US Coin History: The Money of the Civil War

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.

One can only wonder at the hardships faced by that generation of Americans.

The "Coins & History Chapters" button at upper right opens up other units in our US Coins & History section. The links directly below are sub headings in the "Money of the Civil War" chapter.

Underlying Causes of American Civil War
Cotton Plantation Currier and Ives
A large cotton plantation on the Mississippi River, by Currier and Ives illustrates a cotton harvest underway. Field slaves cut the cotton stalks, other hands operated cotton gins to remove the seeds. After pressed into bales, riverboats, as seen in the background, transported the cotton to New Orleans for worldwide distribution. Public domain image.

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.

Slaves chiefly provided the labor for working in the cotton fields. The prosperity of the cotton plantations underscored the South’s reliance on the slave trade, which is why most Southerners associated any perceived threat to slavery as a direct challenge to their livelihood and culture.

The North, on the other hand, was heavily industrialized. Immigration was encouraged to provide the labor supply, as slavery was outlawed. Factories and railroads were abundant and businesses desired to expand into recently acquired western territories. Only a small percentage of people living in the North were dedicated abolitionists, but the concern over competing against slave labor in the new territories was widely held.

After decades of industrialization, the northern states became dependent upon an active federal government to oversee the construction of an effective transportation infrastructure, and to pass laws designed to look after their financial interests. The agrarian South was much less interested in a strong influence emanating from Washington, D.C. and believed that the individual states largely owned the right to dictate public policy. What’s more, Southerners feared an overreaching centralized government might abuse its power and meddle with the institution of slavery.

political map of united states before civil war
Political map of the US of 1856 shows the comparative area of the free (pink) and slave (gray) states. The green represents territories not yet committed either way. John C. Frémont, the first presidential candidate of the Republican Party, and his running mate, William L. Dayton, headline the map. The Republican party had been formed in 1854 to counter the extension of slavery into the West. The existence of a map sectionalizing the nation was indicative of the interregional antagonism coming into sharp focus. Image courtesy of Library of Congress.

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.

Dating from the earliest colonial times, the development of society in the northern and southern sections of the country diverged significantly. By 1860, the nation had two distinct sections of the country, often at odds with each other over political, economic, and cultural issues. Up until then, compromises had kept the Union intact, but the sectional animosity and distrust finally became so great that a split could not be avoided.

Following the election of Abraham Lincoln in November 1860, several southern states seceded from the Union. War finally erupted in April 1861 when the South fired upon the federal position at Fort Sumter, South Carolina.

Southern Strategy
Confederate soldiers
Confederate soldiers, 1861, Richmond, VA. When the first bugle sounded, southerners responded enthusiastically. Virtually none of them owned slaves, but all believed they were fighting to free themselves from their domineering brethren of the North, whose economic interests often ran counter to their own. Image courtesy of Library of Congress..

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).

In spite of these overwhelming disadvantages, southern leaders still believed victory was attainable. Their confidence was based on the fact that the South had to wage a defensive war only, a big plus when fighting against a larger force.

Superior military leadership, capable of repelling invading northern armies, was the highest Ace held by the Confederacy. Amongst the finest southern generals were Robert E. Lee, (who ironically was offered command of the Union army, but chose to remain loyal to his beloved Virginia), Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson, and cavalryman General J.E.B. Stuart.

Latching onto that, the sons and daughters of the South rallied around their flag, convinced their counterparts in the north were not nearly as motivated and would quickly abandon support for a costly war.

Confederate strategists also anticipated help from Great Britain, whose prominent textile industry relied heavily on the southern cotton fields. They presumed Parliament would intervene on their behalf to protect British financial interests.

For the first two years of the war, the Confederates remained optimistic, as their plan, in part at least, was working for them. They hoped that by continuing to hold the northern aggressors to a standstill, the tide of war would eventually turn in their favor, and their dream of independence would come true.

The Confederate Half Dollar
The New Orleans Mint
The US Branch Mint at New Orleans, as illustrated on September 11, 1858 by Ballou's Pictorial magazine. Image courtesy of Louisiana State Museum.

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.

On January 19, 1861 Georgia seceded from the Union, followed by Louisiana on January 26, 1861. Shortly thereafter, the mints at Dahlonega and New Orleans came under control of the Confederacy. The mint at Charlotte came under Confederate control on May 21, 1861. All mint superintendents retained their positions, with all swearing allegiance to the Confederacy. The mints at Charlotte and Dahlonega, seriously lacking a bullion supply, were quickly relegated to assay office status and never factored into the plans of the CSA.

Jefferson Davis Confederate President
Jefferson Davis, the first and only President of the CSA. Public domain image.

