Civil War coins offer intriguing North and South
subplots. Put in context of America’s worst war, the story of
Confederate coins, US coins, Civil War tokens, and other Civil War
money is described and illustrated.
|Underlying Causes of American Civil War|
Agriculture was the primary component of the
southern economy, of which
cotton production towered in importance. Indeed, “King Cotton”
accounted for over half of all U.S. exports.
Prior to the Civil War, taxes on imported
commodities were levied to
raise money for governmental operations. These special taxes were
called tariffs and were the primary source of revenue for the nation
(the Feds hadn’t yet discovered the income tax). The North supported
high tariffs, because in addition to raising money for the federal
government, they helped protect their goods from foreign markets. The
South imported most of their manufactured products, and naturally
opposed tariffs and the resultant higher prices.
In 1860, the South owned precious few economic
resources compared to
the North, falling far short in population (9 million vs. 22 million),
manufacturing output (8% vs. 92%), and railroads (9200 miles of track
vs. 32000 miles).
|The Confederate Half Dollar|
At the onset of the war, there were three
government mints operating in
the South, located at New
Orleans, Louisiana, at Charlotte,
North Carolina, and at Dahlonega,
Georgia. The New Orleans facility was by far the busiest, minting
large quantities of gold double eagles and silver half dollars.
Jefferson Davis and other leaders of the South
envisioned minting coins bearing new CSA designs, to assert their
newfound sovereignty and earn the respect and possible assistance of
European powers. The New Orleans Mint, renamed the Confederate State
Mint, was to be the major hub of coinage activity, as an ample supply
of bullion was available to the Mint, at least initially.
On April 2, 1861, CSA Treasury Secretary
Christopher Memminger wrote to Supt Elmore instructing him to
“see of the persons who deal in engravings or designs, and procure from
them for the various coins, and send them here immediately.
In the absence of circulating coinage, the
Confederacy and several states printed paper money. In addition to
printing notes of greater dollar denominations, fractional notes, also
known as “paper coins” having faces values less than one dollar,
entered the channels of commerce. Postage stamps also became a means to
Pleased by the results of the white metal
tokens, Scott then proceeded to obtain from circulation 500 half
dollars dated 1861 in various conditions and used these for restrikes.
At first, he struck the Confederate die directly onto the reverses of a
few of these half dollars, but some of the federal reverse was still
visible. To overcome this problem, Scott then completely “shaved off”
the reverse design from what remained of his 500 half dollars before
continuing to make restrikes.
|The Lovett Confederate Cent|
In early 1861, agents representing the south
placed an order with Philadelphia engraver Robert Lovett, Jr. to
produce a set of dies for a Confederate coin.
An original Lovett Confederate copper-nickel cent from 1861 is of tremendous historical significance, rarity and value. Expect to pay somewhere between $90,000 and $130,000 to obtain a genuine specimen. Haseltine’s 1874 re-strikes are also quite scarce and generate strong interest from collectors, usually to the tune of $10,000, much more for top quality copper and silver examples. His gold re-strikes can command $40,000, if not more. Bashlow’s Confederate Cents are far more plentiful and can bring perhaps a few hundred dollars under the most favorable of circumstances to the seller.
|Other Confederate Coinage|
are other “coins” of southern heritage struck during the Civil War
years, but none have been conclusively shown to be instigated through
the efforts of the Confederate government. Unlike the Confederate Half
Dollar and the Lovett cent, these items actually circulated among the
populace and played a role in daily commerce.
The Confederate half dime has been traced back
to A.O.P Sehorn
of Murfreesboro, Tennessee, one of the most accomplished silversmiths
of his time. In 1877, a Columbus, Georgia newspaper asserted the Sehorn
half dime was circulating as early as 1862. Nearly all surviving
examples of the Confederate half dime show signs of wear. A Confederate
dime has also surfaced, and bears similarities to the half dime,
to speculation that both came from the same source.
The shelling of Fort Sumter electrified and
united most of the North. Many people, including President Abraham
Lincoln, expected the southern rebellion to be put down rather quickly.
Lincoln’s first call for volunteers provided for only three-month
enlistment terms. In July 1861, Lincoln dispatched an army of 30,000
half-trained men toward Richmond, Virginia, the capital city of the
Confederate States of America, only to be met by a stubborn rebel force
near a small creek called Bull Run. Many citizens from the Washington
area, dressed in fine clothes and toting picnic baskets, accompanied
the federal troops, expecting to observe the “end” of the rebellion, as
if it were to be accomplished through some sort of bloodless spectator
What happened at the [First] Battle of Bull Run
did not follow the
script Washington power brokers had envisioned. While gaining the upper
hand at first, Union forces were quickly routed as Confederate
reinforcements, under the command of General J.E. Johnston and General
Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson, arrived on the scene.
|The Yanks Adapt to Coin Shortages|
As reality of a prolonged conflict hit the home
front, the availability
of circulating coinage became an early casualty of war. Facing a very
uncertain future, both ordinary citizens and speculators hoarded
precious metal coins, saving them for what many feared would be bleak
In the absence of coinage, completing everyday
became difficult. The national economy threatened to grind to a halt.
