Civil War paper money – mementos of conflict
Each example of Civil War paper money, like any other Civil War artifact, brings to life a circumstantial memory of that conflict, though not in the manner of a uniform, a weapon, or a campaign map.
Less dramatic perhaps than any of these, a few dollars of Confederate paper money, or a bit of Fractional Currency from the Union side, demonstrates how all lives were touched – even in routine daily commerce.
War time coin shortage on both sides
On both sides of the conflict, hard money – coins – were scarce at best.
The Confederacy actually struck some coins in tiny quantities to little effect.
Common coinage virtually disappeared in the Northern states, as the US government suspended specie payments – payments in gold or silver -- for the new demand note “greenback” currency issued in 1861.
The public, not surprisingly, began to hoard coins, as the wartime government worked to conserve its supply of precious metals.
US Fractional Currency
The government response to the coin shortage was Fractional Currency, Civil War paper money in denominations of less than one dollar. These are represented by the two smaller notes at the top of this page.
The first issue of fractionals included denominations as low as three cents!
Fractional notes were redeemable in “United States Notes” only, and as shown by the vignette below, only “in sums not less than three dollars receivable in payment of all dues to the United States, less than five dollars, except customs”.
Union troops found these notes especially helpful in their lives. They were great for keeping feet dry when stuffed into worn-out boots!
The Southern states experienced high inflation, exacerbated by battlefield defeats, and the widespread counterfeiting of its currency by opportunists of every persuasion. The US government was chief among these, seeking to undercut the fragile Southern economy.
Confederate paper money is among the most popular subjects for collectors of Civil War paper money. A Confederate five dollar note is shown at the top of the page.
During the war, Confederate notes were not as popular with Southern citizens, who would use the more stabile US currency, when available, on the inevitable black market.
When the war ended, Confederate paper money was worthless.
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