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.

In total, 2,532,633 half dollars bearing the 1861-O date were struck, 330,000 by the authority of the US government before the takeover, 1,240,000 in February by the State of Louisiana acting as a custodian for the Confederacy, and 962,633 under the watchful eye of the Confederate government itself.

Since the same federal dies were used throughout this period, it is impossible to tell which 1861-O's were struck by whom. 17,741 gold double eagles were also issued at the New Orleans Mint during this time, and these too, are indistinguishable as to authorizing government entity.

1861 Confederate Half Dollar Restrike
Restruck in the 1880's by J. Walter Scott from the original Confederate reverse die, this restrike is nearly identical to the four authentic CSA half dollars. Photos courtesy of Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles, Inc., Beverly Hills, CA.

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.

I would suggest to them to design something new and appropriate to the South, leaving to the North the eagle and its counterpart.”

Throughout the month of April 1861, Elmore forwarded various design possibilities for southern coinage to the Confederate government at Montgomery, Alabama, the capital of the Confederacy at that time. The following month, the capital was transferred to Richmond, Virginia.

Before full scale minting of the CSA coinage could commence, the price of precious metals rose dramatically as the reality of war set in, causing coinage throughout all of America, both north and south, to disappear rapidly. Tangible assets, such as precious metal coins, were considered a safe harbor in stormy waters.

Moreover, bullion supplies at New Orleans were largely exhausted, with no hope of replenishment any time soon. Given these circumstances, Memminger concluded that proceeding forward with the production of Confederate coinage would be futile, and ordered a suspension of minting operations, effective June 1, 1861.

Sometime in late May, just days before shutting down the Mint, four genuine CSA half dollars were struck by Chief Coiner Benjamin F. Taylor. The obverse was made from the Liberty Seated federal die, but the reverse featured a new Confederate coat of arms, surrounded by cotton and sugar cane, important symbols of the southern economy. The Mint contracted an engraver named A.H.M. Petersen to prepare the reverse die.

The striking of the four CSA half dollars was not widely known, a fact that remained hidden to most until 1879. One of them was sent to the government and some believe presented to President Jefferson Davis though that fact remains undocumented and in doubt to some researchers. Taylor kept one of the half dollars for himself, while the other two went to local dignitaries. Taylor also retained possession of the dies.

fractional currency of the Civil War
North Carolina fractional Civil War currency, face value of 25 cents, issued 1864. Image courtesy of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill library.

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 fractional currency.

In April 1862, Union forces under the command of Captain David Farragut, captured the city of New Orleans. With the primary minting facility in the hands of the North, the goal of establishing a secure coinage system indicative of a self-sufficient Confederacy began to fade badly.

On May 10 1865, Confederate President Jefferson Davis was taken into custody by Union troops at Irwinville, Georgia, marking the formal end of the Confederacy and the American Civil War. Four long years of widespread destruction and intense bloodshed, claiming the lives of over 600,000 Americans, had mercifully come to an end.

Writing publicly in early 1879, former CSA Chief Coiner B.F. Taylor revealed the existence of the four original 1861 Confederate half dollars. Responding to Taylor’s disclosure, Jefferson Davis confirmed his wife had a Confederate coin in her possession at the time of her arrest at Hampton Roads, Virginia, but indicated it was stolen from her. Davis could not confirm if the coin was one of the four Confederate Half Dollars.

Later in 1879, Taylor sold his Confederate half dollar and dies to E. Mason Jr. of Philadelphia, who in May resold both the coin and the dies for $310 to J. Walter Scott, a New York coin and stamp dealer. In 1882 Scott sold the half dollar for $870, but chose to hang onto the dies for the purpose of manufacturing restrikes. After refurbishing the old dies, Scott produced 500 white metal tokens, successfully testing the Confederate reverse, pairing it up with a homemade Scott Company obverse die.

Scott Confederate Half Dollar Obverse
Inscribed on the Scott obverse: 4 ORIGINALS STRUCK BY ORDER OF C.S.A. IN NEW ORLEANS 1861 ******* REV. SAME AS U.S. (FROM ORIGINAL DIE SCOTT). Scott used his "front" side die while testing the manufacturing worthiness of the Confederate half dollar reverse die. Photo of a modern day replica of Scott token obverse. Photo courtesy of Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles, Inc., Beverly Hills, CA..

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.

Today, the Confederate half dollar specimen originally belonging to B.F. Taylor is housed in the collection of the American Numismatic Society in New York City. Two of the other half dollars are also privately held. The fourth authentic 1861 strike was actually found circulating in New York late in the 19th century (perhaps the coin stolen from Mrs. Davis?), and was sold on October 14, 2003 for an astounding $550,000.