For instance, shopkeepers couldn’t make small change for their
It is estimated that at least 25 million Civil
War tokens were
produced, with over 8500 distinct types catalogued. Patriotic themes
and advertisements were the primary subject matters. Tokens were
composed of various materials, including brass, copper-nickel, zinc,
hard rubber, and most importantly, bronze (95% copper, 5% tin and
zinc). Some of the tokens mimicked the design of the Indian Head cent,
being sure to include the word NOT above the ONE CENT, in order to
protect the originator from being charged with counterfeiting.
Also to relieve the coin shortage, the
government responded by issuing
$50 million of fractional paper currency, as small as three cents face
|The Emancipation Proclamation|
As the coin shortage developed into a serious
issue for the Union
during 1861 and 1862, it was still probably not at the very top of
President Abraham Lincoln’s list of concerns.
On September 22, 1862, five days after the
North’s marginal win at
bloody Antietam, Maryland, Lincoln announced his intention to soon
publish a formal edict, for the purpose of freeing all slaves living in
states taking up arms against the Union.
While Lincoln’s critics complained the
pertained only to regions where he did not have the capacity to enforce
it, the impact of the document was far-reaching.
As for Lincoln himself, the Proclamation
significantly enhanced his
historical legacy, being forever remembered as the Great Emancipator.
In modern times, the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. has been the
rallying point of civil rights demonstrations.
|New US Coinage and "In God We Trust"|
As mentioned a couple of sections above, the
metallic value of the "nickel" Indian Head cent soon outpaced its face
value, virtually disappearing from view by the end of 1862, just as did
its silver and gold coin siblings earlier. To compensate for the lack
of coinage, numerous enterprising individuals produced a variety of tokens, most of them composed of bronze
(95% copper, 5% tin and zinc), to help facilitate business
transactions. The tokens were easier to manufacture than Indian Head
cents, since they were thinner and because bronze is more ductile than
the nickel alloy used in the cent. Even better, bronze is a relatively
Mint officials observed the advantages of
thinner, bronze composition
coins. The ease of manufacturing was an obvious plus. The bigger lesson
though, is that for decades, they had erroneously thought the public
would not accept a coin having a face value far greater than its
intrinsic metallic value.
The 1864 law ordering the makeover of the cent
also authorized the two
cent coin, made of bronze as well.
At the time of its cancellation, the two cent
coin was held in low
regard. In retrospect, however, the coin helped pull our country
through some of its darkest days, by fulfilling an important economic
need and by inspiring confidence in the Almighty.
But just as with the two cent coin, when the War
Between the States
concluded, pre-war coin circulation patterns resumed, and the
copper-nickel three cent coin fell out of favor. In addition, critics
bemoaned the fact that the coin’s size too closely resembled the dime.
Production ceased completely after 1889.
|Winds of War Turn Against the Rebels|
The year 1863 began with discontent settling in
on both sides. The South's goal of winning European support was
slipping away, while the North, victorious in the western front,
suffered many defeats in the East. As Lincoln fired top generals one
after the other while searching for just the right commander to lead
the Union army, the capture of Richmond seemed only a remote
This was the situation in June 1863 when General
Lee moved the Army of
Northern Virginia, consisting of 75,000 men, northward across Maryland
and into Pennsylvania. Lee was hoping that if he could successfully
invade a northern state, the Union would seek terms to end the war.
On July 3, Lee gambled the fate of the
Confederacy on a chance for
victory, by ordering General George Pickett to lead 15,000 of the
South's finest troops in a massive charge across the open field and up
Cemetery Ridge, in a bid to break the center of the Union line.
The same day Lee abandoned Gettysburg, the Union
won another decisive
victory with the fall of Vicksburg. By taking control of the
Mississippi River, the key objective of splitting the Confederacy in
two was accomplished.
|The End of the Confederacy|
The improvement of coin availability in 1864 and
recovery in the northern states can both be tied to the favorable
direction the war had taken for the Union.
Grant selected General William T. Sherman to
take control of a large
force in Tennessee, and move south toward Atlanta, Georgia.
As Sherman moved northward through the
Carolinas, Grant plowed his way
through Virginia toward Richmond, capturing the Confederate capital
city on April 2, 1865. Lee fled westward out of Richmond, in a
desperate bid to escape into North Carolina and join up with
Confederate forces there.
|Lincoln's Assassination Stuns the Nation|
Lincoln’s blueprint to reconstruct the south
centered on clemency. As his second term commenced on March 4, 1865,
Lincoln eloquently outlined his plan in his “With malice toward none”
inaugural address. Lincoln clearly believed forgiveness was critical
for binding the nation’s wounds.
On April 14, less than a week after Lee
surrendered to Grant at
Appomattox Court House, President Lincoln decided some relaxation was
in order. He and Mrs. Lincoln attended Ford’s Theatre that evening in
downtown Washington, D.C. to enjoy a comedy, Our American Cousin.
