The Civil War – Desperate times call for desperate action

Submitted by C.J. Johnson

In old Choctaw County, prior to the Civil War, most farmers had small
farms. There were few large landowners with slaves. In the 1850
Federal Census, about 66 percent of the County’s households had no
slaves. Only eight Choctaw County families, (one percent of the
slave-owning families,) had more than thirty slaves, with the 87
slaves being highest number of slaves for any owner. In fact, 59
percent of the total number of slave-owners had less than five slaves.

As J. P. Coleman commented in his history of our county, “This was
never ‘big plantation’ country like that found in the Yazoo-
Mississippi Delta and in the prairies of east Mississippi.

There were a few large plantations and today there are a few farms of
a thousand acres or more. From the beginning Choctaw has been farmed
by the ‘small farmer,’ either as a landowner or as a tenant.”

When Mississippi became a Confederate state, generally the young,
often unmarried, men of the county signed up first. As the war
continued, more and more family men enlisted or were drafted, leaving
aged men, wives, and children to fend for themselves at home.
Women and children attempted to plow fields, cut hay, raise crops,
and tend to what little livestock had not been stolen or taken by the
military. In addition, prices were skyrocketing and supplies were
diminishing. Money was scare while families had little to eat or wear.
The Southern Motive paper of old Greensboro stated in 1864, “Seldom a
day passes but three or four ladies come to town to get a little meal
or meat from the [relief] commissioner…Frequently, they have to go
home without either…” They were desperate.

In “Chronicles of Choctaw County” Judge Coleman commented one man and
two women from Spring Hill Church “were charged with going to Dido
‘and taking wheet’ out of a Confederate warehouse.”

This happened around the South. In mid-March, 2013, the Salisbury
[NC] Post newspaper published a story about the re-enactment of a
food riot on March 18, 1863 in Salisbury, when a group of women
staged an uprising, breaking into businesses and the railroad depot
for food. They offered to pay the “government rate” of $19.50 per
flour barrel, but could not and would not pay the rate demanded by
storeowners and “speculators” seeking unfair profits.

The original story of the raid ran in the Salisbury Carolina Watchman
newspaper on March 23, 1863. About fifty women, thought to be the
wives, widows, and mothers of soldiers were in search of food.

When the first storeowner refused reduce prices, the ladies tore into
his storehouse door with hatchets. While they were unable to break
down the door, the owner offered ten barrels of flour for free, which
they accepted.

The women continued on to other business establishments, asking for
reasonable prices and threatening as necessary. According to the
newspaper, the angry gang of ladies managed to acquire 23 barrels of
flour, small amounts of molasses and salt, as well as $20 cash.

According to the Post article, while the government was paying $19.50
for a barrel of flour, “At the time of the raid, the women’s letter
to [N.C. Governor] Vance said, meat prices were 75 cents to $1 a
pound; flour, $50 a barrel; wood, $4 to $5 a load; molasses, $7 a
Desperate times required desperate actions to survive at home.