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Confederate Official Documents

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

Although overshadowed by the military campaigns of its generals, the Congress and executive departments of the Confederacy enacted laws and issued administrative rulings that profoundly affected the lives of Southerners during the Civil War. The documents in this section range from the provisional and permanent constitutions of the Confederate States of America through legislation, reports, and communications touching upon all aspects of the national agenda for establishing and defending Confederate independence.

Three separate legislative bodies comprised the Congress of the Confederacy. The first, known as the Provisional Congress, was a unicameral body that consisted of delegates chosen by state legislatures to organize a government for the Confederate States of America. It held five sessions between February 4, 1861, and February 17, 1862, and drafted both the provisional and permanent Confederate Constitutions. Elections for the first regular Congress, a bicameral legislature, were held in November, 1861, and the First Congress met for two years beginning in February, 1862. The Second Congress held two sessions before adjourning on March 18, 1865, just weeks before the collapse of the Confederacy.

Early in the war when prospects for victory seemed bright and but minimal sacrifices were demanded of Confederate civilians, Congress readily cooperated with the programs of the Davis administration. By 1863, however, cooperation began to break down as Congress reflected the growing level of discontent on the home front over war measures that impinged on the traditional liberties of Southern whites. Indeed, a central theme running through the documents is the growing centralization of a war effort placing ever greater demands on Confederate citizens.