In his lifetime, Lincoln was reviled by many on both sides of the Mason-Dixon Line. To put this into perspective, for a while there was actually some doubt whether or not he would win re-election in 1864. Lincoln wrote a memo to his cabinet on August 23:
"This morning, as for some days past, it seems exceedingly probable that this administration will not be elected. Then it will be my duty to so cooperate with the President elect as to save the Union between the election and the inauguration..."
The passage of time, however, has largely
removed the last vestiges of
hatred, and today he is widely regarded as a champion of human freedom
and true hero of American history.
The American Civil War is a fascinating topic to
study. Visiting a Civil War battlefield today leaves one in awe, as
visions come to mind of those brave souls who gave the “last full
measure of devotion” on that very same ground. The titanic struggles
between the North and the South, the immensity of the battles, and the
courage and dedication to duty displayed by the opposing sides are what
legends are made of. The events leading up to secession, the war itself
and its aftermath, dominated and shaped the development of the United
States, politically and socially, for generations. Without a doubt, the
War Between the States was the single most defining event in American
We’ve touched upon a few of the more notable
events of the Civil War
era, but much of the saga remains untold. Perhaps the most
comprehensive treatment ever of the American Civil War is Shelby
The Civil War: A Narrative. A wonderfully trilogy of books, fairly
balanced, and historically accurate, Foote writes in a style resembling
an easy reading novel. Measuring over 3000 pages, the author spent 20
years researching the material, and it shows.
We owe much of what we know today about the
Civil War to Mathew Brady,
who took many hundreds of photographs during the tragic era. As they
say "a picture is worth a thousand words", so Brady's contribution to
history is priceless. Through his foresight, Brady eternally preserved
images of important people, sweeping panoramas, the everyday lives of
soldiers, and battlefield horrors. Anyone with a respect for the past
can appreciate the collection Brady handed off to future generations.
Mary Panzer, curator of photographs at the National Portrait Gallery in
Washington, D. C., examines his work in Mathew
Brady and the Image of History.
In this section we’ve written quite a bit
already about the
accomplishments and failures of the Union and Confederate monetary
systems during the American Civil War. Still, the information presented
here is but a mere summary.
To a lesser degree, we utilized The Comprehensive
Catalog and Encyclopedia of U.S. Coins in preparing this Civil War
section. The book’s main strength, however, is its overall breadth of
numismatic coverage, useful for beginners or experts. A worthy addition
to anyone’s library.
An incredible compilation of 500 photos,
engravings, and paintings. The
Civil War: An Illustrated History, as the name implies, is
profusely illustrated, accompanied by a well prepared text.
Stunning artwork. Absolutely stunning. That's
what you'll find in Witness
to the Civil War: The Art of John Paul Strain. The artist creates
images so lifelike and true to history, that their value to students of
the Civil War rivals actual photographs from the era. Realistically
depicting in vivid color images of brave soldiers, frightening combat
scenes, and touching moments, Strain combines his unbelievable artistic
skills with detailed knowledge of the period to bring the War Between
the States to your living room. For the Civil War buff who thinks he's
seen it all, this one is for you.
Not everybody wishing to learn more about the
Civil War has time to
pour through a gigantic text. For those of you falling into this
category, then The
Timechart History of the Civil War is the answer. This is a brief
(but not too brief) timeline summary, loaded with the essential facts
supported by superb images and sidebars. Excellent battlefield maps
make it easier to understand troop movements and strategies.
Interestingly, some of the old photos have been colorized, adding new
perspective to familiar faces.
|U.S. Coins and History Chapters|
Return to the Coins and U.S. History navigation panel to study more chapters.
|1||Allen, Jack, and John L. Betts. History:
New York, NY: American Book Company, 1967.
|2||Brinkley, Douglas. History
of the United States.
New York, NY: Penguin Putnam, Inc., 1998.
|3||Schwarz, Ted. A
History of United States Coinage.
London, England: A.S. Barnes & Company, Inc. 1980.
|4||CW Editors. Comprehensive
Catalog & Encyclopedia of US Coins.
Iola, WI: Krause Publications, 1998.
|5||Doty, Richard. America's
Money, America's Story.
Sydney, OH: Amos Press, Inc., 1998.
|6||Foote, Shelby. The
Civil War: A Narrative, 2nd ed.
New York, NY: Vintage Books, 1986.
|7||Krause, Barry. "Tracking the Confederate
The Numismatist, March 2001, pp. 285-289, 339.
|8||Corell, George, and Levi, Harold. "Coins
of the Confederacy: Their History and Collectability."
|9||Orzano, Michele, and William T. Gibbs. "Hardship
Catalyst for Change."
Coin World, June 16, 2003, pg. 51.
|10||Orzano, Michele, and William T. Gibbs. "Copper-Nickel
Coin World, June 23, 2003, pg. 49.
|11||Panzer, Mary. Mathew
Brady and the Image of History.
Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution Press, 1997.
|12||Jordan, Winthrop D., Miriam
Greenblatt, & John S. Bowes. The Americans.
Evanstan, IL: McDougall, Littell & Company, 1988.