The Problems of Supplying an Army with Clothing

By Jane Ward, ATHM Librarian

The Osborne Library recently received a fascinating pamphlet that gives a glimpse into the Confederate States of America late in the Civil War, highlighting the problems the Confederacy had paying and supplying its army, and the profiteering that went on in regards to soldiers’ clothing.

Some of the numbers of clothing supplied to the Confederate Army in the last six months of 1864.

Some of the numbers of clothing supplied to the Confederate Army in the last six months of 1864.

On Feb. 11, 1865, the Confederate House of Representatives released a report of the Special Committee on the Pay and Clothing of the Army that blamed the delays in payment of creditors and soldiers to the change in currency instituted in the Confederacy in 1864.  Even after the necessity of printing new currency, the Confederate Treasury Department still had not paid requisitions amounting to the tune of $128,360,584.87 by December 1864!

Soldiers were complaining that those out in the field were not getting their fair share of cloth, while those on duty at posts got more than their fair share.  The problem was that the Confederacy could not get enough cloth.  Still, in the last six months of 1864, Gen. Lee’s army was furnished with 215,000 jackets, 357,000 pants, 360,000 pairs of shoes, 131,500 blankets, 286,000 cotton shirts, and numbers of hats, flannel shirts, drawers, socks, and overcoats.  In addition, numbers are given for items supplied by North Carolina and Georgia for their troops, and other Confederate states presumably supplied some of their troops as well.

Soldiers still complained they did not have enough clothing, but the Confederate Quartermaster General points out in the report that much of this inadequate supply came from soldiers’ not taking proper care of their clothing and from bartering it off to civilians, traders, and others.  “Personal observation satisfies the committee that large quantities of government clothing are possessed by persons in civil life, and by dealers in such articles.  A walk through the business streets of Richmond will satisfy any one of this fact.”  To combat this profiteering, the committee proposed a stringent law to punish speculators and dealers who took advantage of soldiers’ “wants and weaknesses.”

2015-5-pg5-detail

Stringent law or not, it is unlikely the Confederacy was able to combat either of these problems in the waning days of the war in 1865.  The acquisition of this piece only enhances the wealth of objects that make up the exhibit that originated at the ATHM in 2012, Homefront & Battlefield: Quilts & Context in the Civil War, which is currently on display at the Great Plains Art Museum in Lincoln, Nebraska, through June 27, 2015, after traveling to the New-York Historical Society and the Shelburne Museum.

Leave a Reply