April 2, 1863: The Richmond Bread Riot

During the Civil War, lack of food, money, and supplies created unbearable conditions for women living in the southern United States. Inflation and the lack of supplies left families reeling. Women especially felt the financial pinch and had difficulty providing food for their families. The situation was further exacerbated when the drought of 1862 impacted the harvest. Meager food supplies became even scarcer. The salt needed for preserving meat was also hard to come by. It was imported from the North and generally unavailable, or too expensive to purchase.

The Lancaster Examiner 4.15.1863

Tensions reached a boiling point in the spring of 1863 when civil unrest broke out in cities across the South. The unrest was organized by women, enraged by the exorbitant price of bread. They attacked stores and warehouses, stealing food, clothing, and supplies. The largest of these riots took place in Richmond, Virginia, on April 2, 1863.

In March 1863, a Richmond woman named Mary Jackson began recruiting women to participate in an organized protest. She was the mother of a Confederate soldier and frustrated with the government’s inability to provide aid for her and other women whose men were away fighting. She garnered the support of about 300 women. On the morning of April 2, 1863, Jackson arrived at the market in Richmond. She was a peddler, but that day she brought nothing to sell. Instead, she increased recruitment efforts and began warning men that trouble was brewing. The growing crowd of women began marching towards the governor’s office in Capitol Square, where they were turned away. There are varying reports of what happened next, with some claiming the governor eventually came and met with the women. The angry crowd began marching towards Ninth Street. As the women marched, hundreds began to follow, and the crowd ballooned. 

Liverpool Mercury 4.20.1863

Armed with guns, hatchets, and household implements, the women began to chant “Bread or Blood!” They attacked grocery stores, warehouses, and other businesses, stealing food, supplies, and even fine jewelry.

Soon, Richmond Mayor Joseph Mayo arrived and read the Riot Act aloud to the mob. They ignored him. Governor John L. Letcher sent for Confederate President Jefferson Davis. He begged the women to disperse, warning that an artillery unit would open fire on the mob. Davis then emptied his pockets, throwing his money to the women. Tensions finally eased, and the crowd disbursed.

Rioters take more than bread – The Chanute Times 5.29.1889

Confederate secretary of war James A. Seddon asked the local press to refrain from publishing news of the incident, fearing it would fuel Union propaganda. Confederate deserters, along with Union prisoners who watched the scene unfold from their cell windows, leaked the story. The New York Times published a front-page account of the riot on April 8th.

Following the riot, more than 60 demonstrators were arrested, including Jackson. The women received varying degrees of punishment. Jackson’s punishment was merely nominal. The City of Richmond increased efforts to provide aid to the poor, restoring a measure of calm. The 1863 bread riots showed just how difficult life had become for women on the home front. If you would like to learn more about the Richmond Bread Riot, search Newspapers.com™ today.

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81 thoughts on “April 2, 1863: The Richmond Bread Riot

  1. Excellent. I have been a Civil War buff my entire life and had never read anything about the Bread Riots. Thank you.

    1. Remember: History is written by the victor, not the vanquished. An overlooked footnote in the Union history of the War.

        1. John, Dave, and Jim… it is often also written by men. This was driven by the frustration and anger of women. In the eyes of the area and era’s men, the sooner they could be stuffed back in the house, the better.

      1. Except in the case of the Daughters of the Confederacy having their version of The Lost Cause making it into schoolchildren’s textbooks for generations.

      2. Did either side truly win? The Federal troops may have claimed a victory but the Confederacy were by no means vanquished with many issues about which the war was fought continuing to run on for decades after.

    2. Wow, I never heard this part of the history either. Great point on “history written by the victor’s” and the stories not told of others. Just as the report they also took supplies and fine jewelry. Also many families had the Union come through and completely burn down their entire home front , farms , mills & gins their entire livelihood destroyed ( while they have every son in their family forced to serve like 4 or more sons , leaving absolutely nothing for the elderly & widows children/grandchildren and we’re talking families who didn’t own or believe in slavery) we don’t hear these sides of the stories. People paid and sacrificed beyond. Not to mention these people left behind had to fear those who came through taking advantage and stealing/ murdering these poor people just trying to survive and hoping to see their loved ones again. There is more than one side taking things too far going beyond their so called cause and actions taken. Just saying! All due respect,.

      1. The war was never about slavery. It was about State rights.
        The Confederate side is disappearing, sadly.

        1. States wanted to retain the “peculiar institution” in perpetuity where it existed at the time. Old Confederacy with its segregationist ways cannot disappear fast enough to suit me.

