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A House Divided: Money of the Civil War

The American Civil War evokes many strong thoughts and emotions to this day – the end of slavery in our country, the great and terrible battles that saw more that 600,000 men perish, and the secession – and eventual reunion – of 11 states. Amid brilliant and incompetent generals, vast military campaigns and political turmoil, the impact of money on the war often gets overlooked.

“A House Divided: Money of the Civil War,” a new exhibit opening Oct. 9 at the American Numismatic Association’s Edward C. Rochette Money Museum, takes a unique look at this epic, bloody time in United States history, while showcasing the era’s coins, paper money, medals, and new ideas in war financing that helped lead to the North’s victory. Visitors will be immersed in the sights and sounds of the war and the era.

The Civil War changed the country forever, including its monetary and economic system: a system based on bullion coinage and privately issued paper money was replaced by a central system based on National Bank notes, and coins and paper money produced and backed by the federal government.

To pay for the war, the North and South were forced to issue huge amounts of money not backed by gold or silver – a fragile concept in the 1860s. Union “greenbacks” (Legal Tender notes and Demand notes, printed with green ink on one side) were instead backed by bonds; an investor could purchase bonds with greenbacks, and then redeem the bonds for gold. The emergence of “war bonds” helped create a more solid economy for the Union; in the Confederacy, where financial systems were underdeveloped, inflation ran rampant and made it impossible to continue the war effort. Because of the success of “war bonds,” they were used by the U.S. to control inflation again during both world wars.

Civil War soldiers were supposed to be paid every two months, but were fortunate if they got their pay at four-month intervals. Payment in the Confederate Army was even slower and less regular. Union privates were paid $13 per month at the start of the war.

“With pay as irregular as it was for soldiers, especially for Confederates, you can imagine how important financial support from family could be,” said Money Museum Curator Doug Mudd. “Many soldiers relied on ingenuity – or desperation – to get what they needed to survive. Half-starved men with weapons can make life very hard on civilians.”

One of the exhibit’s most interesting pieces is an 1864 two cent piece – the first U.S. coin to feature the motto In God We Trust. During the war, heavy casualties created increased religious sentiment, and there was a public outcry to recognize God on U.S. coinage.

Initially, Secretary of the Treasury Salmon P. Chase considered the mottos Our Country, Our God and God, Our Trust before authorizing the minting of the two cent piece to include In God We Trust. The motto soon appeared on other denominations, and has been featured on all U.S. coinage since 1938.

Other pieces featured in the exhibit include political campaign tokens, including those used by Republican presidential candidate Abraham Lincoln; and the medal honoring the Union defense of Fort Sumter that was presented to Abner Doubleday, the legendary officer who fired the first Union shot of the war.

Visitors are Given Their Own Civil War Identities at New Money Museum Exhibit
Ever wondered what life was like for a soldier on the battlefield at Gettysburg? Or imagine yourself as a General, out-maneuvering your opponent with thousands of troops under your command? Have you ever wanted to learn more about people who are sometimes forgotten in Civil War history – the wives of soldiers, the doctors who cared for the wounded, or the slaves whose freedom was at stake?

Visitors to the new exhibit, “A House Divided: Money of the Civil War,” are given keepsake Identity Cards featuring real people, some famous and some not, who were involved in the epic conflict. The exhibit opens Oct. 9 at the American Numismatic Association’s Edward C. Rochette Money Museum.

When entering the exhibit, visitors will each be given a card featuring one of 34 identities. The card includes a photo and information about the person. Visitors are then encouraged to look for additional interesting facts about their identities while exploring the exhibit. These “Wow Info” facts are found on information cards included with each display case.

“We developed this as a way to engage people, inform them about a part of the war they might not have known, and give them something so they can remember the exhibit,” said Rod Gillis, ANA Numismatic Educator.

Some of the identities include John Wilkes Booth, Abraham Lincoln’s assassin; Clara Barton, a nurse who later founded the American Red Cross; Mary Reynolds, a slave who provided a famous interview in 1937; and William Jackson Palmer, a war hero who later founded Colorado Springs.

Fort Sumter Medal, 1861
Abner Doubleday (1819 –1893) is best remembered as the man who invented baseball, but he was also a Union general during the CivilWar.He fired the first shot in defense of Fort Sumter, the opening battle of the war, and had a pivotal role in the early fighting at the Battle of Gettysburg.

Doubleday’s most lasting claim to fame is that he invented baseball,which, ironically,might be a myth. The Mills Commission was created in 1905 to determine the origin of baseball, and the committee’s report stated that “the first scheme for playing baseball…was devised byAbner Doubleday at Cooperstown, NewYork, in 1839.” Historians have since disputed the findings, but Doubleday’s name remains synonymous with baseball.

Bronze medals were issued by the State of NewYork to Major RobertAnderson (featured, obverse) and his officers and men in recognition of their defense of Fort Sumter.This medal is the one presented to then CaptainAbner Doubleday. Reverse: “THE CHAMBER OF COMMERCE .NEW-YORK .HONORSTHE DEFENDER OF FORT SUMTER –THE PATRIOT .THE HERO . ANDTHE MAN.”

“A House Divided: Money of the Civil War” opens Oct. 9 with a free gala reception from 5 to 7 p.m. at the Money Museum, 818 N. Cascade Ave. The reception will include a “Venture Crew: 1861” living history program from the Boy Scouts of America featuring a Confederate Army encampment. Civil War-era music will be provided by the Colorado Springs Conservatory.

The exhibit is sponsored by First Community Bank and runs through Fall 2009. The Money Museum is open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Tuesday through Friday, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, and noon to 5 p.m. Sunday (closed Monday). Admission is free and group tours are available by calling 719-482-9834.

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