In the months following the clashes at Vicksburg and Gettysburg,
^^ Bread Riots in Richmond
By the middle of 1863, shortages of food and supplies had become so severe in some parts of the Confederacy that riots broke out. Hungry mobs invaded stores and food warehouses in more than a dozen Southern cities during the spring and summer, including Augusta, Georgia, and Mobile, Alabama.
The largest and most alarming of these riots was the one that erupted in the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. Richmond was very vulnerable to food shortages for two major reasons. First, it had to feed both the Confederate armies and the city's own growing population. Second, many farmers in northern Virginia had a difficult time harvesting their crops because of the large number of battles that took place in the region.
By the spring of 1863, constant fighting elsewhere in Virginia had reduced
Richmond's food supply to very low levels. At the same time, the cost of the few food items left on store shelves jumped to shockingly high levels. On April 2, a few hundred women gathered at a Baptist church to talk about the growing crisis. They then marched to the mansion of Governor John Letcher (1813-1884) to express their concern, but he basically ignored them. From that point on, the group grew in size and became an unruly mob. It turned to an area of Richmond that housed shops and bakeries.
Within a short period of time, the mob grew to more than a thousand people. Women made up most of the crowd, but some men and boys joined in as well. The mob broke into several food warehouses and shops, taking bread and flour and other food items for their hungry families. Some rioters then moved on to other the Union and Confederate forces that had been involved in those fights spent most of their time resting and rebuilding their armies. In middle Tennessee, though, the war continued. In late June, Union general William S. Rosecrans had moved his Army of the Cumberland against General Braxton Bragg's Confederate Army of Tennessee. Rosecrans directed his sixty thousand-man army forward throughout the summer of 1863 in a brilliant campaign that completely confused Bragg. By early September, Rosecrans' maneuvers had convinced Bragg to abandon the southeastern Tennessee city of Chattanooga, even though it was a major Confederate railroad center and supply depot. When Jefferson Davis learned that Bragg had fled Chattanooga without a fight, he confessed that "we [the Confederate states] are now in the darkest hour of our political existence."
stores, stealing jewelry, clothing, and other items in the confusion.
When Richmond mayor Joseph C. Mayo (1795-1872) learned of the riot, he quickly mobilized a company of militia to stop the mob. But the crowd ignored his warnings to go back to their homes. The members of the mob knew that the militia contained friends and neighbors, and they did not believe that the soldiers would ever attack them.
Finally, President Jefferson Davis arrived at the scene. Davis knew that the mob's conduct could not be allowed to continue, and at first he tried to convince them to leave voluntarily. The rioters responded with hostility, though, and Davis decided that he needed to take stronger measures. He told the mob that if it did not leave the area in five minutes, he would order the militia to fire into the crowd. The rioters did not budge for four minutes. But when Davis looked at his watch and said, "My friends, you have one minute more," the mob broke up, and the people returned to their homes.
Confederate officials later arrested several leaders of the mob, and a few of them even went to prison for a short time. But the riot convinced city officials and merchants that they needed to take additional steps to relieve the people's hunger. The local government increased their distribution of food to needy citizens, and local merchants dropped their prices. These changes helped the people of Richmond, but finding enough food for their families continued to be a problem throughout the rest of the war.
Bragg's evacuation of Chattanooga convinced Rosecrans that his Army of the Cumberland could acquire additional Confederate territory. After stationing a garrison of soldiers in Chattanooga, the overconfident Rose-crans resumed his pursuit of Bragg's Army of Tennessee. But Bragg had stopped retreating. Instead, he established a strong position in northern Georgia, where large numbers of Confederate reinforcements joined him from as far away as Virginia. These reinforcements included two divisions commanded by Longstreet, who had been one of Rosecrans' roommates at West Point, the prestigious New York military training academy.
Unaware of Bragg's decision to make a stand, Rosecrans pushed his troops forward. Bragg, meanwhile, sent a number of Confederate soldiers directly to the Union camp, where they pretended to be deserters. Their false tales of Confederate retreat further boosted Rosecrans' over-confidence.
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