were paid $11 a month. Musicians made around $12 a month. Officers, engineers, cavalry, and artillery soldiers were paid more. Some soldiers sent part of their pay home to their families, others gambled their money away as fast as they earned it. 

In the North, Sutlers: Along with their monthly pay, the army freely distributed some goods to the soldiers like weapons, rations, a blanket or tent, and an occasional uniform. But that left a great many things that the soldiers did not have like soap. Soldiers were allowed to keep for their personal use any supplies sent to them in packages from home. But still, that left a great many things unprovided. Business men, called sutlers, who were not soldiers, set up stores in army camps. They needed permission from the military to do this. Each regiment was assigned one sutler by the military. The military was supposed to monitor the price of goods sold in the sutler stores, but seldom did. Without competition, goods in each sutler store were ridiculously expensive. Sutler stores sold soap, needles and thread, combs, razors, tin plates and cups, books, canned meats, eggs, butter, fruit, ginger ale, newspapers, and tobacco. It was illegal to sell alcohol, but most sutler stores did anyway. Although profit margins were high, so were robberies. The military did not allow soldiers to protect the sutler's cart of goods either when parked at camp, or as the sutler moved his cart from place to place, following the regiment or restocking his goods. Some sutlers did manage to finagle guards in exchange for goods, but most were on their own. It was a dangerous occupation.

In the South, the Confederate Dollar: Like Union soldiers, Confederate troops received pay raises as the war continued, but by 1864, inflation had so destroyed the Confederate dollar that a pair of shoes cost over $100. So a monthly pay increase for the common soldier to $18 or $20 a month did not buy much at all. After a while, there were no sutler stores in the Confederate camps. The army supplied some goods like weapons, a blanket, and limited rations. Southern soldiers depended upon the kindness of people as they marched through towns and the countryside, along with packages from home, to provide food, clothing, and "luxury" goods. They also foraged for goods. Confederate soldiers would team up for safety and forage for food in the fields and along riverbanks, seeking eggs, fish, waterfowl, berries, and greens. When they went foraging, they were always on the lookout for a sutler wagon to attack. There was even a call the Confederate soldiers used when a sutler wagon was spotted. "Rally! Rally!" Confederate soldiers would surround the cart, grab the goods, and quickly disappear. The whole attack took perhaps five minutes. Soldiers were not required to share anything stolen from sutler carts, but many did.

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