April 1988 | Volume 39, Issue 3
The burdens of war sent food prices soaring in Richmond, Virginia. In early 1863 bacon sold for $1.25 per pound, peaches for as much as twenty cents apiece, and flour was priced at a staggering $28 a barrel, four times its pre-war cost.
On April 5 hundreds of hungry protesters marched down Main Street, shouting, “Bread! Bread!” The demonstration erupted into a full-scale riot, with window smashing and looting.
Suddenly the Confederate president Jefferson Davis appeared. Standing atop a dray, he tossed coins to the crowd.
“You say you are hungry, and have no money. Here is all I have.” The militia arrived as Davis addressed the looters. “We do not desire to injure anyone, but this lawlessness must stop.” The president consulted his pocket watch. “I will give you five minutes to disperse. Otherwise you will be fired on.”
The crowd broke up immediately. Davis, fearing the consequences that news of such rampant discontent would bring, asked the press to “avoid all reference directly or indirectly to the affair.” One Richmond paper did mention the incident, referring to the rioters as “a handful of prostitutes, professional thieves, Irish and Yankee hags” who had broken into “shoe stores, hat stores and tobacco houses and robbed them of everything but bread, which was just the thing they wanted least.”