The Supply Dilemma in the South

The Union had the Sanitary Commission and the Christian Commission doing a fabulous job of organizing the home front war effort and provided a mountain of supplies to the armies in the field. Perhaps you’ve been wondering how supplies were organized and distributed to the Confederate army? Today we’ll discuss this…

Now, before we launch into the difference of the Northern and Southern organizations, I want to note that I haven’t seen any definitive sources to prove that the Southern relief groups were at Gettysburg. If you know something specific and can share your source, please inform me in a comment! So, though this article isn’t “Gettysburg focused” necessarily, it is the other side’s companion piece to the previous articles this month.

Supplying vs. States Right was just one of the challenges the Confederacy encountered because of their government ideas.

Supplying vs. States Right was just one of the challenges the Confederacy encountered because of their government ideas.

The State’s Rights Principle At Work

The Southern states seceded because they didn’t want the Federal government bossing them. Strict Constitutionalists, the Southerners believed strongly in the Tenth Amendment to the Constitution which states “Powers delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” They also believed the states had voluntarily joined the union and could leave if they chose.

(You can debate the legality and morality of this all day and night…but I’m just telling you what they thought.)

Now, the idea of state’s rights prompted secession and the formation of the Confederate government. (Confederacy is actually a governing form where states get to tell the central government what to do – in theory, anyway.) However, that very principle which formed the Confederate States of America became its Achilles Heel.

Jeff Davis and his government wanted the states to work together and issued orders. The states snubbed their noses at him and waved their banner of state’s rights.

Now, on to a more concrete example. Remember how the Sanitary Commission and Christian Commission organized supply efforts all across the North? Well, a centralized organization would’ve gone against that principle…so…

It Was All State Controlled

Each state in the Confederacy was in charge of relief efforts for its own soldiers. Thus, Virginian civilians were supposed to provide for Virginia soldiers and not worry about supplies for the guys from Alabama because the Alabama folks would take care of their own.

Sound impractical? It was.

But that’s the way it was. Each state provided for its own soldiers. (In theory.)

Southern photos are scarce and this picture is actually of a Union relief agency in the field, but it gives an idea of the field work done by GRHA.

Southern photos are scarce and this picture is actually of a Union relief agency in the field, but it gives an idea of the field work done by GRHA.

An Example From Georgia

One of the best organized Confederate state relief agencies was Georgia Relief and Hospital Association (GRHA). Georgia was one state that her act together and did a fabulous job setting and meeting goals. The organization was started in December 1861 with state appropriated funds, and they were audited every year to make sure the money was used appropriately.

Women on the home front were instructed by newspaper articles what items to collect or prepare and their local ladies’ groups got busy. The finished supplies were sent to the association.

Then, qualified agents took charge of the supplies, transported them to army locations or the warehouses in Richmond. (Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy.) Georgia regiments and medical units could write to the warehouses and order the supplies they needed.

Georgia Relief and Hospital Association operated four hospitals in Richmond and many smaller wayside hospitals throughout the South. They had doctors and nurses who specifically worked in their hospitals. And GRHA had a goal to have supplies, an agent, and a “relief team” within a 20 mile radius of every battlefield where a Georgia soldier fought. (Thus, there’s a big question regarding Gettysburg…)

Georgia’s organization was very successful and is a model of what each Southern state should’ve been trying to achieve, but even their system of supply broke down as the transportation became limited and the state was invaded.

It should also be noted that not all state’s groups were as ambitious or as successful as Georgia…but they tried.


The Confederacy lacked the invincible power of a centralized supply organization, but with their views of government they could not have adopted that system. The state controlled relief system was not as effective, but it was state and local controlled. Considering the supply difficulties, transportation trials, and general break-down of society in the last years of the war, it is still amazing what these state organizations were able to accomplish.

Perhaps they weren’t as powerful, but their desire to provide supplies for “the boys in the field” was the same as the Northern organizations. And their dedication and selflessness cannot be denied. Rather, we must commend them for striving so hard…for so long.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. Which supply system (Northern or Southern) do you had the best underlying principle?




5 thoughts on “The Supply Dilemma in the South

  1. Pingback: 5 Things You Didn’t Know About “Confederate Gray” | Gazette665

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