Prior to the 2003 sale, it had been many years since any of the four genuine Confederate half dollars were sold. Based on this high level of interest in Confederate-related coinage, we can safely conclude that J. Walter Scott’s white metal restrikes could easily bring maybe $800 to $4500, depending upon condition. Scott’s half dollar restrikes are worth $5000 to $11500, again depending upon condition, although the small handful of his restrikes onto “unshaved” 1861 half dollars are very rare and command much higher prices. All of Scott’s restrikes are easy to distinguish from the four genuine CSA half dollars because the obverses were distorted and flattened during the restrike action.

Four lonely Confederate half dollars are the highest profile survivors of a long-ago vision to establish a coinage system representing southern values. From President Jefferson Davis on down, the South's leaders believed distinctive coins, indicative of a self-reliant nation, would help them achieve independence. Many numismatists nowadays wish there were more CSA coins available to collect from the Civil War, the most crucial episode in America's past. Imagine how the road of history might have detoured from the path we know today had the Confederacy's desire to mint millions of its own coins been fulfilled. Who knows, the short-lived republic might not have been so short-lived after all.

The Lovett Confederate Cent
1861 Lovette Confederate Cent restrike
The above is a Lovett Confederate Cent RESTRIKE. Although dated 1861, it was actually produced by John Haseltine in 1874. This restrike is made of copper, as opposed to the copper-nickel alloy of Lovett's original Confederate Cent. If we can obtain a photo of an original, it will be posted on this site. The above specimen was graded as PF-63 by PCGS, and sold for $31,050 in 2008. Photos courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries.

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.

Lovett manufactured dies for striking a coin that today we call the Confederate Cent. Lovett’s obverse design featured the French Goddess of Liberty (many say it is Minerva, the Roman goddess of wisdom). The reverse was dominated by a wreath comprised of various agricultural products, including cotton, corn, and wheat. Some researchers suspect Lovett pitched this design to federal authorities in 1859 as a possible replacement to the Flying Eagle Cent, since corn and wheat were not southern crops.

Lovett struck a number of Confederate cents from copper-nickel blanks, identical in alloy composition to the Union cent. For more than a century, collectors believed a total of 12 Confederate cents were struck. In recent years, researchers George Corell and Harold Levi have uncovered proof that puts this number closer to 16.

It is not entirely clear if Lovett sent any of his cents to the Confederates, but available evidence suggests this indeed did occur in April 1861.

Apparently, Lovett had reservations about assisting the southern rebels, and decided to conceal the dies and all 12 of the Confederate cents in his possession. (this fact is why researchers for the longest time thought there were only a dozen Confederate Cents.) Their existence remained a secret until 1873, when Lovett accidentally spent one of them in a Philadelphia tavern. Word spread quickly, and soon Lovett sold his remaining Confederate cents to numismatist Dr. Edward Maris. The dies were purchased by Captain John Haseltine.

In 1874, Haseltine used Lovett’s dies to produce Confederate cent re-strikes. He struck 7 cents in gold, 12 in silver, and 55 in copper, before the dies broke. Haseltine’s re-strikes should never be confused with Lovett’s copper-nickel pieces. Haseltine also rotated the obverse and reverse die alignment 180 degrees from Lovett to further differentiate his re-strikes.

In 1961, many events were occurring to observe the centennial of the American Civil War. Businessman Robert Bashlow of New York obtained Lovett’s degraded dies and made exact copies of them, including rust effects, defacing marks, and all. Bashlow then went on to produce thousands of Confederate Cent restrikes in a variety of metals.

1861 Confederate Cent Bashlow restrike
These images are of a Bashlow 1961 restrike. The bump marks on obverse and straight markings on reverse are a result of deliberate defacing of the dies sometime shortly after the dies broke during the Haseltine restrike endeavor of 1874. Most of Bashlow's restrikes are on doubly thick blanks, to avoid legal issues with the Secret Service. The Bashlow restrike pictured above sold for $144 in Feb 2010. Photos courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries.

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
1861 Confederate Half Dime obv
Confederate half dime dated 1861. Image courtesy of George Corell.

There 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.

One such example is the Marshall House token, named so because of its appearance in Alexandria, Virginia, shortly after an incident at the Marshall House Hotel on May 24, 1861, when a Union officer and Confederate loyalist were killed in a North-South confrontation. The one cent sized token was produced by Robert Lovett, Jr. and strongly resembled his Confederate cent.

1861 Confederate Half Dime obv
Confederate dime dated 1861. Image courtesy of George Corell.

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, leading to speculation that both came from the same source.