          1. Perhaps another crypto fact should be published. There were no slaves ever brought to the south in southern ships.Strictly a northern new engalnd staes pproposition. Do not think the North is morally superior.When you hear all the tales of treatments of slaves in the shipment to the south,remember whose ships they were on.

        2. To believe that you have to ignore statements by several of the Confederacy leaders, including Jefferson Davis. They themselves always said that it was about preserving slavery as their preferred economic system.

          1. Amazing factoid is the north had the right to ship slaves to the south. Not one slave was brought to this country via a southern ship. Strictly New England yankee captains. This was a start of the english american war of 1812. When “noble” England quit the game they interrupted the northern slave shipper by impounding the ships of the “yankees”.You high moral ground folks are neither high or moral.All of us were involved.

        3. Exactly! Lincoln made it about slavery later in the war to boost sagging morale in the north and increase public support. My great grandfather served the south at age 15. He was the last son to be drafted in 1864. All his six brothers also served before him; two died on the same day in April 1862 and one never came home after the war. His two older sisters were left to run the farm during the war and they owned no slaves. Most people were dirt poor and not plantation owners the way revisionist historians like to portray Southerners. The north exploited the south and the issues that started our pull away from the Union were justifiable. As states we were denied our right to secede from an unjust governance. Like today, we still hold the right to break away from the US for rule by a corrupt, illegal, and overbearing government. The South will Rise Again and this time it will last.

          1. The fort Sumter incident was the
            South’s aggression not against a fort but a union tax center.The so called fort,taxed every slave ship that came in the port and every bale of cotton and tobacco that was exported. Of course the
            price of the slaves being taxed was passed on to the buyers, by the shippers.

          2. Interesting stuff: but, the South did not have the “right to secede” and still does not.

          1. If the Civil War was not about slavery, then the South could have won huge public support in the North by unilaterally freeing all slaves before succeeding from the Union.

          2. No, Jake, the war was NOT all about slavery. As others have clearly stated here, President Lincoln balked numerous times about claiming the war was to end slavery. I believe it took several years before he finally agreed to demands to make the war about slavery. And as others have stated here, the vast majority of southerners did NOT own slaves. Most were poor farmers just trying to get by. They enlisted in the Confederacy because of their deep love of the south because they felt the north was trying to intrude in their lives (again, not about slavery, but states rights). Many of my ancestors fought for the south, but just as many fought for the north. I hope we can all agree today that slavery is not right. No person should own another person – ever. But we’re looking back in history with our own feelings of today. In the south, it was acceptable. There were Free People of Color who owned slaves! BYT Where do you think those slaves came from? They came from African tribes that captured their enemies and then sold them to White slavers. Only 6% were sent to America.

          3. You obviously have never read a history book. The slaves were very expensive: Each one about equivalent to buying a high end Mercedes. They were not cheap labor and 90% of farms did not have any slaves.

        4. Human beings have rights. States, as an institution, do not have rights. The individuals who live within the arbitrary boundaries of a state, have rights.

        5. I was taught the same thing but the facts don’t support it. It was entirely about state’s rights to have slaves. I don’t think any serious historian thinks there would have been a civil war if not for slavery.

    3. Hey, Stephanie McCurry is author of ‘Confederate Reckoning.’ It details the effects of impoverishment during the war on slavery and the enslaved, also creating the ‘Soldiers’ Wives’ movement. Her description of the riot is well done.

  2. They were trying to feed their children and survive.
    When something isn’t right, you always have to stand up for what you believe in.
    When your children are starving and your men are away fighting a war. There was most certainly a good reason for these very brave women to do what they did.
    We think we have it tough these days!
    Nothing like what people went through in the past.
    Very very brave I say.

  3. It is really strange the degree to which women support war. You would think that they would massively resist their sons going…but they don’t.

    1. Don’t think they had much say in the matter when their sons and husbands were conscripted!

      1. Conscription? It brought the 20 negro law. I often wonder why women allowed their men to go fight because poor white men didn’t own slaves. Today there are people who argue against reparations by saying. I didn’t own slaves. My family didn’t own slaves. Well guess what? Those people who did own slaves didn’t have to fight if they owned twenty slaves or more. Nothing has changed. Poor people still fight for a life they don’t have. They still lose their lives for a lie..

    2. The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom would beg to differ.

      1. Early in war many southern men enlisted in the Army to receive a few dollars a month to help support their families. Problem was soldiers would go for months before receiving any pay, and sometimes would not be paid at all. The problem was exacerbated when the southern government implemented mandatory conscription. A really terrible time in our countries history.

