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Introduction to
Business and Economic Affairs

by
William L. Barney,
Professor of History, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill


One of the more important developments of the Confederate war effort was the dynamic growth of the nonagricultural business sector. Indeed, although entrepreneurs for decades had stressed the need for change, it was through the conflict with the North that Southerners finally committed to region-wide economic reform. Proceedings and reports of private companies—as well as extensive commentary on economic conditions—help to explain the nature of this reform and comprise the primary material of the business and economic affairs section.

An unprecedented aspect of the Confederate entrepreneurial impulse was that in large measure it was spurred by direct government intervention, most visibly through the construction of regional rail lines. Formal reports on ventures from North Carolina, Georgia, South Carolina, and Virginia reveal the interplay of private and public interests in the rail industry and make up the majority of entries within this section. Commercial agents involved in other commodities of military importance also provided useful services to the war effort—especially as the Union blockade became more effective and Southerners were forced to exploit all available resources. Particularly interesting in this regard are reports on the manufacture of iron and saltpeter, as well as an insightful instruction manual on "How to make salt from seawater." Finally, and perhaps most importantly, strong discussions from business leaders and politicians such as Duff Green and Albert Gallatin Brown detail the intricacies of Confederate currency and financial structures. Currency proved to be the weakest link in the wartime economy of the Confederacy, and the section on Currency documents both the immense variety of Confederate paper money and the ruinous consequences of runaway inflation.

Whether on the local, state or national level, these documents show the extent to which the Confederacy had consistently to reassess and transform the state of the Southern business structure so as to meet the demands of the war effort. All told, the business and economic affairs section offers fresh insight into the remarkable growth of the Confederate business sector.