April 2, 1863: Richmond Bread Riot broke out 156 years ago

April 2, 1863: Richmond Bread Riot broke out 156 years ago
Gaunt, hungry women (at right) - several wielding clubs, another a smoking pistol - take to the streets of Richmond, Virginia, on April 2, 1863, to protest food shortages, hoarding, speculation, and spiraling inflation in the Confederate capital.

RICHMOND, VA (WWBT) - It was the middle of the Civil War and times were so lean Richmond residents took to the streets demanding food.

On April 2, 1863, the Richmond Bread Riot broke out as starving residents marched on the Virginia State Capitol seeking relief, but finding an inhospitable response.

A picture of the city of Richmond during the Confederacy. (Source: Library of Congress)
A picture of the city of Richmond during the Confederacy. (Source: Library of Congress)

With the Union having gained control of Confederate ports, staple goods such as flour and meat were in short supply and prices had skyrocketed.

The weather the preceding winter had also caused problems with heavy snowfall overworking the city’s sewer system followed by a heatwave that quickly melted the snow, causing more problems.

Chants of “bread or blood” rang out after an audience with Gov. John Letcher only exacerbated the protesters outrage.

Gaunt, hungry women (at right) - several wielding clubs, another a smoking pistol - take to the streets of Richmond, Virginia, on April 2, 1863, to protest food shortages, hoarding, speculation, and spiraling inflation in the Confederate capital. (Source: The American Civil War Museum)
Gaunt, hungry women (at right) - several wielding clubs, another a smoking pistol - take to the streets of Richmond, Virginia, on April 2, 1863, to protest food shortages, hoarding, speculation, and spiraling inflation in the Confederate capital. (Source: The American Civil War Museum)

The group then left the Capitol and headed to the market district where they took control of a beef wagon and broke into several stores and looted everything from food to jewelry.

Letcher and Confederate President Jefferson Davis both came to the scene with Davis offering food and money from his own pockets, but it did not satisfy the mob.

Another protest formed the following day, but did not result in a riot.

News of the riot spread by Union prisoners of war and provided a morale boost to Union soldiers.

Organizers of the riot were arrested and jailed, but were soon released due to overcrowding because the prison couldn’t afford to feed them.

Bread riots were common throughout the Confederacy during that time, but the Richmond riot was the largest and most costly.

No more riots were held in Richmond during the Civil War because efforts were increased to distribute food and cannons were placed at strategic locations to deter protesters.

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