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How To > Impact of the War on the Citizenry > Making Do: Shortages

"Making Do" - Coping with Shortages in the Blockaded South


"Hurrah! Hurrah!
For the sunny South so dear;
Three cheers for the homespun dress
The Southern ladies wear."

(Detail of original homespun dress
exhibited at the 2002 Artifact Forum.)

The blockade had a significant impact on the daily life of people in the seceding states as the War progressed and shops and individuals ran out of stock they had in store.

By the mid 19th century, America had developed a sophisticated manufacturing economy in which items which had in the previous generation been locally or home-made made such as shoes and textiles were generally mass-manufactured in the industrial North. The South was primarily an agrarian economy, producing the raw materials used by manufacturing but with comparatively little manufacturing base of its own. The blockade forced Southerners to draw upon their own resources, re-learning the skills of an earlier generation such as spinning and weaving, and learning to do without imported luxury items.


Common items that were in particularly short supply or prohibitively expensive many people because of the markups that blockade runners could charge included refined sugar, imported coffee and tea, manufactured fabrics such as calicos and silks, shoes and shoe leather, manufactured dyestuffs, and even, ultimately, paper. The paper shortage eventually caused some publications to cease printing, and caused others to try innovative ways of getting the news out, including the famous wallpaper newspapers of Vickburg.

The list of links below is by no means exhaustive on the topic of coping with shortages, but will provide a good basis for initial research. In particularly, we recommend that you read Ersatz in the Confederacy, visit the Museum of the Confederacy's new exhibit and Vicki Betts' website (see below)

See also the page on spinning, weaving and homespun in our crafts section.

Current Museum Exhibits:

The Confederate Nation, an exhibit examining the Government and People of the Confederacy: New exhibit at the Museum of the Confederacy, opened May 2003. Civilian-focused exhibit, contains lots of items relative to life on the homefront and coping with shortages.

General Articles:

Primary Sources on Shortages:

  • Paper Manufacturing and Paper Shortages in the South, 1861-1865: articles and quotations from Southern CW era newspapers from Vicki Betts' website
  • Confederate Coffee Substitutes: articles and quotations from Southern CW era newspapers from Vicki Betts' website
  • A Confederate Cookbook (online at the Documenting the American South website). Recipes include "preserving meat without salt", "curing bacon with little salt", substitute for cream in tea or coffee, substitute for coffee, making bread from rice flour, apple pie without apples and "Confederate candles"
  • Dress Under Difficulties; or, Passages from the Blockade Experience of Rebel Women, by Elzey Hay, of Georgia, reprinted from Godey's Lady's Book, July 1866

Photographs of Original Make-Do Items Online:

Homespun dress and cloth sample woven by Lena Dancy Ledbetter, 1864, from the Lena Dancy Ledbetter Papers, at the Center for American History, The University of Texas at Austin (note: photo shows the dress being modeled in the early 20th century. This photograph is also featured in Calico Chronicle Texas Women and Their Fashions, by Betty J. Mills (Texas Tech University Press)

"Make Do' silk dress, from Kathryn Coombs' collection. While provenance is not known, the sleeves are from a different silk plaid from the rest of the dress, with a black blonde lace overlay to disguise the difference and the buttons are recycled from the 1820s-30's, very much fitting the descriptions of the type of items worn in the blockaded south in Elzey Hay's article, above. (photos to be scanned soon)

Memoirs online dealing with shortages:

Coping With Shortages: Crafts, Skills & Recipes:

Bibliography: