Money of the American Civil War

Fighting a war is an expensive undertaking, especially for a largely agrarian society whose capital is invested in slavery and cotton land. After their secession from the United States, the Confederate States of America was in need of revenue. Raising taxes was not feasible, as there was little in the way of infrastructure to support mass taxation. Instead, the Confederacy began to print their own money. While printing banknotes was not precisely a problem, the lack of hard assets backing the money was an issue. The money was printed under the promise that the bearer would be paid after the war was over and the Confederacy had won. As the war progressed and victory was unlikely, the value of the printed banknotes declined. After the Confederacy had been defeated, the banknotes had no value and individuals and banks had lost large sums.

Confederate banknotes were being issued by the Confederacy, states within the Confederacy, and individual banks, which lead to an excess of currency and counterfeiting. In total, there were seven series of banknotes authorized by the Confederacy, beginning in March 1861. The last authorization of banknotes was in February 1864. An array of images were printed on the banknotes, including ships, Greek goddesses, and romanticized depictions of slavery. The Confederacy had limited printing resources so pre-existing engravings were often repurposed.

In 1971, Confederate bank notes were donated to the museum by the Ladies of the Grand Army of the Republic.[1]

The banknote below features Robert M. T. Hunter on the left, who was the Confederate States Secretary of State and a Confederate Senator. On the right is Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom. The center image features an engraving of the painting, General Marion Inviting a British Officer to Share his Meal by John Blake White. Francis Marion was a military officer who served in the American Revolutionary War.  

Confederate Banknote, ca. 1862. Object ID: 1971.002.006; Royal Gorge Regional Museum & History Center Collection

The next banknote (featured below) shows a sailor on the left and a large ship in the center.

Confederate Banknote, ca. 1861. Object ID: 1971.002.010; Royal Gorge Regional Museum & History Center Collection

Seen below, the next banknote again features Robert M. T. Hunter on the bottom right. The center image shows horses pulling a cannon.   

Confederate Banknote, ca. 1864. Object ID: 1971.002.015; Royal Gorge Regional Museum & History Center Collection

The last banknote featured shows an image of the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond, Virginia. C. G. Memminger is featured on the lower right corner. Memminger was the first Confederate States Secretary of the Treasury.

Confederate Banknote, ca. 1862. Object ID: 1971.002.016; Royal Gorge Regional Museum & History Center Collection

In total, 72 different banknote types were released from 1861-1864. The previous images are only a small sampling of the banknotes that were authorized by the Confederacy.

On April 9, 1865, Robert E. Lee officially surrendered to Ulysses S. Grant in Appomattox Court House, Virginia. Other Confederate forces surrendered in the following weeks and four years of fighting came to an end.

The information presented in this article is compiled using research conducted by the Royal Gorge Regional Museum and History Center.

[1] A national non-profit organization originally established as an auxiliary to the Grand Army of the Republic

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