Sunday, April 1, 2012

Confederate imports supporting the war effort

As a former trade analyst I found the following article of great interest. It covers the commodities imported by the Confederacy and role played by Confederate government purchasing agents. Enjoy these excerpts...

... ham, bacon, beef, and other preserved meats were not the only food products brought into the Confederacy from foreign nations. Coffee, too, was an important article of import. It became so rare that the Surgeon General ordered it not to be used even as food for the sick. "In consequence of the very limited supply," he wrote, "it is essential that it be used solely for its medicinal effects as a stimulant." All sorts of substitutes were suggested and used,'  but it was imported too. Five hundred and twenty thousand pounds of coffee arrived in the South on government account during the thirteen months ending December 8, 1864. (p. 494)

Medicine and drugs were scarce in the South, too, and the Surgeon General made every effort to discover and develop substitutes. Quinine and morphia were especially important. Laboratories were established to search the South for herbs that could be used for drugs, and pam- phlets were issued by the Surgeon General describing methods for de- riving medicines from common plants. Efforts were made to spread poppy culture for its opium. A great deal of medicine was brought through the Union lines; the stories of smuggled drugs are legion. (p. 495)

These imports, from both Mexico and Europe, were of inestimable value to the Confederacy. To measure their importance would be impossible, although the records reveal many such statements as that of Colonel W. J. Hutchins, chief of the Texas Cotton Bureau, that "many of the guns and most of the powder which gained the victories at Mansfield and Pleasant Hill and won the campaigns in Louisiana and Arkansas" were imported.'75 More important are the numerous reports of Confederate officials, some already quoted, attesting the significance of the imported munitions, clothing, food, and machinery, the fact that they had supplemented home production, or that they had successfully filled and were filling certain requirements of the South. The importations were more than a mere stopgap, more than a tem- porary filling of the breach until home production could be geared to the new demands. Many of the supplies were basic needs of the Confederacy, which could not be satisfied at home. As the war dragged  into its later phases, needs that might once have been temporary became permanent, for the South, while straining every nerve to develop its own internal resources, was at the same time exhausting them.

It can certainly be said that many of the efforts of the Confederacy to purchase war supplies abroad were crowned with success, though just as certainly the results completely filled neither the needs nor the hopes of the Confederacy. In the face of well-nigh insuperable obstacles the Confederate agents in Europe and Mexico went a long way toward giving the South the materials which made possible its long struggle for independence. A student of the Confederacy has sug- gested that the "first great campaign of the war was not fought by armies. It was a commercial campaign fought by agents of the Federal and Confederate governments and having for its aim" the control of European sources of war supplies.'76 The agents of the South did not win the campaign, yet despite the advantages of the Union the Con- federacy was continually on the receiving end of a valuable stream of supplies. (pp 502-03)

Source: William Diamond "Imports of the Confederate Government from Europe and Mexico" The Journal of Southern History, Vol. 6, No. 4 (Nov., 1940).

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