    3. Yes, we do. But women are often unable to stop our children from going. Either they are compelled (drafted) or they go willingly for what they see as a right cause.

  4. I had never heard of this event. After reading it I wondered if the current events of today were any different and should be viewed in a similar light.

    1. Few people riot for fun. It is often the last resort when people are being ignored or suppressed. So, yes.

    2. Sounds like a moral riot, starving women trying to feed their families and taking clothing, too. Jewelry is also understandable since it was a thing of value they could probably barter with. However, people rioting today are not starving or desperate to feed themselves and their families. Protesting is a right, and can be used for good. Rioting/looting/killing/taking over sections of cities because you’re “oppressed” or “ignored” is NOT moral and nothing like the Bread Riots. IMHO.

      1. A moral riot? Well one mans sin is another mans pleasure. Southern slavery was wrong to some people because they either read the bible or they believed it. There is no honor in fighting for a mans right to enslave a man and rape his wife and children. I hate to put it to you that way but that’s what slavery was about. There are no descendants of enslaved black people who aren’t also descendants of slave owners. There is nothing moral about going to war so a man can profit from slavery. https://psmag.com/education/of-course-the-civil-war-was-about-slavery-26265

  5. Im leaving this site and eliminating the app because its being used to promote rightwingers philosophical nonsense.

    1. To me it seems to promote a middle wing philosophical nonsense. The middle wing is the best wing for the bird!

  6. I was just enjoying some more history that I hadn’t heard or read before. I really don’t want to judge anyone’s movement’s or their reasons for doing so. We can’t possibly imagine what these women went through. Please just enjoy the stories and be kind.
    God bless,
    Leona Duncan.

  7. I have heard that the history we read is rarely transparent to the inequities. Those women rioted for their starving families. Who started it. The North cut the southern ports from receiving any of their usual imports. the enbargo was to help defeat the south. many needed supplies were prevented from reaching their appointed destination. Therefore things like shoes weren’t arriving at their destination. Shoes wore out in the war. the marches from one place to the other by foot. when Southern guys found dead union soldiers, they took their shoes, because they were fighting war basically barefoot. (shoes falling apart). there was a lot of hatred for President Lincoln from the south. They did not consider it an honest win. My father roomed in Savannah in the 1940’s. The lady who had a boarding house, had been born after the civil war, but she carried a “inherited” deep hatred for what President Lincoln’s legacy had done to the south. I met a man whose last name was Booth. I asked him if he had had actors in his family?. Yes, he said, down South we are very proud of them!
    So as a northerner, I do not view our history as “gospel truth”, and difficult to ascertain the whole story, when the whole version is not revealed. I wish we were as patriotic as we claim to be, but blind patriotism is also obscuring the hidden ugly truths about ourselves. May we respect the dignity of all men as equal under the law, and may people be willing to work, not on the backs of others without their just rewards for their labors. This article reinforces the strength of women for their families. If a woman were president, and a a mother, she could fight for the “right”, but not sacrifice our children for political power. those without power or riches should not have to sacrifice their sons for the greed of the leadership. Sanctify of life is a life long value, not just before the child is born!

    1. The north cut supplies because they were at war. A war that was started by the south. I don’t think it’s necessary to assign blame but you implied that people were starving because of the north when, in fact, the south started the whole thing by seceding and then attacking federal bases.

  8. A+ for article, both for the original piece and the comments pro and con!

  9. History repeats itself. A government official, the secretary of war, requested that the news of the uprising not be published. Once again, the freedom of the press is also the freedom to suppress. Does the name Hunter Biden ring any bells ?

    1. I never knew what white privilege meant until I listened to the judge who presided over one of my many divorces.
      The lady in the case ahead of mine was browbeating her ex. At one point, the judge interrupted her. I believe you, he said.
      I believe you when you say he is a liar. I believe you when you say he sold drugs. I even think you may be right when you say his drug deals may have resulted in a murder. But you didn’t care when he was lying to someone else. You didn’t care when he was stealing from someone else. You didn’t care when he was involved in a murder or cover-up. We’re here today because he did those things to YOU!
      Let me tell you something, young lady. A liar is going to lie. A thief is going to steal, and a murderer will do all of the above.
      The supporters of Donald Trump know he looks down on black people and immigrants. There are court cases that prove his unwillingness to obey the Fair Housing Laws as a landlord. By his admission, he sexually assaults women even though he and or they are married. He uses his position as the president to practice nepotism and put his children on the taxpayer’s payroll. His entourage consists of more convicted felons than a rapper on parole. He called the White House a dump. His daughter and son-in-law don’t allow the secret service to use any of the lavatories in their home. The men tasked with risking their lives must use the bathroom next door.
      White privilege allows people like you to say, even though he may have screwed over everyone else he may have encountered, I’m special! He would never do that to me. Good luck with that!

