I have had this Confederate money in my possession since 1968. I did not know the historical significance of the bills when they fell into my hands. I took them to my seventh grade history class in 1971 and the teacher passed them around to all of my classmates.
I did not go out of my way to protect the bills, and it is truly a miracle that they survived 54 years in my care — not only surviving, but still in excellent shape — and that through all of my moves across the country, I still had them packed away in a box of treasures.
A brief history of this money……
The Confederacy began issuing paper money in March 1861. The Confederate dollar was known as the “greyback” named so after the color of the grey uniforms that the Southern soldiers wore on the battlefield.
With few exceptions, Confederate money was not backed by gold or anything of value. The greybacks were actually promissory notes that pledged to give the holder of the currency silver or gold after the Confederates won the war.
Confederate money greatly depreciated as inflation soared, counterfeit bills were printed, and the South’s inevitable victory over the Northern army became less likely as the war dragged on and on.
In 1864, the year before the war ended, a Confederate dollar was worth only 3 cents, and by the war’s end in 1865, it was worthless.
As a historian and genealogist, I spend a lot of my time thinking about the people and the places and events of the past.
These sepia-colored, slightly aged-textured pieces of paper with faded words and images — which once held great monetary value, and then no value — intrigue me.
Who were the people in the 1860’s who held this money in weathered hands?
For what did they exchange this ancient currency to make their lives better? Did they buy seed to plant, or a wagon to take them into town, or did their women buy sacks of flour, and then use the sacks to make new dresses for their daughters?
Who kept this money for years after it was deemed worthless ? How many hands did it go through in the more than one hundred years before it came into my hands?
When I hold these greybacks, I do not think of the reasons for the war, or who won the war, or any of the politics of the 1800s.
When I gently shuffle through the money, I think only of the suffering of the enslaved, the hardships of the poor white farmers, the arrogance of the white slaveowners.
I think of the people — all of them.
They know not that I think of them, those who have held this money in their own hands. Perhaps their fingerprints are still faintly on the surface.
I treasure this link to the past.