Confederate coinage of French origin (i.e. the Paris Mint) has been confirmed. The Jefferson Davis Dime (struck in both silver and gold), The Beauregard Dime, and the mysterious “1/4 silver piece” were produced circa 1861, but little is known as to why they were created. Some scholars reasonably assume there must have been arrangements made between the Confederate and French governments to initiate these coining projects, but there is no documentation to prove this supposition.

Confederate 1/4 piece of French origin
The mysterious Confederate 1/4 silver piece, of French origin. Image courtesy of George Corell.

First Bloodshed

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 event.

First Battle of Bull Run
Pictured above are the ruins of the stone bridge over the Bull Run river, near Manassas, Va. It is at this very spot where the first major battle of the Civil War began, July 21, 1861. This photo was taken in 1862. Image courtesy of the National Archives.

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 roads back to Washington were filled with wild panic-stricken soldiers in full retreat. Joining the flight were the civilian observers, horrified by the defeat and carnage they had just witnessed. For the next few days, Washingtonians trembled in fear as rumors spread of approaching Confederate armies to lay siege to the city. Fortunately for the Federals, the Confederates, too, were disorganized and exhausted from their triumph at Bull Run, and failed to grab the opportunity to march on Washington.

Following the defeat at Bull Run, it was clear the North was not going to steamroll the South into submission anytime soon. Talk of a short war ended.

The Yanks Adapt to Coin Shortages
1860 Seated Liberty Dollar
1860 Liberty Seated Dollar. Coins just like were hoarded when the magnitude of the Civil War crises came into sharper focus. Image courtesy of Jake's Marketplace.

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 times ahead.

In late 1861, the U.S. government suspended specie (i.e. gold or silver coins) payment of its obligations, causing the precious metals market to rise sharply, which in turn, caused even more coins to vanish from circulation, including the copper-nickel (88% copper, 12% nickel) Indian Head cent.

By the end of 1862, virtually all coins had disappeared from commerce. The Philadelphia Mint continued to issue new coins, but these were quickly gobbled up and set aside by the public.

Encased postage stamp Civil War era
Encased postage stamp, having face value of 10 cents. Graded Choice Very Fine, this specimen is worth a few hundred dollars on today's market. Image courtesy of

In the absence of coinage, completing everyday business transactions became difficult. The national economy threatened to grind to a halt. For instance, shopkeepers couldn’t make small change for their customers.

Some individuals began using readily available postage stamps as an exchange medium, an idea that swiftly became popular. But because postage stamps were manufactured for one-time only use, understandably, they were not sufficiently durable for multiple transactions.

John Gault of Boston patented a stamp encasement device to extend the life of a stamp, but at a cost of two cents each, this proved for many to be too expensive for the smallest denominations.

A better solution for the coinage crisis originated from within the entrepreneurial sector, appearing first in Cincinnati, Ohio. In the fall of 1862, several merchants contracted with private diesinkers to fabricate cent-sized tokens, which carried an implied guarantee (or sometimes an outright declaration) of redemption in merchandise, services, or currency. These “coins”, later to become recognized by the collecting community as Civil War tokens, were welcomed by the public and helped considerably to assist in business transactions.

Civil War token
THE FLAG OF OUR UNION 1863. Common patriotic token of the Civil War. Image courtesy of the the John H. MacMillan collection.

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.

By 1864, several influential companies started complaining that they were being “stuck” with large numbers of these private tokens, unable to redeem them for cash from the issuing merchants. In mid-1864, with the new bronze Indian Head (see two sections below) cents circulating in record quantities and the end of the Civil War in sight, Congress authorized a law making it illegal for private businesses or individuals to issue money of any sort, forcing Civil War token makers out of business.

Civil war token collecting is a fascinating segment of today's numismatic environment. For anyone desiring to study the subject in greater depth, we recommend visiting the Civil War Token website. There, you'll find a great deal of detailed data on tokens, plus a salute to those who served during those tumultuous times.

The Lincoln administration, for its part, also took action to address the country’s monetary problems. For the first time, the U.S. government issued paper money unsecured by gold, silver, or government bonds. Some $450 million of “greenbacks” were printed, whose value fluctuated depending upon the latest good or bad news coming from the warfront.

Civil War fractional currency
Example of fractional currency, issued 1863, face value 10 cents.  Image courtesy of

Also to relieve the coin shortage, the government responded by issuing $50 million of fractional paper currency, as small as three cents face value.

During inflationary periods, small fractional notes were virtually worthless, and earned the derogatory tag “shinplasters”.

The term originated from the Revolutionary War, when American soldiers used their Continental Currency pay as bandages for leg injuries. Since few vendors trusted the Continental Currency, the notes actually had more value to the troops as medical supplies!

The federal government was not the only entity to print paper money. Many states, banks, companies, and individuals also issued notes, technically called “scrip” (this situation occurred in southern states as well). This caused a great deal of confusion, providing cover for counterfeiters on a massive scale.

Congress established the National Banking System in 1863 to provide regulation to the banks and to craft a uniform national currency. The government heartened private banks to apply for charters to earn “national bank” status. To begin issuing new “national bank notes”, a bank was required to use its funds to purchase U.S bonds, to then be turned over to the Treasury. The amount of national bank notes a bank was permitted to issue was up to 90% of the value of the bonds on deposit by the bank with the government. Not only did the National Banking System provide currency uniformity leading to the demise of private scrip, it also helped sell federal bonds for financing the war.

The Emancipation Proclamation
Ambrose Burnside
Ambrose Burnside, one of several generals to occupy the Union army's top post, saw his troops decimated at Fredericksburg, taking 13000 casualties to the South's 5000. A frustrated President Lincoln replaced him with Joseph Hooker, who proved to be equally unsuccessful. Ironically, Burnside is best remembered for his bushy side whiskers, a style which became known as "sideburns". Image courtesy of Library of Congress.

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.

Mixed battlefield results, including setbacks at the First Battle of Bull Run, in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia, the Peninsula Campaign, the Second Battle of Bull Run, Fredericksburg, and others, prompted Lincoln to desperately search for a military commander to match the brilliance of Generals Robert E. Lee and Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson of the Confederacy.

At one time, the Confederate army was so close to Washington that Lincoln seriously contemplated evacuating the city. Indeed, the outcome of the war remained very much in doubt for a long time.

Very early on, Lincoln’s stated goal in waging war with the South was to preserve the Union, and not necessarily to end slavery. As the conflict dragged on into its second year, Lincoln became convinced that federally mandated emancipation of slaves would ultimately benefit the North’s prospects for victory. For one thing, public sentiment had been building for the abolition of slavery, and a bold governmental decree to do so could provide the rallying point to transform the war of reunification into a fight for freedom, laden with moral overtones. Secondly, Lincoln wanted to embolden runaway slaves to join the Union’s cause; already thousands had attached themselves to the northern army, and many more would follow if encouraged. Thirdly, several European nations, including Great Britain and France, were flirting with the idea of assisting the Confederacy. If Lincoln could do something to clearly identify the South with the institution of slavery, the likelihood of foreign intervention would be reduced, owing to the strong anti-slavery opinion held in those countries. And lastly, on a personal level, Lincoln long held a desire to see all people shed the chains of human bondage.

Emancipation Proclamation
An Emancipation Proclamation poster, announcing freedom to most slaves. Image courtesy of Library of Congress.

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.

On January 1, 1863, the Emancipation Proclamation was issued, which, in part, declared that all “slaves within any State, or designated part of a State … in rebellion …. Shall be then, thenceforward, and forever free.”

In addressing the political intricacies in place at the time, the Emancipation Proclamation freed no slaves living in states remaining loyal to the Union (Kentucky, for example), or in former Confederate areas then occupied by northern armies. To the more than 3 million slaves whom the Proclamation applied to, liberty did not come immediately, either, as Confederate forces still maintained control of those locales.

Black Civil War soldiers
Company E,4th U.S. Colored Infantry, Washington D.C. Serving in segregated units like the one shown here, African-Americans fought in nearly 500 Civil War battles. Image courtesy of Library of Congress.

While Lincoln’s critics complained the Emancipation Proclamation pertained only to regions where he did not have the capacity to enforce it, the impact of the document was far-reaching.

As Lincoln hoped, it expanded support for the war, elevating the Union’s purpose to a higher moral plane. At least 200,000 black soldiers, many of them former slaves, swelled the ranks of the Union army.

Strong anti-slavery sentiment in Europe precluded governments there from intervening on behalf of the Confederacy, now clearly linked as a defender of the institution of slavery. What's more, the Emancipation Proclamation built dramatic new momentum toward the complete abolition of slavery in the United States, culminating with the enactment of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution in 1865.

Lincoln Memorial
Inside the Lincoln Memorial, where Honest Abe sits in perpetuity. Image courtesy of

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.

More than any other individual, Lincoln is credited with setting the slaves free, thus bringing the nation closer to the ideal set forth in the Declaration of Independence that “all men are created equal”.

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 cheap metal.

1864 Indian Head Cent
1864 Indian Head Cent, the first year of the "bronze" cent. The new metallic composition stayed with us nearly every year until 1982. Image courtesy of Jake's Marketplace.

