Coupled with the threat of starvation, Confederate wives like Martha Poteet and Ann Bowen of North Carolina had difficulty in financially providing for their families in their husbands’ absence. Coupled with the lack of resources, Confederate wives had to live majority on their husband’s army paychecks, as well as any possible aid they could get from more financially stable family members. In many ways, the Civil War shifted the gender dynamic, forcing women into new societal roles they had never been allowed to enter into prior to 1861. In seeking employment, “Women were perhaps even more pushed by personal necessity than pulled by patriotic dedication to southern liberty” (Faust, 81). This statement rang true for all southern women who lived under the Confederate flag. In McDowell County, North Carolina, one Confederate wife in particular struggled to constantly to provide for her family in her husband’s absence.
“I hope and pray that it will be made so that you can come home you know that I see hard times with out you I hav 41 dollars of your silver yet but I dont know how long I will hav it I haint no confederate Money to pay postage there is 22 lbs salt coming to me and I cant get it for want [of?] [Money?] I am going to try to borrow [it?] [if?] I can I hav to go barfooted and my health aint very good I dont no where I will get lether for winter or not it is very high heard from brother Thomas” (Item 948).
Martha Hendley Poteet faced many struggles in her husband’s absence. She constantly wrote him about the obstacles she faced on their home farm. In many instances, Martha ran the risk of not being able to get the harvest in because of the lack of men left behind in McDowell County, on another instance, Martha faced foreclosure of their farm and threats from a local big-wig who tried to force her out. Clearly, from Martha’s trials we see that Confederate wives were left in an extremely vulnerable position financially. Living on their husband’s army paychecks was not enough to provide for their families, especially when no available help was present to help them with other sources of incomes such as the farms themselves.
Added to these troubles was the devaluing of Confederate money. Although their husband’s paychecks did somewhat aid their families, money that had already been accumulated in savings had become completely obsolete during the war. As Ann Bowen experienced first hand, “…I send you theas little bill they wont pass heare it is some abisha got from the soldiers before plymouth fell perhaps they will pass thar” (Item 2732). Unable to use the Confederate bills to pay for expenses at home in Washington County, Ann sent them to her husband on the fighting lines in hope that he would be able to use them. Unable to use their own money, many Confederate wives were left in a state of near destitution while their husbands were away. Aside from this, with the devaluing of Confederate currency, this left many Confederates scrambling about finding whatever valuable possessions they could to use for bartering so they could survive. Stamps were included in these, “…in a long time they keep some whar till they get old before I can get them I dont blame you I know you rite every week but it make so made to think through some boddy neglect I cant get my letters and I a wanting to hear from you as bad as I can…” (Item 2732). Here we see where Ann Bowen is voicing her frustration to her husband about not receiving his letters due to “some boddy neglect”, which as the archivist who transcribed Ann’s letter noted, this referred to someone having removed the stamps off of Ann’s letters. Although this would at first seem like just an odd theft. We can assume due to the devaluing of Confederate money and given the value placed on stamps, even back in the mid-nineteenth century, Ann’s stamps were likely stolen so they could be used to be bartered with later.