Tuesday, April 28, 2009
Book Review--Rebel Storehouse
Taylor, Robert A., Rebel Storehouse: Florida's Contribution to the Confederacy. Fire Ant Books 2003. 219 pages total 159 pages text. Notes, bibliography, index.
While Florida was an early joiner of the Confederacy her importance to the cause is often overlooked or ignored completely. Historian Robert A. Taylor attempts to change this view in his book Rebel Storehouse Florida's Contribution to the Confederacy.
Florida's economy during the 1850's was mostly agricultural made up of small to medium sized farms. Most trading was done with Cuba and the Bahamas with some products going to Savannah, GA or Charleston, SC.
The election of 1860 was a turning point in Florida history and the state gave it's electoral votes to John Breckinridge. With the election of Abraham Lincoln Florida quickly withdrew from the Union and joined the seceeded and soon to seceed states. While little action took place comparitively in the state Taylor argues Florida played a vital role in the Confederacy lasting as long as it did. Florida played a vital role in providing armies with food amd much need salt. Saltworks were set up in many locations along the coasts where sea water could easily be gathered and boiled. These became prime targets for Union warships acting as a blockade. Floridians however were resiliant and as quickly as Union troops would destroy a saltworks they would be rebuilt.
Agriculture was vital importance as crops in more northern Confederate states were destroyed by war or Union troops. Without food the armies of the Confederacy would grind to a halt. In order to encourage food crops limits were placed on crops such as cotton and tobacco. Corn and grains were needed to help feed locals and troops in the field. Citrus crops such as oranges, lemons, and limes helped to reduce disease by providing much needed vitamins. Sugar and molasses were also shipped north to the front lines.
Meat was much needed by the troops and Florida provided fish, pork and beef. Cattle ranching was a profitable venture as beef was need by all the Confederate troops and was also needed to help feed the growing prisoner populations. Cattle were also prized for the leather they would provide for shoes.
Not all was rosy however in the state. Support for the Confederacy was by no means unanimous and many resented the demands being placed upon them by the new government. Food supplies were short in the state and sending the limited resources north caused residents to go without. Confederate currency was not trusted by many who preferred a backed currency or hard assets such as gold. Many Floridians also resented the mandatory selling of goods to the government at set prices. This came about through the Impressment Act of 1863. This was put in place as a means to help support the government and also to prevent speculation and rising prices. The Impressment Act became so unpopular it was taken to state court where the Florida Supreme Court ruled in Yulee v. Canova that state courts could limit the rights of government supply officers within state borders.
Unrealistic demands continued to be placed upon the state by armies who had no idea of the true issues in the state. Crops were not as unlimited as generals believed. Cattle supplies were shrinking and those that were available had to be driven north due to poor transportation facilities. These long drives were punishing to cattle at often caused them to be in poor condition when they finally arrived at the slaughterhouse.
Taylor has written an easily readable book. He is convincing in his arguement that the state was vital to the Confederacy lasting as long as it did but that Florida would not be able to supply all of the needs for the new country. While little fighting was done on Florida soil the state can no longer be overlooked in its importance to the cause.