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 quick recognition of privatized tokens indicated people would probably acknowledge fiat money (money that is not backed by precious metals but is legal tender by governmental decree), especially in a coin-hungry society, for the convenience of making exact payments, without regard to the intrinsic value of the small change involved.

Mint Director James Pollock recommended in his annual report of 1863 that the cent be made thinner and composed of bronze. On April 22, 1864, legislation was finalized to act upon Pollock’s advice. The introduction of the "bronze" Indian Head Cent was successful and circulated freely. Consequently, record numbers of cents were minted in 1864 and 1865.

Civil War Mass
Priest celebrating mass for the 69th New York State Militia, Fort Corcoran, Washington, D.C. Religion was an important motivating force for many soldiers who served in the Civil War. Image courtesy of National Archives.

The 1864 law ordering the makeover of the cent also authorized the two cent coin, made of bronze as well.

The new two cent issue bore for the first time ever on an American coin the motto "In God We Trust", a response to the religious passion sweeping the country as the Civil War crises raged on.

At first, the two cent coin was quickly absorbed by the coin-starved public. The Mint produced almost 20 million pieces in the first year, to satisfy the high demand. Like the bronze Indian Head cent, the two cent coins readily mingled with society. The year 1865 saw the production of 13.6 million two cent coins. After the war, coin hoarding stopped, and more familiar denominations reappeared. Interest in the two cent coin waned, and mintage quantities declined correspondingly. In 1872, a miniscule 65,000 were struck. Finally in 1873, the last year of life for the two cent coin, only 1000 or so proof specimens were turned out.

1864 Two Cent In God We Trust
The 1864 Two Cent coin had inscribed IN GOD WE TRUST on the obverse side ribbon, the first time ever for a US coin, and the beginning of a longstanding tradition. Coin Photo courtesy of Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles, Inc., Beverly Hills, CA.

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.

The motto it introduced has endured for more than 150 years, becoming one of the most visible trademarks of the United States of America. It wasn't until 1955 that Congress mandated all US coins carry the "In God We Trust", but by then, of course, it was a mere formality.

In 1865, another three cent coin made its debut, this one composed of a 75% copper, 25% nickel alloy. Government officials hoped it would replace the vanished silver three cent coin of smaller diameter. Some historians contend the nickel mining industry was the true force underlying the genesis of the nickel three cent coin. At any rate, nearly 11.4 million of the pieces were churned out the first year, and for a while, they assisted the public reasonably well.

1865 Three Cent Nickel coin
In 1865, a new alloy was introduced with the nickel Three Cent coin. Eventually, the coin itself faded into oblivion, but the "nickel" composition lives on. Image courtesy of Jake's Marketplace.

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.

Despite its mundane story, the nickel three cent coin did indeed leave an indelible mark on American money. The 75% copper, 25% nickel alloy proved to be a suitable material for coining purposes, and was selected in 1866 for a new five cent coin, to become known as a “nickel”, a term carried through to this very day for circulating five cent coins.

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 possibility.

Robert E. Lee
General Robert E. Lee, commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, revered to this very day throughout many parts of the South and elsewhere. After the war, Lee became president of Washington college, but was denied amnesty. In 1975, Lee's citizenship was restored by an act of Congress. Image courtesy of Library of Congress.

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.

Lee also had another purpose for invading the North. In the West, General Ulysses S. Grant of the Union army had laid siege to Vicksburg, a city guarding traffic up and down the Mississippi River. The fall of Vicksburg threatened to split the Confederacy, so Lee needed another front to perhaps cause the Yankees to reallocate resources away from Vicksburg.

On June 30, advance patrols of the Confederate and Union armies skirmished near the Pennsylvania village of Gettysburg, drawing many thousands of soldiers to the vicinity. For the next two days, major elements of both sides fought fiercely for positioning on the hills around Gettysburg.

Lincoln's latest replacement for leader of the Army of the Potomac, General George Meade, established a line of defense on high ground along what is now called Cemetery Ridge. About a mile to the west, Lee's infantry and artillery occupied Seminary Ridge. Separating the two armies was a large open field. The stage was set for an epic event that proved to be a turning point in American history.

Confederate Prisoners at Gettysburg
Many of the Confederates reaching the top of Cemetery Ridge were killed or captured. Although the three southern soldiers above were taken prisoner by the Yankees, at least they lived to one day tell their grandchildren the story of Pickett's Charge and the Battle of Gettysburg. Image courtesy of Library of Congress.

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.

