Postage stamps and postal history of the Confederate States
The postage stamps and postal system of the Confederate States of America carried the mail of the Confederacy for a brief period in American history. Early in 1861 when South Carolina no longer considered itself part of the Union and demanded that the U.S. Army abandon Fort Sumter, plans for a Confederate postal system were already underway. Indeed, the Confederate Post office was established on February 21, 1861; and it was not until April 12 that the American Civil War officially began, when the Confederate Army fired upon US soldiers who had refused to abandon the fort. However, the United States Post Office Department continued to handle the mail of the seceded states as usual during the first weeks of the war. It was not until June 1 that the Confederate Post office took over collection and delivery, now faced with the task of providing postage stamps and mail services for its citizens.
The CSA Constitution had provided for a national postal service to be established, then required it to be self-financing beginning March 1, 1863 (Section 8. Powers of Congress, Item 7). President Jefferson Davis had appointed John Henninger Reagan on March 6, 1861, to head the new Confederate States of America Post-office Department. The Confederate Post Office proved to be very efficient and remained in operation for the entire duration of the Civil War.
- Beginnings 1
- Confederate Post Office 2
Confederate postage 3
- Provisional stamps 3.1
- Postage stamps 3.2
- Prisoner of war mail 4.1
- Prisoner of war prisons and camps 4.2
- Blockade mail 4.3
- Blockade runners 4.4
- Patriotic covers 4.5
- Adversity covers 4.6
- Mourning covers 4.7
- Manuscript covers 4.8
- Postal history exhibits 4.9
- See also 5
- References 6
- Further reading 7
- Other sources 8
- External links 9
BeginningsDuring the first seven weeks of the Civil War, the US Post Office still delivered mail from the seceded states. Mail that was postmarked after the date of a state’s admission into the Confederacy through May 31, 1861, and bearing US (Union) postage is deemed to represent 'Confederate State Usage of U.S. Stamps'. i.e., Confederate covers franked with Union stamps. After this time, private express companies still managed to carry the mail across enemy lines. The three major express companies in operation throughout the south were
- Smithsonian National Postal Museum, Confederate hand-stamp cover collection
- Confederate Stamp Alliance homepage
- Civil War Prisons
- Prisoner of War Camps, the American Civil War
- Postal History of Vicksburg
- Sons of Confederate Veterans
- The Confederate Philatelist
- Civil War Postal History Articles and Resources, by Patricia A. Kaufmann
- Confederate Stamp Alliance, John L. Kimbrough, MD, Conrad L Bush
- Adam's Express Company
- August Dietz, Postal Service of the Confederate States of America (1929) - the standard work on Confederate philately
- Dietz Confederate States Catalog and Hand-Book (1931–1986)
- AskPhil – Glossary of Stamp Collecting Terms
- Encyclopaedia of Postal History
- Stuart Rossiter & John Flower: The Stamp Atlas
- Stanley Gibbons Ltd: various catalogues
- Civil War Prisons and Their Covers, by Earl Antrim
- Prisoners' Mail from the American Civil War, by Galen D. Harrison. Union and Confederate Civil War covers from prisoners of war in 83 Union and 58 Confederate Prisons, compiled from a total over 2,700 covers.
- The Handbook of Civil War Patriotic Envelopes and Postal History, Grant, 1977
- Anderson, John Nathan. (2013) "Money or Nothing: Confederate Postal System Collapse during the Civil War," American Journalism, 30 (Winter 2013), 65–86.
- Bennett, Michael, (1998) United States and Confederate Postal History: The 206th Public Auction, November 15, 1998, Michael Bennett, Incorporated, 214 pages, Book
- Boyd, Steven R. (2010). Patriotic Envelopes of the Civil War: The Iconography of Union and Confederate Covers, LSU Press, 169 pages, Book
- Clemens, William Montgomery (1884). Confederate Postage-Stamps, Book
- Confederate Stamp Alliance, (2012).Confederate States of America Catalog and Handbook of Stamps and Postal History, Confederate Stamp Alliance, 528 pages, Book
- Deaton, Charles W. (2012). The Great Texas Stamp Collection, University of Texas Press, 118 pages, Book
- Leavy, Joseph B. (1916). The Philatelic Gazette, Volume 6, Nassau Stamp Co., 396 pages, E'book
- MacBride, Van Dyk (1950). Fort Delaware and Its Prisoner-of-war Covers, American philatelic, 11 pages, Book
- Seward, Henry; MacBride, Van Dyk (1952). Season's Greetings from a Philatelic Confederate, 2 pages, Book
Smith, R.M. (1864). The statutes at large of the provisional government of the Confederate States of America,
from the institution of the government, February 8, 1861, to its termination, February 18, 1862, inclusive,
R. M. Smith, printed to Congress, 411 pages, E'book
- Todd, Richard Cecil (2009). Confederate Finance, University of Georgia Press, 270 pages, ISBN 9780820334547, Book
- "Confederate States Post Office". Smithsonian National Postal Museum. Retrieved 17 November 2010.
