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?




Confederate Gray, Firelight, & Home

Last week we read about a Union soldier looking at his “long road” beyond Appomattox. Today, we’ll take the Southern point of view. The war was over, but the Confederates had lost. For many of these Southern men, their road home would be more difficult and symbolically longer.

The following selection is semi-fictionalized. In other words, it’s based on real history, but these thoughts do not belong to any particular Confederate soldier. The setting is the evening of April 13, 1865 (Lincoln has not been assassinated yet).

Looking Back

We’ve lost. Don’t bother with flowery language. Until now, I could always hope for a better day, another victory for our army. But now it’s over. All the grief and regret which I’d keep back cannot be avoided.

If we’d won, perhaps we could have justified the sacrifices. But now, we are left with too many questions, too many memories. I’ve buried too many cousins and brothers.

Confederate artillery unitWe’d believed the war couldn’t last long…that Southern tenacity would win the day. We’d volunteered to defend our homeland from invasion. I know the politicians have their story and their views and I know history may not treat us kindly. But I fought to defend my family. I didn’t even own any slaves and many of the men I fought beside didn’t either.

Battlefields now behind us will be the silent monument to us…places were we fought: Manassas, Gaines Mill, Malvern Hill, Sharpsburg, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, Wilderness, Spotsylvania, Cold Harbor, Petersburg, Amelia Springs, Saylor’s Creek, Appomattox. Appomattox: here the armed struggled ended and the road home and the questions began.

Faded gray, dusty gray, torn gray – I guess those are ways to describe my uniform. I ain’t got any other clothes. Mother and sisters made it for me at the beginning and it’s been through it all – the forced marches, the charges to single victories. There a tear in the sleeve from the bullet wound last year. It hangs loosely because of the winter of hunger and the reoccurring malaria.

The ranks of the company and regiment – indeed of the whole army – are thin, like my gray coat. We soldiers fought to defend our Constitutional rights and our families. We believed we were right and that’s what kept us strong. We were men in gray, following a cross flag.


The gun is gone. That weapon had almost become like a friend, I’d had the thing so long. Laid it down yesterday. The war’s over.

I don’t really believe it yet. Someday, I’ll realize it. You see, it’s not a desire to kill, a burning anger, or even bitter resentment in my heart…it’s just a feeling of shock, too hard to describe.

Confederate prisoners at GettysburgIt seems to strange to think the old bugle won’t call us to the march again…that Gener’l Lee won’t ride the lines again while we cheer…that Old Stonewall won’t sudden return from somewhere far off in the mists of time. Four years establishes new habits and routines and now it’s hard to realize we’ll never be the feared Army of Northern Virginia.

The firelight dims, but the embers burn a little longer. It’s like hope. The grand fire of enthusiasm and fight is dead, but in the coals we again find the iron qualities which drew us here first. We’re reminded of what we hold dear: faith, family, home. I can actually go home. That is a single grand reality. Home.

Fire refines. Have we been refined? Our lives, our souls, our character have been thrown in the hottest fire of war and defeat. Can we emerge as stronger, better men?

Looking Forward

Perhaps we’ve been tested and prepared. Perhaps forgiveness is stronger than victory. We’ll go home and…

But what will be left at home? Haven’t had a letter since late last autumn when Mother said the crops had been burned. Did the girls survive the winter? What will I be going home to? Will my sweetheart still be waiting for me or has the war destroyed her?

So many questions…

And then how will the Yankees treat us? Sure, we were paroled, but will they all be kind like those fellows who shared their food with me? We’d never had slaves, but what about the people who did – how will they like doing their own work? And what about the freedmen? Will they be better off in freedom and will the northern people accept them kindly? I don’t have answers. To speak honestly, I mistrust Yankee politicians.

Soldiers of the 10th Virginia CavalryIt’s a long road home. Looking at my comrades, I know we’ll all face different struggles…to forgive, to forget, to heal, to accept, to reunite. But I guess I’ve learned more as a Rebel soldier than I’d thought…more than shooting and killing. I’ve learned not to give up what’s important to you.

The war’s over. I’ll accept that. I ain’t going to keep fighting. It’s over. But I’ll take the courage I’ve gained and go home. I’ll keep my mother and sisters safe again. We’ll plow the ruined fields. We’ll rebuild the barn and expand the house.

My gray coat may hang behind the door, hidden from prying eyes, but the manly qualities mastered on battlefields and the hope kindled in this last night can guide this soldier. I’m a soldier in gray, starting the long road home to forgive and rebuild.

Your Historian,

Miss Sarah

P.S. The Confederates faced a harder post war “road.” What other feelings might they have had? Share your thoughts or historical quotes.