Bread Riot "Starving Women In Richmond" April 2, 1863
By the spring of 1863 the Confederacy's War for Independence was having a devastating effect on the economy. Along with shortages of food and basic supplies, spiraling inflation was driving prices of available goods beyond the means of ordinary citizens. In the two years since the war had begun, prices had increased sevenfold, and the poor in the cities were unable to afford the necessities of life.
Richmond, VA, was especially hard hit by the war. Many of the food-producing areas of the surrounding countryside had been devastated by battles and plundering soldiers, and Northern and Southern armies had stripped the farms to feed their troops. The population of Richmond had more than doubled since becoming the Confederate capital, straining the available supplies even more.
On April 2, several hungry women assembled at a church in Richmond and marched to Capitol Square, where they angrily confronted Gov. John Letcher and demanded relief from the high price of food. When he offered no solution to their plight, the group of women turned into an angry mob. Shouting "Bread! Bread!" they began smashing windows in the shopping district and looting the stores. Their number increased to over a thousand as more and more destitute women and a few men converged on the scene and indiscriminately helped themselves to whatever could be found in the shops and warehouses.
President Jefferson Davis appeared on the scene. Standing in a wagon, he flung money from his pockets to the crowd, saying, "You say you are hungry and have no money- here is all I have." Next he held up a watch from his pocket and told the rioters if they did not disperse within five minutes, he would order the militia to fire upon the crowd. With muskets leveled at them, the rioters scattered, melting back into the side streets and neighborhoods from which they had come.
Fascinating Fact: Davis had the ringleaders of the bread riot arrested, and some of them were convicted and imprisoned.
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