Battling gold-backed currencies during the American Civil War

gold currency civil war

An old infographic charting the major battles of the American Civil War also shows the gold value of paper money of the two warring sides.

The south was unable to finance the war due an embargo on cotton exports and a reluctance to raise taxes. The south resorted to printing money, and the amount of gold the Confederate States of America dollars could purchase dwindled. The victor's currency prevailed.

Slate's Rebecca Onion, who notes the chart has Toronto origins, admires how much the maps takes on:

A war is a complicated thing, and the chart has tried to track so many factors—geographical, political, and financial—that it’s easiest to concentrate on one or two of these at a time.

I noticed, for example, that the far left-hand column charts the decline in value of Confederate dollars, from one U.S. dollar in May 1861 to “nil” in April 1865, while the far right-hand column shows the decline in value of Union currency in relationship to gold, from $1 in February 1862 to $0.75 in April 1865. Perhaps the best way to approach such a chart is  to give up on complete "synoptical" understanding, and delight in those details.

View the chart at the Library of Congress.

Image of a civil war camp scene by the The U.S. National Archives. Hat tip, The Daily Dish.