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To make matters worse, planters devoted much of their land to cotton and tobacco while soldiers and their families went hungry. Most states passed laws limiting production of non-food items, but enforcement was lax. With prices on the rise, cotton producers and dealers were getting richer than ever. Some bragged openly that the longer the war went on the more money they made. Much of what food they did produce was sold to speculators, who hoarded it or priced it far beyond the reach of most ordinary people.

Desperate to avoid starvation, thousands of women took action.

As early as , food riots began breaking out all over the South. Gangs of hungry women, many of them armed, ransacked stores, depots, and supply wagons searching for anything edible. Major urban centers like Richmond, Atlanta, Mobile, and Galveston experienced the biggest riots. Deserters who made it home found plenty of neighbors willing to help them avoid further entanglements with the Confederacy. That was obvious even from distant Richmond. Conscripts and deserters are daily seen on the streets of the town.

Southern Unionism

Some deserters joined with other anti-Confederates in a shadowy antiwar movement, widely known as the Peace Society. The Peace Society was the largest of the many secret or semi-secret organizations, such as the Peace and Constitutional Society in Arkansas and the Heroes of America in Appalachia, which sprang up across the South to oppose the war.

It probably formed in north Alabama or east Tennessee during the spring of and later spread south into Alabama and Georgia. Desertion became so serious by the summer of that Jefferson Davis begged absentees to return. If only they would, he insisted, the Confederacy could match Union armies man for man. But they did not return. A year later, Davis publically admitted that two-thirds of Confederate soldiers were absent, most of them without leave. They attacked government supply trains, burned bridges, raided local plantations, and harassed impressment agents and conscript officers.

At one point they even hatched a plot to kidnap Governor Milton and turn him over to the Federals. A pro-Confederate learned of the scheme and warned Milton, who stayed in Tallahassee to avoid capture. Just east of the state capital, deserter bands raided plantations in Jefferson, Madison, and Taylor counties. In southwestern Florida between Tampa and Fort Myers, they ranged virtually unchallenged.

When the sheriff arrested several of them, their friends broke them out of jail. That entire area of Mississippi was, in fact, largely controlled by deserters and resisters who killed or drove off anyone connected with the Confederacy. In Covington County, deserters made the tax collector cease operations and distribute what he had on hand to their families.

Deserters raided the quartermaster depot in Perry County and destroyed the stores there. Under the circumstances, Hamilton could no longer continue tax collection in that region. Upset that wealthy men could avoid the draft, Knight deserted and took up with others of his community who had done the same.


Then we saw we had to fight. For the rest of the war Knight and his men, roughly five hundred strong, drove off Confederate agents, ambushed army patrols, looted government depots, and distributed the food stored there to the poor. So successfully did they subvert Confederate control of the county that some called it the free state of Jones. Soon after Alabama seceded from the Union, Winston seceded from the state. Twice as many Winston County men served in the Union army as did in the Confederate.

Even many of those who initially signed on with the Confederacy soon had a change of heart. Frank and Jasper Ridge, two brothers from Jackson County, deserted after just fifteen days. By the summer of there were at least ten thousand deserters and conscripts in the Alabama hill country formed into armed bands. Some did so to fend off Confederate authorities, killing officers sent to arrest them.

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Others went on the offensive. Farther south, still others in or near the Alabama Black Belt targeted planters and their property. From his Bear Wallow stronghold in Rapides Parish, Wells led deserters and other resisters in raids against Confederate supply lines and depots. Commanded by a Cajun named Carrier, it drove off home guards and plundered all who opposed them.

After killing five members of the Home Guard, they almost inhumanly beat their faces to pieces with the breach of their guns so no friend would know them again. In Bandera County, Texas, just west of San Antonio, residents formed a pro-Union militia, refused to pay taxes to the Confederate-backed state government, and threatened to kill anyone who tried to make them do so.

They patrolled the region so effectively that no one could approach without their knowing of it. In the central Texas county of Bell, deserters led by Lige Bivens fortified themselves in a cave known as Camp Safety.

History of the Southern United States - Wikipedia

At last account they had been established. So did anti-Confederates in east Tennessee, a region where open rebellion against the Confederacy was common from the start. As early as the fall of , bands of native Unionists disrupted Confederate operations by spying for the Federals, cutting telegraph lines, and burning railroad bridges.

The next spring Unionists in Scott and Morgan counties staged a coup.

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They forcibly took control of all county offices, disbanded the Confederate home guard, and put in its place a force made up of local Union men. Led by Russell Gregory, pastor of a local Primitive Baptist church, they established a network of sentries along the roads to warn of approaching danger. In the spring of , raiders invaded Cades Cove once again to steal livestock and provisions. They plundered several farms, taking all they could carry, but never made it back to North Carolina with their loot. Anti-Confederates, deserters, and resisters alike in the North Carolina mountains also formed defensive militias and set up warning networks.

Wilkes County was home to a band of five hundred deserters organized as a guerrilla force who openly challenged Confederates to come and take them. In Cherokee County, about one hundred layouts formed a resistance force that disarmed Confederate soldiers and terrorized Confederate loyalists. Though their motives were not always the same, the one thing nearly all armed resisters had in common was that they were men of modest means. In eastern Tennessee, for example, Unionist guerillas were mainly small farmers, artisans, and laborers. By contrast, their pro-Confederate counterparts held three times as much real estate and twice as much personal property.

In eastern North Carolina, the difference was even more dramatic. In Washington County, which supplied nearly an equal number of troops to the Union and the Confederacy, Union soldiers were fourteen times poorer than those in the Confederate army. Such figures reflect a class-based Unionism that made itself felt all across the South.

The rise of such class warfare was the very thing that slaveholders had tried to avoid for so long and what had, in large part, led many to push for secession in the first place. Nowhere was that more evident than in the low country of North Carolina. Formed initially to protect themselves from conscription and Confederate raiders, their objectives eventually expanded to include driving planters from their land and dividing it among themselves.

Centered in Greenville, Pickens, and Spartanburg counties, deserter bands had designated assembly areas and an organized system of signals to warn of trouble on the way. Near Gowensville, they built a heavy log fort.


Deserter bands went on the offensive too. A force of more than five hundred controlled a region bordering North Carolina. Operating in groups of between ten and thirty, they chased off conscript companies, raided supply depots, and looted and burned the property of anyone who openly supported the Confederacy. Much the same was true in southwestern Virginia, where J.

Local Unionists too, aroused by Confederate home guard depredations, formed armed militias.