Women in Salisbury Riot, 1863

Source: Women in Salisbury Riot, 1863

A drawing from Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper depicting a similar riot in Virginia.

A drawing from Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper depicting a similar riot in Virginia. Image from the Encyclopedia of Virginia.

On March 18, 1863, a group of about 50 women, all wives and mothers of Confederate soldiers, participated in what would become known as the Salisbury Bread Riot.

The women blamed speculators for driving up the prices of necessary items during the Union blockade. Struggling to provide for their families, they banded together against the businesses that they suspected of speculating and demanded government prices for goods.

The first page of a letter from a group of Salisbury women to Governor Zebulon Vance. Image from the State Archives.

The first page of a letter from a group of Salisbury women to Governor Zebulon Vance. Image from the State Archives.

Michael Brown, the owner of a local store, recalled that when he refused to deal with them, the women attempted to break down his storeroom door with hatchets. Finally he decided to give them 10 barrels of flour if they would leave. By the end of the day the women had obtained “twenty three barrels of flour, two sacks of salt, about half a barrel of molasses and twenty dollars in money.”

The group later wrote to Governor Zebulon Vance to explain their unpleasant, but justified, actions.

The Carolina Watchman, a local newspaper, commented on the event but did not place blame on the women. The editors instead blamed the ineffectiveness of the government to provide enough food for the families at home.

The Salisbury Bread Riot ultimately led to better rationing of government resources to aid Civil War soldiers’ families.

Other related resources:

An 1863 newspaper account of the riot and letters to Governor Vance from a group of local women and a local shopkeeper, available online in the digital collections of the State Archives and State Library
The Civil War on NCpedia
The North Civil War Experience from N.C. Historic Sites
North Carolina as a Civil War Battleground from N.C. Historical Publication