- "History of the Confederate States Post Office Service". New York Times; about.com . Retrieved 17 November 2010.
- Boyd B. Stutler, 1962. "The Confederate Postal Service in West Virginia". West Virginia Archives and History . Retrieved 19 November 2010.
- "U.S. Postal Issue Used in the Confederacy (1893)". Smithsonian National Postal Museum. Retrieved 29 January 2011.
- "Express Covers". S.N.P.M.. Retrieved 17 November 2010.
- "JOHN H. REAGAN - The Old Roman". John H. Reagan Camp #2156; Sons of Confederate Veterans. Retrieved 17 November 2010.
"Shortage of Postal Supplies". S.N.P.M.
. Retrieved 17 November 2010.
- Postmaster Provisionals, National Postal Museum
- "Confederate Postage stamps". S.N.P.M.. Retrieved 17 November 2010.
- "Thomas Jefferson, 10-cent Blue". Smithsonian National Postal Museum. Retrieved 4 January 2011.
- "2-cent Green Andrew Jackson". Smithsonian National Postal Museum. Retrieved 6 February 2011.
- """10-cent Jefferson Davis "T-E-N. Smithsonian National Postal Museum. Retrieved 6 February 2011.
- "10-cent Jefferson Davis, Type II". Smithsonian National Postal Museum. Retrieved 6 February 2011.
- 1-cent John C. Calhoun, National Postal Museum
- American Civil War Soldier Letters Home; AmericanCivilWar.com
- "Contrived Confederate Covers". John L. Kimbrough MD Colonel USAF MC (Ret). Retrieved 31 January 2011.
- ""Declaring a stamp a forgery . Stamp Community Family (APS Chapter). Retrieved 29 November 2010.
- ""American Civil War: POW camp at Andersonville . New York Times, about-com. Retrieved 17 November 2010.
- ""Civilian Flag-of-Truce Covers . S.N.P.M. Retrieved 17 November 2010.
- ""Prisoner mail exchange . Prisoner of War mail, Smithsonian National Postal Museum. Retrieved 17 November 2010.
- "Prisoner of War Camps". Family History 101,. Retrieved 17 February 2011.
Sources for prison numbers:
National Park Service, U.S. Dept. of the Interior Historical Publications Inc., Civil War News
Gratiot Street Prison, Civil War St. Louis
Illinois State Historical Library
Ohio State Penitentiary
The "Old Capitol" Prison, By Colonel N. T. Colby
Shotgun's Home of the American Civil War
University of Texas
The American Civil War
- "Tales from the Blockade, essay". Richard Frajola, philatelist and historian. . Retrieved 17 November 2010.
- "Blockade essays" (PDF). Retrieved June 8, 2010.
- "Blockade-Run Covers". National Postal Museum, Blockade-Run Covers . Retrieved 17 November 2010.
- Patriotic Covers from Smithsonian National Postal Museum
- Frajola, Patriotic Covers
- Mourning covers, Frajola exhibit
- Adversity Covers, Smithsonian National Postal Museum
- Confederate States of America
- US Presidents on US postage stamps, Civil War era
- Commemoration of the American Civil War on postage stamps
- Postage stamps and postal history of the United States
- August Dietz, publisher of Confederate States of America postal history
- Lawrence L. Shenfield, author of Confederate States of America: The Special Postal Routes (1961)
Postal history exhibits
Manuscript covers are addressed envelopes that were designated as Paid or where the amount of postage due was hand-written with pen and ink. Manuscript markings can also be found along with various hand-stamp markings, or in combination with postage stamps, which were sometimes applied prior to or after the manuscript marking(s). If the manuscript cover was mail carried by a blockade runner, the cover is usually referred to then as a blockade cover, and so forth with patriotic and other covers.
Mourning covers are also widely collected. These are covers which bear signs of sympathy or recognition of an adverse event. The most common type of adversity cover that occurs in Civil War postal history, Confederate or Union, are what is referred to by collectors as Mourning covers. Many families shared in the loss of loved ones and friends who died in battle during the four-year war. Letters of sympathy were often sent between family members and friends. The covers often bear various markings, usually pen inscribed by the sender. One of the most common markings found on these covers is the symbolic black border put about the outer face of the envelope. As many thousands of men died during the war, the black border became commonplace in the Union and Confederate mail streams and in Civil War philately.
