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Civil War Currency Specimens
by R. Neil Fulghum
Keeper of the North Carolina Collection Gallery

Selection of Confederate Nationals

At the beginning of the war the Confederate treasury planned to issue half-dollar and one-cent coins. Pattern pieces for the half dollar were produced at the New Orleans Mint, but insufficient supplies of metal in the South prevented its production in any quantity. Later, the Confederacy even resorted to placing an order for its coinage with a private mint in New York. A northern minter prepared dies and struck 12 specimens before fear of prosecution by the Union government forced him to halt the project. Such fears had not stopped another northern business firm from printing the Confederacy's first paper currency. Earlier, in 1861, the National Bank Note Company of New York printed a million dollars in Confederate notes and successfully smuggled them to the rebel government in Montgomery, Alabama.

As millions and millions of dollars in Confederate notes continued to be printed in the South, North Carolina's economy and the economies of the allied states had to cope not only with the burgeoning supply of national issues, but with locally produced currencies. The following notes are a small cross-sample of the many different types of notes issued by the Confederate treasury:

Thumbnail CSA 50¢ note depicting President Jefferson Davis, 1863.
NCC: CK.56.348
(75 dpi resolution; 150 dpi resolution)

The only fractional note issued by the Confederate government (a piece of money with a face value less than a dollar) was this fifty-cent specimen. Most of the South's fractional currencies were produced by the states, not by the central government. In addition to larger denominations, North Carolina's government issued its own supply of paper coins, ranging in face value from five cents to seventy-five cents.

Thumbnail CSA $2 note depicting Secretary Judah P. Benjamin, 1864.
NCC: CK.56.651
(75 dpi resolution; 150 dpi resolution)

Regarded as one of the most talented officials in President Davis's cabinet, Benjamin served the Confederacy in several positions, first as attorney general, later as secretary of war, and finally as secretary of state. Benjamin's struggles to administer his various offices during the war were complicated by his personal friendship with Davis, a friendship that led many to accuse the president of favoritism. Further complicating Benjamin's duties was his own heritage. A Jew, Benjamin found himself often battling not only the United States government in his official capacities, but anti-Semitism within his own government. In spite of such bigotry, the widespread use of Benjamin's image on Confederate currencies recognized his contributions and underscored his importance to the southern cause.

Thumbnail CSA $5 note depicting Treasury Secretary Charles G. Memminger, 1861.
NCC: CK.56.57
(75 dpi resolution; 150 dpi resolution)

Secretary Memminger (lower left) was unfairly blamed by many southerners for all the ills that beset their currencies. "Memminger has flooded the land with useless Treasury notes," wrote Catherine Edmondston of Halifax County, N.C., in 1863, "[and] sapped the fountainhead of our prosperity" (from Journal of a Secesh Lady: The Diary of Catherine Ann Devereaux Edmondston, 1860-1866. Raleigh: North Carolina Division of Archives and History, 1979.) The growing instability of Confederate money was due to many factors, the most glaring being the South's lack of gold and silver reserves, its weak industrial base, and its mounting setbacks on the battlefront.

Thumbnail CSA $20 note depicting the State Capitol of Tennessee and Vice President Alexander Stephens, 1864.
NCC: CK.56.787
(75 dpi resolution; 150 dpi resolution)

A native of Georgia, Confederate Vice President Stephens (lower right) had few powers and responsibilities in his position. His most notable official act occurred in February, 1865--months before the end of the war—when he met secretly with President Lincoln and United States Secretary of State John Seward to negotiate peace. These talks proved unsuccessful, for Lincoln refused to accept the condition that the South's independence be recognized by the Union.

Thumbnail CSA $50 note depicting President Jefferson Davis, 1861.
NCC: CK.56.15
(75 dpi resolution; 150 dpi resolution)

Davis (center) served as president of the Confederacy throughout the war. Forced out of Richmond just before the capital was taken by Union forces in April, 1865, Davis fled south, passing through North Carolina. On April 13 he held the last formal meeting of his cabinet in Greensboro; then he proceeded to Charlotte and on to Georgia, where he was captured by federal troops on May 10.

Thumbnail CSA $100 note depicting John C. Calhoun and slave laborers, 1862.
NCC: CK.56.718
(75 dpi resolution; 150 dpi resolution)

Interest-bearing notes were one form of currency issued by the Confederate government. Inscribed on this example is the government's promise to pay the bearer of the note $100 plus interest (two cents per day) "Six Months after the Ratification of a Treaty of Peace between The Confederate States & The United States of America." The prospects for a negotiated peace or even military victory against the North appeared quite possible in 1862. By 1864 such hopes had faded. North Carolinians and other southerners knew that the Confederate government's financial guarantees were empty promises.

In the design of many Confederate and state currencies, the images of African-American slaves were often used. Invariably, however, black southerners were portrayed as content in their status, depicted as well-clothed laborers toiling in the fields or as smiling mothers cuddling their children.

Thumbnail CSA $100 note depicting Lucy Pickens and George W. Randolph, 1864.
NCC: CK.56.745
(75 dpi resolution; 150 dpi resolution)

At the center of this note is a likeness of Lucy Holcombe Pickens (1832-1899), the wife of South Carolina Governor F. W. Pickens. Mrs. Pickens was renowned in social circles for her beauty and was generally regarded as an ideal model to represent the quintessential Southern Belle on Confederate currency. Depicted at the lower right of this note is George Randolph, a grandson of President Thomas Jefferson and one of five men who served as secretary of war for the Confederate government.

Thumbnail CSA $500 note depicting General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson, 1864.
NCC: CK.56.355
(75 dpi resolution; 150 dpi resolution)

With the exception of General Jackson's portrait (lower right), no images of contemporary military heroes are featured on the Confederacy's national currency. General Robert E. Lee himself, despite his near invincible, divine-like reputation, is depicted nowhere on the South's national currency. This elaborate note was designed in part as a memorial to Jackson, who died in 1863 after being accidentally shot at the Battle of Chancellorsville (reportedly by North Carolina troops). Also included in this note's design is the circular seal of the Confederate States of America. It bears the image of George Washington on horseback and the Latin inscription "DEO VINDICE" (translated "God Being the Defender.")

North Carolina State Issues, 1861-1864

During the Civil War, North Carolina's state convention and legislature authorized the issue of over 16 million dollars in treasury notes. This sum seems small when compared to the monstrous sums issued by the Confederate government, but for North Carolina it proved too much. The strains of war made it impossible for the state's currency to hold its value.

Much of North Carolina's state-government issue was produced outside the state by firms such as J. T. Paterson & Company of Augusta, Georgia; J. Manouvrier of New Orleans; and by F. W. Bornemann of Charleston, South Carolina. It should be emphasized that the printing of state issue did not end the production of other moneys in the private sector or by some local officials. North Carolina merchants, banks, insurance companies, towns, and county governments added to the monetary confusion by issuing their own types of currency and scrip.

North Carolina State Issue, 1861
North Carolina State Issue, 1862
North Carolina State Issue, 1863
North Carolina State Issue, 1864
Selection of Notes
from Other Southern States

Along with North Carolina, other state governments in the Confederacy issued their own forms of paper money during the war. An assortment of such state notes can be found among the North Carolina Collection's currency holdings. Included here are examples of currencies that circulated in other southern states.