Civil War Money Facts

Have you ever seen Civil War money? It's very interesting. People started using paper money because of the war, whether Northern greenbacks or Southern bluebacks. There are also some special modern commemorative coins that relate to the Battle of Gettysburg and President Lincoln.

Historical Money in the North

The Civil War created a coinage shortage, so the first official paper currency of the United States entered circulation. They were called Demand Notes and came in $5, $10, and $20 increments printed in 1861.

In 1862, they started producing United States Notes, also known as Legal Tender Notes, which more closely resembled our modern paper money.

Printing too much money would have caused inflation, but the North avoided this by raising taxes and income taxes in 1862 and 1864.

Actually, they were Internal Revenue Acts. Income taxes as we know them did not start until the 20th century.

Paper Coins

Coins were in such short supply that merchants had trouble making change, so they tried using credit slips or even using postage stamps as money!

Therefore, in 1862 the U.S. government produced small paper notes in coin denominations: 5, 10, 25, and 50 cents. This was called Postage Currency or Postal Currency, but modern collectors prefer to call it Fractional Currency.

Metal Coins Fact:
Coins in circulation during this era did not have the motto "In God We Trust" printed on them. That did not start until after the Mint Act of March 3, 1865.

Historical Money in the South

Shortages of Civil War money were even worse in the South. Banks loaned their coins and bullion to the Confederate government at the beginning of the Civil War, so between bartering was common people, espcially soldiers who bartered with coffee and tobacco instead of Civil War money. Merchants issued tokens to try to deal with coin shortage, and most states issued their own notes. There were even some cotton bonds payable in coin or cotton.

Civil War Paper Money Production

The Confederate States of America didn't want to use money that had the United States of America printed on it, so they produced money with images of C.S.A. officials and southern symbols such as slave labor, cotton bales, and ships. Hundreds of clerks hand signed the notes. The signers were mostly women, and it can be an interesting part of genealogy research to discover a relative who signed money. See the book Confederate and Southern States Currency for a list of names.

Shortages also affected the printing of money since there were only 20 paper mills in the South, and it was an era when paper was made from linen and cotton rags, not wood. Rags were also in demand for dressing wounds, therefore, they had to smuggle paper in from England and the North!

The Confederate States of America did not tax very much at first. They left money shortages up to the states who issued their own bonds and paper money, but this caused increasing inflation. The Southern government thought that cotton would equal gold since they were the world's largest cotton growing area, but by the time a shortage developed, they were under a blockade and unable to ship most of the cotton.

Coin Mint Production

The Federal Mints located in the South were located in:

  • Charlotte, North Carolina
  • Dahlonega, Georgia
  • New Orleans, Louisiana

They changed ownership peacefully since Southern workers were sympathetic to the Confederate cause. Each mint struck small quantities of coins in early 1861, but they soon stopped due to the supply shortage. Most metals were going into weapon production. Also, these coins used the same United States die patterns as before the Civil War. Only four half dollars were struck with a Confederate design at New Orleans.

At the End of the Civil War

The federal government refused to redeem Confederate Civil War money at the end of the Civil War. Some notes were collected by companies and used to print advertising.

Commemorative Civil War Coins

There are two special coins relating to the Battle of Gettysburg that I am aware of:

  • 2011 Gettysburg coin offered by the U.S. Mint as part of the America the Beautiful Quarters™ program
  • 1936 silver half dollar commemorative coin for 75th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg

There have been many uses of President Lincoln's image on money over the years. He appears on the modern $5 bill and penny. He first appeared on the penny to commemorate his centennial birthday in 1909. For Lincoln's bicentennial birthday in 2009, the U.S. Mint introduced a series of four pennies with scenes from his life. As part of the Presidential $1 coins series, Lincoln will be produced in 2010, and there will also be bronze medals and gold coins of his wife Mary Todd Lincoln as part of First Spouse program.

Civil War Money Resources:

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