Due to the Union blockade, the South was unable to get many needed basic supplies including paper, and as such envelopes and writing paper were scarce throughout most of the South. People would reuse old paper and envelopes, bags, and old forms and sometimes would use wallpaper to construct envelopes with. These covers are usually referred to by collectors as adversity covers.
The years during the American Civil War were a period marked with strong sentiments and loyalties towards both sides involved, and this sentiment is clearly displayed on various Civil War correspondence known to collectors and historian as Patriotic Covers. Citizens, many of whom had family members and friends off fighting in the war, or who had died in battle, often expressed their loyalties with envelopes illustrated with flags, portraits, slogans and allegorical figures such as that of Liberty, which clearly captured the sentiments of that time. This practice was most evident in the North where there were many printers, especially in the larger cities, who produced an assortment of envelopes that proudly displayed these designs and which quickly became popular among the citizenry. The situation in the south was quite different. The demand for printers in the agrarian South was much less, and consequently established and qualified printers were generally nonexistent throughout most of the Confederacy. The South also lacked the North's industrialized advantages and supplies, and so the various Confederate patriotic covers that have survived the years are scarce and rare and usually have considerable value.
Patriotic covers was being blockaded effectively dividing the Western Confederate states from those east, New Orleans became one of the busiest of ports. Consequently many blockade covers have postmarks from these locations.Mississippi RiverThe captain of the blockade runner would typically get two cents for every letter he delivered to port, which was a nominal sum, as his main source of revenue was from delivering his cargo. The average number of successful runs by a blockade runner was only about four, many of them meeting a fateful ending on their first run. Various ports along the coastline of the Confederacy saw the most traffic from blockade runners. Charleston in South Carolina was particularly well situated as a port for blockade runners with their shallow drafts, as was the Port in Wilmington in North Carolina which saw the most traffic. Because the lower Wilmington or Charleston, New Orleans who would remove the mail or inner cover and prepare it for transfer on a blockade runner. Often the forwarding agents would apply their own markings to the cover of mail. Mail placed aboard a blockade runner would then, perhaps with some luck, make its way to the ports of forwarding agent. Ships carrying letters that were addressed to points in the Confederacy would deposit their cargo of mail at one of these transfer points. Here the inbound mail was handled by a Cuba, and Bermuda, Bahamas in the NassauThe principal transfer points for mail arriving from or destined to Europe and other locations were
Among the most notable blockade runners were steamers like the SS Syren, a 169-foot (52 m) steel-hulled sidewheel steamer that made a record 33 successful runs through the Union blockade. Another steamer called the Alice, a 177-foot (54 m) steel-hulled vessel, made 24 successful runs, while the Kate, a wooden-hulled steamer, made 20 successful runs before being run aground in November 1862. It is likely that most of the blockade runners brought mail into the Confederate mail stream, as the Confederate states were in dire need of basic supplies, the procurement of which was conducted through mailed correspondence. The various cargoes would likely have mail attached to them to notify various parties that their shipment has arrived at port. Today, Confederate blockade covers are highly sought after by collectors and historians who often regard these mailings as figurative time-stamps and historical confirmation that various people, ships and post offices existed in and among these times and places.
During the beginning of the Civil War, getting Confederate mail in and out of the Confederacy to and from foreign suppliers and other interested parties overseas posed a problem. At first, getting a ship through the Union blockade was easier, but as the war transpired the number of Union ships on blockade patrol increased while veteran crews were becoming more experienced and growing wiser to the evasive tactics employed by blockade-runners. To escape detection, blockade-runners would often try to get the mail and cargo through by making night runs, especially when the moon was new. Many of the vessels were also painted a dark gray color to help them blend in with the backdrop of the night sea, a practice that earned these vessels the nickname of Greyhounds. Some of the steamers also burned a smokeless anthracite coal which greatly reduced their profile against the horizon. However, as the war went on, the prospect of getting a ship through diminished greatly, and many of these ships faced capture or destruction, their cargoes and mail never reaching their ports of destination. As many of the vessels used as blockade-runners were built in England for British investors, the captured crews and passengers were usually British also. The cargo aboard was rewarded to the captain and crew of the capturing vessel, it is assumed as an added incentive for captains and crews on blockade patrolling ships to be extra vigilant. Mail was also confiscated and sometimes used as evidence against the parties involved with the ship and its cargo. (figure 2) Consequently inbound covers that were prepared by forwarding agents for transfer to and delivery within the Confederacy never received various postmarks or other markings from the Confederate post office.
