Commissary General Department

President Davis appointed Lucius Bellinger Northrop to be Acting Commissary General of Subsistence in March 1862. A West Point graduate, Northrop had surveyed the southwest for the army to identify food-producing areas in the winter of 1842-43. He combined medical training with extensive experience with the army. His service in many different climates provided him knowledge of subsistence needs of the soldier. Captain William Maynadier, a northerner, was appointed as the permanent Commissary General. Maynadier remained loyal to the Union and refused the position, so Northrop was permanently appointed. A favorite of Jefferson Davis, Northrop was disliked for his hardheadedness, especially when it came to Union prisoners. After the first battle of Bull Run, when asked about feeding prisoners in Richmond’s Libby prison, he replied: “I know nothing of Yankee prisoners; throw them all into the James river."4 He did everything possible to hinder the efforts of those attempting to provide them humanitarian support.

From its birth, the Confederacy suffered from a shortage of food. The antebellum South devoted much of its acreage to cotton, tobacco and other income-producing crops. The farms of the upper Mississippi Valley provided most of its foodstuffs. Beef, pork, corn, flour, fruits, butter and cheese were transported by either steamboat or rail from states that remained with the Union.

Recognizing the problem, the Confederate Congress adopted a resolution in 1862 urging farmers to plant food crops in place of cotton and tobacco. The efforts of much of the South, principally the Shenandoah Valley “the breadbasket of the Confederacy,” resulted in sufficient food being raised to feed the army and the general population during much of the War.

Often food was plentiful but storage, transportation and distribution were lacking. As the war progressed and much of the South was under Union control, it became more and more difficult to move supplies. Soldiers and civilians both suffered as food rotted on loading platforms and railroad sidings and in warehouses. Inflation and the devaluation of Confederate currency complicated the problem.

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