The Richmond Bread Riots

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Today in History, April 2: 1863 – “As she raised her hand to remove her sunbonnet and use it for a fan, her loose calico sleeve slipped up and revealed the mere skeleton of an arm. She perceived my expression as I looked at it, and hastily pulled down her sleeve with a short laugh. ‘This is all that’s left of me’ she said. ‘It seems real funny, don’t it?. . .We are starving. As soon as enough of us get together, we are going to the bakeries and each of us will take a loaf of bread. That is little enough for the government to give us after it has taken all our men.” The Richmond, Virginia Bread Riots. During the Civil War, Richmond had been made the capitol of the Confederacy. Several factors had led to starvation conditions among the general populace of the South. The Union Navy had blockaded nearly all Southern ports, and the blockade runners could not bring in enough supplies. Growing cotton was more profitable than growing food, so most planters did that; what crops were left were usually taken by armies in the field, Confederate and Union. The prices of what little was left skyrocketed…wheat (bread) prices tripled, dairy products quadrupled…if they could be found at all. On this day in 1863 the mothers of Richmond had enough and rioted, breaking windows of bakeries and other stores, making off with bread, clothing, even jewelry. They confronted Confederacy President Jefferson Davis, who initially threw the change from his pockets at the crowd, saying he sympathized with their plight. When that didn’t work, he threatened to have the militia fire into the crowd of war wives and mothers. That finally got them to disperse.

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