      1. You are off a beaten path. This is about a bread riot led by women. Nothing to do with Donald Trump. Try to find balance in things. You obviously only listen to left wing media. Their job was to make President Donald Trump look bad. Right wing news will make the left look bad. That is their job. The role of the media is to influence you not to inform you or only to inform you to one side or a pre designed narrative. As painful as it is, look at both sides to find the good and the bad. There was good in the Trump Presidency. There were policies that benefitted people of every color. People rotting in prison with long unfair sentences were released. 80% people of color. Had it not been for Trump, they would still be rotting away thanks to Biden and the policies he endorsed. He gave more to HBCU’s than any other president in history, far outpacing any democratic President and he guaranteed the funds for 10 years. That has never been done before. It’s huge! Now we have a humanitarian crisis at the border. We are making the cartel and human smugglers rich. We are not supposed to talk about the rapes occurring in detention centers, people on top of each other like sardines. There are COVID positive people in this mix with no ability to social distance infecting others that can’t get away. This crisis is spreading COVID in this country with it’s new variants while Americans suffer draconcian lockdowns, rules for traveling and nasal swabbing to even get back into your own country. El Salvadoran President President Nayib Bukele in a live interview with Tucker Carlson reports 1/3 of his population has come to America. This is only 1 of 3 countries in the Northern triangle. This many people flooding our borders exceeds our capability and resources to adequately help and diverts needed resources from our own people not to mention increased crime. It seems to me that Biden creates a crisis and problems while Trump solved them in a constructive way. By limiting cheap labor from illegals, our own economy was able to grow and this meant higher wages and more jobs for Americans. Now I’m off the beaten path. I miss the working man and woman’s President. I’ll support results over rhetoric any day.

        1. You only listen to right wing media so there!

          I was born in the wrong world for fair and balanced news.

    2. No, I never heard about Hunter Biden because no one in the media has mentioned his name (dripping in sarcasm). The fact that everyone knows what you are talking about disproves your point. Yes, some people in the government try to suppress the media and the media reports anyway because they are free to do so. I’m more concerned with the con artists trying to convince everyone that it’s all fake news because they know they can’t control it.

  10. Food shortages were especially reported in the larger cities of Richmond, Charleston, and Atlanta. Food shortage was acute everywhere. My own ancestry, who were from Mississippi, reported the same situations in Jackson and other Mississippi towns. My great great grandfather and his 3 brothers were all small non slave owning farmers who scratched a living out of their plots. All four enlisted in the same Confederate unit and left the farming to the sons, daughters, and wives. After Vicksburg and the scorched earth policy that followed in Mississippi, even rural areas faced starvation as all the chickens, hogs, cattle, crops, mills, etc. were destroyed. War is always hell but especially so for the civilian population.

  11. As a descendant of slaves of southern Virginia tobacco plantations (three contiguous ones owned by members of the same family) and the daughter of a sharecropper, I know what poverty and hunger are. Though I find the Richmond bread riot led by white women interesting, I know my ancestors had nothing — except dreams of a better life. I am grateful they had dreams, for five generations later their descendants are well-educated professionals in the nation that one defined persons of African descent as property. We work hard and now the fruits of our labor belong to us and our families. Thank God.

  12. Unbelievable that this article brought out the HATERS of our finest president. PRESIDENT TRUMP.
    I’d like one person to tell me that they did not benefit economically during his reign. Did you not save on gas? Did you not receive child care credit on your income tax did you not have better products at lower prices? Did you not have a favor America never minding the RIOTS. Where America was destroyed by HATERS.
    PRESIDENT Trump did more for everyone including black people then any president in our lifetime.. it bothers me so much that a piece of a story from back in the Civil War days about women banding together to survive is somehow tied to President Trump! unbelievable.

    1. I was financially better off at the end of almost every president’s term (12 during my lifetime). You can’t give Trump credit for every good thing that happened while he was president and ignore the bad. One example, he actively tried to eliminate Obamacare and the preexisting conditions protection while saying he was for keeping it. How many people are alive today because of Obama care and Trump’s failure to strip medical care from the poor.

