Confederate States of America Imposes Tax-in-kind, Burdening Rural Poor
April 24, 1863. “Confederate soldiers weren’t the only Southerners who suffered during during the Civil War. Many of the civilians on the home front endured hardships created by the war and their new government. Farmers and families who depended on the land for their subsistence were forced to give more than their fair share when the Confederate Congress levied a “tax in kind” on April 24, 1863.
“The new tax took 10 percent of all agricultural products and livestock raised for slaughter. . . . Through this burdensome tax the Confederate legislators hoped to pay for one-third of the war costs, feed their armies, and sell any surpluses to the populace.
“One quartermaster was assigned to every Confederate congressional district in May 1863 to oversee the collections. Subagents assessed each farmer’s crops to determine how much should be delivered to collection depots. Grain sacks and barrels were provided to the farmers, and the government paid for freight if the goods had to be shipped more than eight miles.
“The government soon discovered that because of the sheer volume of provisions collected, along with the lack of transportation and poor organization, much of the food spoiled in warehouses while waiting to be shipped. Meanwhile soldiers and civilians alike were going hungry. . . .
“. . . By November 1864 the Confederate government reportedly had collected from the tax in kind $150 million in goods and cash, which kept their armies from starving.” (1)
Historian Stephanie McCurry writes, “That tax represented an extension of state authority and a burden on poor white people that far exceeded any other government levy. . . . [T]o poor soldiers’ wives, the 10 percent tax, was, quite literally, an insupportable burden, the very difference between an eked-out subsistence and starvation. . . .
“Increasingly, soldiers’ wives saw themselves as the victims of a systemic, not personal, injustice, of a government policy that was literally consuming their substance. . . . Some insisted that the crisis of subsistence was part of a larger conspiracy to expropriate the poor people of their land; those views surfaced particularly in North Carolina, and there speculators were sometimes cast as the advance guard of a long-standing class war. To them, the erosion of yeoman independence was purposeful, and planned-for consequence of government policy. But in every state, soldiers’ wives protested that private citizens were empowered to prey on the poor by the government’s refusal to act to secure poor women’s subsistence.
“‘Speculators’ distilled the palpable sense that everything about war policy in the C.S.A. advantaged the rich and victimized them. . . .” (2)
– Submitted by Peter A. Gilbert, Vermont Humanities Council Executive Director
2) Stephanie McCurry, Confederate Reckoning, pp. 167-68.