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In Their Own Words

November 16, 1862

Angry Letter on Civil War Prices

Upset over Atlanta merchants exploiting local residents by raising the price of food and necessities, an angry Mrs. Welborn wrote Georgia governor Joseph E. Brown in Milledgeville:

“Here in Atlanta they will keep both dry goods and provisions stored away in cellars and upstairs, and let the poor soldiers’ family perish before they will let them have anything for less than three or four times its value. And if there is any talk of putting down the prices of the necessaries of life, they will run off all they can to get it out of reach of the city authorities. Is there no way to stop the tide of extortion that is sweeping over the Confederacy and threatening to devastate and ruin it. What encouragement have soldiers to fight for a government that will allow a set of blackhearted Tories to remain at home and perish their families at home? They are as black-hearted as the wretches who have invaded our soil, for they are enemies in our midst that are doing, this day, more towards subjugating the South than those Northern vandals that spread consternation and terror wherever they go… .

“Even here in Atlanta, where there is an abundance of provisions, there is a great deal of suffering among the poor class in consequence of the high price of provisions and the low price of labor. There are many of the poor who cannot obtain meat at present prices, bacon at 75c per pound, port at 35c, butter at $1.50 per pound, lard at 50c, potatoes $2 per bushel, salt $1.50 per pound, syrup $2.50 per gallon, coffee is out of the question, calico $1.50 per yard, bleach domestic $1.50 and all other goods according[ly]. Such are the prices. There is a plenty stored away for higher prices. I saw a merchant in Atlanta pull out goods from under his counter that usually stay on the shelves.

“The men who take government contracts are speculating on the poor that have to do the work. Where government allows them $3 for making a soldier’s suit, they will only allow the poor women $1 for making the same. Thus they realize a fortune in a few months. So it is in Columbus, Georgia, where some of the contractors’ wives boast that if the war will only continue a few months longer, their husbands will be a millionaire. Such people would not have this war to end! The poor soldiers are often compelled to eat meat that is spoiled or none at all, such as the commissary can buy at very low figures. There are instances where men who have had government contracts have realized $100,000 in six months! There is the grandest scheme of speculation and fraud going on in the Confederacy that the world ever knew… .

“I do think that Atlanta and Columbus, Georgia, are the crowning points of all the cities in the Confederacy for speculation and fraud. When the war first began I thought there was a great deal of patriotism among us, but, alas, where is it? Avariciousness has almost conquered it!”

Source: Mills Lane (ed.), Georgia: History written by Those who lived It (Savannah: Beehive Press, 1995), pp. 158-160.