As the Confederates charged, Union gunfire and artillery shredded their ranks. Nearly three-fourths of Pickett's division was lost before reaching the top. For a brief moment, the Stars and Bars flew at the crest of Cemetery Ridge, but Union reinforcements repelled the Confederates off the ridge and into total defeat. Pickett's Charge had failed. As night came and the guns fell silent, thousands of southern dead, the best the Confederacy had to offer, lay dead on the battlefield. The South's chance to win the War Between the States had turned into disaster.

On the evening of July 4, the 87th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence, Lee started his somber retreat back to Virginia in the midst of a driving rainstorm. The overcautious Meade chose not to pursue the Confederate forces. A dejected Lincoln later removed Meade from command for failing to chase down and destroy the remnants of Lee's army.

1936 Gettysburg Commemorative Coin
Numismatists have long honored the memory of the Civil War. In this 1936 Battle of Gettysburg commemorative coin, Union and Confederate soldiers are shown on the obverse. Two shields representing the opposing armies grace the reverse. Coin Photos courtesy of Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles, Inc., Beverly Hills, CA.

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.

So in the first week of July 1863, the winds of war turned solidly against the South, with crucial defeats at Gettysburg and Vicksburg. Food shortages, inflation, and low morale now seriously began to plague the Confederacy. More spectacular battlefield losses followed in 1864 and 1865, finally sealing the doom of the rebels.

The End of the Confederacy
Lincoln with Grant and Sherman
Meeting aboard the River Queen, artist G.P.A. Healy's "The Peacemakers" shows a conference attended by (l-r) Gen. William T. Sherman, Gen Ulysses S. Grant, President Lincoln, and Adm. David Porter. A rainbow can be seen in stormy skies through the window.

The improvement of coin availability in 1864 and general economic recovery in the northern states can both be tied to the favorable direction the war had taken for the Union.

In March 1864, Lincoln appointed General Ulysses S. Grant as the top commander of the Union army. Students of the Civil War frequently point out that Grant was not the dazzling tactician in the class of Robert E. Lee. Perhaps, perhaps not, but Grant understood his edge in numbers and materiel, and ruthlessly utilized them to the North’s advantage. At long last, Lincoln found a general who could consistently win.

U.S. Grant with Map
Gen. U.S. Grant leans over church pew to study map held by Gen. George Meade, May 21, 1864 Massaponax Church, Va. In a rare moment of relaxation, Grant's men can be seen smoking pipes, reading, and engaging in humorous conversation. Image courtesy of Library of Congress.

Grant selected General William T. Sherman to take control of a large force in Tennessee, and move south toward Atlanta, Georgia.

In heavy fighting along the route, Sherman inflicted numerous defeats upon the Confederacy. Noting that “war is hell”, Sherman then made it so by deliberately striking out at the civilian population, destroying most of everything in a 60 mile wide path from Atlanta to the coastline.

Even though there was not widespread intentional killing of civilians, thousands of homes, farms, and livestock were wiped out, anything of possible use to the southern cause, thrusting a fatal dagger into the heart and hopes of the Confederacy.

Lee Surrenders to Grant
Louis Guillaume's 1867 painting portrays the surrender of Lee to Grant with mutual respect and kindness. Terms of the surrender were generous. Grant arranged food rations to be distributed to the hungry Confederates. Lee's troops were allowed to return to their homes and keep their horses. The high character of both men during the meeting has led historians to call it "The Gentlemen's Agreement". Image courtesy of Appomattox Court House National Historic Park.

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.

With Grant and General Philip Sheridan in hot pursuit, Lee's army soon came to a forced standstill, not far from a small central Virginia town named Appomattox Court House.

Hopelessly outnumbered and surrounded, Lee sent word to Grant on April 7 that he wished to talk. Dressed in his finest uniform, Lee surrendered to Grant two days later at the home of Wilmer McLean.

This was not the first time the two men had met. They remembered one another as young officers in the Mexican War, and chatted for some while about that experience before getting down to business. Displaying great mutual respect, the generals shook hands and parted company on agreeable terms. Confederate soldiers were sent home, keeping their horses to ease the transition back to peaceful farm life. Officers were permitted to keep their pistols. Gratefully, there would be no mass punishment for the rebellion.

Upon hearing the news of Lee's surrender, other Confederate generals, realizing the end of the Confederacy had come, waved the white flag to avoid further useless killing. At long last, the bloodiest chapter in United States history had mercifully been concluded. In all, at least 600,000 American soldiers gave their lives for the causes they believed in.

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.

The Assassination of Abraham Lincoln
This Currier and Ives lithograph captures a tragic moment in American history, the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. The President was buried in his native Illinois. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

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.

