January 4, 2012
Confederate Prices "What a Dinner Cost in 1864"
However, it is very hard to put these prices into comparable terms. The blockade seriously affected the supply of many items including fabric, medicines, books, and foodstuffs. When these items became available, the prices could be high or low depending on area and scarcity. Frequently, items would be available in pockets. Milk might be available in one town and scarce in the next and the prices reflected the supply.
The type of money also was reflected in the prices. Confederate money fluctuated frequently. Union money was more stable, but when traveling in the south, some people were hesitant to accept it.
What could $13 a month army pay buy?
- 8.67 pounds of cheese ( $1.50 a pound)
- 130 apples ( 10 cents a piece)
- 52 oranges ( 25 cents an orange)
- 13 small pies ($1 a pie)
- 17.3 pairs of wool socks ( 75 cents a pair)
- 6.5 bottles of bad whiskey, ($2 a bottle according to William McCarter in My Life in the Irish Brigade.)
-156 Cartes de Visite ($1 per dozen at the cheapest in Philadelphia, according to West Philadelphia Hospital Register published in 1863.
- 3.54 "dates" with a lady of the night (3 for $11 according to Hugh D. Cameron of the 3rd North Carolina Cavalry as stated in The Story the Soldiers Wouldn't Tell by Thomas P. Lowry.)
-Soap, candles, coffee, flour, tea, and sugar in the South? Priceless.
The prices above are generally from Northerners, traveling in the South. Due to the shortages and the inflation of confederate currency, it is very difficult to put an amount on any goods. Dolly Burge, who was living in Georgia wrote in her diary in November of 1864 that she "Paid seven dollars a pound for coffee, six dollars an ounce for indigo, twenty dollars for a quire of paper, five dollars for ten cents' worth of flax thread, six dollars for pins, and forty dollars for a bunch of factory thread." Burge was originally from Maine and was used to the prewar, northern pricing. We gain the best comparison of Confederate to Union in "five dollars for ten cents' worth of flax thread."
There is a really interesting summary of the inflation in the Confederacy from 1861-1865 at Confederate Inflation Rates. This site has a chart that shows the purchasing power of a Confederate dollar throughout the war.