    2. I agree. But while we are on the subject, may as well point out something else good that our finest President did. Had Obama worked on prison reform and pardoned Alice Johnson, he would have been hailed a hero. The left had absolutely no interest in this woman that admitted she was guilty and that what she did was wrong. After 2 decades in prison, she did her time and then some. A lifetime sentence was overly harsh. This forgotten woman was helped and pardoned by Donald Trump. The best that the left could do was to write a few sterile articles. If one takes the time to listen to Alice Johnson speak on one of her many videos, you can’t help but love her. A great story of our time about unfair prison sentencing, known by the right, swept under the rug by the left.

  13. Having read copious amounts of Civil War era history I have previously brushed up upon the Richmond Bread Riots. There are so many side stories to this period in time that do not get the attention that the battles and the issues about the origin of the war get. Another fascinating event that was occurring around the same time was the New York City Draft riots which were centered around the newly arrived Irish immigrants, the free black citizens, and the issue of conscription in the North. Troops having just fought the battle of Gettysburg had to be brought to New York city to quell the uprising. It is great to see that events, even from 150 years ago, can still create conversation. Sadly, if our current cancel culture has it’s way these conversations will no longer be had. One thing to remember about the end of the war, while it took some time, and assuredly some people are still fighting it, we did come back together as a country and stronger than ever. We will always have and East, West, North, and South. In a land of our vast expanse how could that not be? And while the interests and needs of the various regions will always differ in part, we owe it to those who created and fought for this country, whether fighting foreign or domestic enemies, to continue this great experiment in government. Together we stand or divided we fall. And keep reading up on the period of the 1800’s and events lead up to the American Civil. It is absolutely fascinating how similar the types of problems of that time period are to the problems we face today.

  14. The opening line of this article has the scent of revisionist history designed to elicit sympathy for southern women.

    The simple fact is the “… lack of food, money, and supplies” that “created unbearable conditions for women living in the southern United States” were caused by those southern states rising up in armed war against the United States of America.

    They chose to seceded from the Union and become an enemy “nation.” Wm. Tecumseh Sherman said it correctly, “War is hell.” Those women reaped what their menfolk sowed.

  15. Just this morning I read about the bread riots in the book I am currently reading. Was I ever surprised and pleased to see the bread riot highlighted in the Fishwrap blog post. By the way the aforementioned book, “The Fall of the House of Dixie” by Bruce Levine, is an excellent account of all sides of the social history underlying the American Civil War.

  16. This is fascinating. Ancestors of mine – John and Theresa Franco moved to Richmond from London in 1860 – The Civil war was obviously not to their liking as I found them back in London on the UK 1871 census

  17. The Civil War was about slavery, Simply proven by reading the Articles of Secession. Don’t believe the states rights liars

  18. The civil war started when the Constitution was first drafted. It became a hot war when Southern States chose to stop the Federal government from interfering in what they perceived as rights reserved to the states. The Unionists perceived secession as a rebellion, hence the southern soldiers were called “Rebels.” (not “Slavers.”)
    Slavery was also an issue of the war. It became a driving political issue after the war began. I say “political” because many of the Union troops fought to preserve the Union. Two of my great grand-fathers were in the siege of Vicksburg (Illinois Volunteers). Preserved letters from one never mentioned slavery, but cursed those fighting for the rebellion.

    This war should be over. Here are my personal thoughts.
    1. If you are white, God made you that way. You cannot apologize for what God has done. Likewise, do not think less of a non-white. God did that too. If you do not believe in God, substitute “Nature.”
    2. No matter your skin, work together to become better. Make sure your family becomes educated. Demand excellence from schools, not opinions. Good education is the best cure for ignorance.
    3. Give more than you take.

    1. Sorry but you won’t get very far with that in alt right news without getting downvoted then banned.

  19. When will this site go back to updating/expanding their collections instead of having a bot do the same things?

  20. None of us writing here has been so eloquent as to change the mind of any of us. Apparently, we don’t participate here to learn, only to teach.

  21. I just wanted to learn something that I didn’t know about the civil war. I didn’t realize it would stir up so many hard feelings. I know it was a dreadful war for all humanity. Our blood is ALL the same colour so please BE KIND to one another in these horrible times.
    God bless,
    Leona Duncan.

  22. Whomever was once in charge of this site. RIP. Too bad today’s generation are too stupid to know how to run things except down.

  23. Does the name of Trump sound familiar. Suppressing freedom of speech for any who do not agree with him and bow before his glorious self followed by threats and intimidation immediately. I thought we left royalty behind in 1783.

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