At 10:13, a gunshot echoed throughout the theatre, and the President immediately slumped forward in his chair, with a bullet in the back of his head, shot by a crazed actor named John Wilkes Booth. Lincoln was quickly rushed out of the building to a house across the street, but there was little anyone could do. At 7:22 the following morning, he passed away. As Lincoln drew his last breath, Edward Stanton, one of the President’s closest advisors, sadly intoned “Now he belongs to the ages.”

1909 Lincoln Cent obverse
The Lincoln Cent was introduced in 1909, to commemorate the 100th anniversary of Abraham Lincoln's birth. Coin Photos courtesy of Ira & Larry Goldberg Coins & Collectibles, Inc., Beverly Hills, CA.

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.

To that end, his likeness adorns our one cent coin and five dollar bill, a fitting honor for a man deeply committed to the principles of democracy and liberty for all.

Recommended Reading

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 history.

The best historians frequently quote from The Civil War: A Narrative, considered to be one of the finest works ever assembled on the conflict.

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 Foote’s 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.

Main drawback: not many visual aids. Don't expect pictures to tell the story. This trilogy is strictly for sophisticated readers who appreciate the challenge of using their imaginations to set the stage. Secondary drawback: Foote uses his considerable narrative talent to skillfully bring you closer to the main characters. You can be left a little watery eyed when their various stories end, such as with Lincoln’s last moments. The overall evaluation, however, is that this epic deserves a place on the bookshelf of any Civil War buff.

Matthew Brady
Mathew Brady and the Image of History is a perfect gift for anyone wishing more in depth knowledge of the American Civil War.

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.

It seems as if Brady showed up with his camera anywhere a major Civil War story was unfolding, even more so than the ubiquitous "Kilroy" of WWII fame. Actually, Brady's efforts were augmented by at least two able assistants, Timothy O'Sullivan and Alexander Gardner (dare we call them the "Brady Bunch"?). Yes, many of Brady's photos can be seen free at the National Archives or Library of Congress websites, but in her book, Panzer combines some of Brady's best with terrific text to place the images into proper context. There are LOTS of super Civil War books available at Amazon, but this is one of the few we'll take the time to recommend.

America's Money
One of the first books a collector of coins should turn to is America's Money - America's Story.

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.

Serious numismatists should turn to Richard Doty’s reliable standby America's Money - America's Story for an awesome detailed adventure into the various exchange media used in America from the earliest days to the present. Don't expect a fun, fast moving entertainment novel, however. Doty is a "Joe Friday" type of author who gives the reader "just the facts, ma'am". We appreciate diligent research, and so we'll give Doty a round of applause for his excellent work.

Doty's book has an extensive chapter on the Civil War, explaining the intersection between the flow of history and our nation’s money.

Comprehensive Catalog of Coins
Comprehensive Catalog and Encyclopedia of US Coins is a first rate tool.

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.

Out of the hundreds of excellent Civil War books for sale, there are just a few more we'll recommend as absolutely outstanding. When these arrive in your mailbox, * YOU WILL BE PLEASED* with your selection.

Civil War photos
One of the finest collection of images ever compiled on the period, The Civil War: An Illustrated History is a true masterpiece. A proud addition to your home.

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.

Written by Geoffrey Ward, this book has to be one of the finest ever published on the subject, covering events leading up to the war, the war itself, and the fallout beyond Appomattox Court House.

The viewpoints of both military and civilian, North and South, are explained. Very enjoyable to read, with text planned out so that the reader can easily come and go without loosing "plot momentum". That's good, because it will take weeks to digest all the thought-provoking material. After that, put it on your living room coffee table as a conversation piece.

Civil War paintings
For the historian who thinks he already has everything, Witness to the Civil War: The Art of John Paul Strain is the perfect gift.

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.

BE CAREFUL!  You will fall in love with the artwork of John Paul Strain, so much so that you may feel compelled to purchase a few framed prints of these marvelous paintings for your home or office. There are lots of places out there on the Net where you can purchase John Paul Strain's wonderful creativity. But please, don't say you weren't warned here first!

Civil War timeline
At only 144 pages, The Timechart History of the Civil War is an excellent summary of a complex event.

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.

Don't expect a colossal amount of detail. That is not the intent of the publisher. Rather, it is a concise, well-researched effort that is greatly admired by those of us who hold in high esteem the men and women who sacrificed greatly during the War for principles they believed in.

U.S. Coins and History Chapters
Colonial Times
The American Revolution
We the People
The Mint Survives Political Strife
A Rising Spirit of Nationalism
The Mint Branches Out
The Nation Drifts Toward War
The Money of the Civil War
The Reconstruction Era
More Chapters to Come ....

1 Allen, Jack, and John L. Betts. History: USA.
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 Half."
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 Three Cents."
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.

Coins & History Chapters