At the onset of the American Civil War it was imperative for the Confederacy to get crucial correspondence to suppliers and other mail into and out of the country. On April 19, 1861, President Lincoln proclaimed a blockade along the entire coastline of the Confederacy to prevent it from obtaining supplies and to prevent it from communicating with the rest of the world by means of mail. Twelve major ports and approximately 3,500 miles (5,600 km) of coastline along the Confederate States were patrolled by some 500 ships that were commissioned by the US Navy; however, some accounts vary considerably and place the number of commissioned ships for blockade patrol at about 200, taking into account the high numbers of Union ships that were withdrawn from blockade duty for repairs. The blockade played a major role in the Union's victory over the Confederate states. By the end of the Civil War, the Union Navy had captured more than 1,100 blockade runners and had destroyed or run aground another 355 vessels. The Union blockade reduced a vital source of revenue for the south, cotton exports, to a fraction of what they were prior to the war, as well as preventing much of its mail from being sent or received. (See also: Anaconda Plan) In response to the blockade various specially-built steamers were built and put to use by British investors who were heavily invested in the cotton and tobacco trade. These vessels were typically smaller and lighter in weight, often giving them an advantage of maneuverability and record speeds of up to 17 knots, which enabled them to evade or outrun Union ships on patrol. Their cargoes were usually small, light-weight and often included mail.
When the Civil War got underway, both sides were ill prepared to deal with the very large numbers of captured troops. For a time a prisoner and mail exchange program was in use that lasted until June 1863, when the U.S. Government terminated any further cooperation due to mounting war tensions and increased mistrust. The postmarks and stampings found on war-time mail from military prisons and camps during the war are sought after by historians and collectors, not only for their souvenir value but also as confirmation that various people, events and places existed at the time of mailing indicated by the name, address, postmark and other official markings. The mailed covers often bear the postmark of the nearest town or city from where the prison or camp was located. The study of Civil War military postal history and postmarks is an area of philately that involves a great volume of material covering town names, history, rarity, postmarks and other official markings found on mail to and from POW facilities. In the Nav-boxes below are two partial lists of some of the larger prison facilities, Union and Confederate, in operation during some or all of the war. Numbers for inmate totals are included to provide insight into knowing the amount of any surviving mail that is or may be in existence. There were also prison facilities that contained much smaller numbers of prisoners (a couple listed here) also. Records for some prison facilities are completely lacking, the total numbers of prisoners held, peak prison population amounts, escapes and deaths remaining unknown at the present time. Surviving prisoner of war mail to or from some of these places is exceedingly rare, and in some cases no covers are known to exist.
Prisoner of war prisons and camps
Prisoner of war mail
A 20¢ stamp with
- Type II, also at first printed by Archer & Daly, is very similar to type I. Frederick Halpin designed and engraved the image of Davis. The corner ornaments are filled, and a faint line follows the outside of the design and encloses it. The Archer & Daly plates for both Type I and Type II were moved from Richmond to Columbia, South Carolina, when the fall of Richmond became imminent in late 1864. The company of Keatinge & Ball then printed the two stamps. A small number of Types I and II in Archer & Daly printings were perforated and released for use by the Confederate Post Office Department in 1864. The perforations (gauge 12 1⁄2) on these were often of notably poor quality, and forgeries abound, many of which betray themselves by perforations that either employ the wrong gauge or are cut too crisply.
- Type I, initially printed by Archer & Daly, Bank Note Engravers, Richmond, Virginia, employs the same engraving as the “Frame Line” issue but without the frame lines. There were approximately 23,800,000 stamps printed from two plates, each with two panes of one hundred. The earliest recorded usage is April 21, 1863.
- The next easiest to distinguish (on which the value is expressed as "10") has straight lines enclosing the design in a rectangle. Several distinct shades of blue occur in this printing. The earliest recorded usage is April 23, 1863. All of these were printed by Archer and Daly of Richmond. This "frame-line" variety is by far the rarest of the stamps issued by the Confederate Post Office. Even poor copies shorn of most of the framing can command prices upwards of US$1000.
- The easiest to distinguish from the other three has the value expressed as "TEN". The portrait of Jefferson Davis was designed and line engraved by John Archer, and then transferred to a copper plate. This issue was imperforate and was printed on soft, porous paper of varying thickness and with colorless gum. The earliest recorded usage is April 23, 1863. Color variations occur from dark-blue to gray-blue.
- Also in 1863, a 10-cent stamp was released bearing the profile of Jefferson Davis in blue. This issue was designed and engraved on steel by John Archer and transferred to either copper plates or steel plates. Many shades of exist for these stamps, ranging from light milky blue and darker blue to shades that tend toward greenish blue and green. There are four similar designs of engraved ten cent stamps.
- In 1863, a new 2¢ Jackson design appeared, engraved in steel by Frederick Halpin and printed by Archer & Daly in pale red. A second printing appeared in brown red. Line-engraving would be employed in all subsequent Confederate stamps.
- De La Rue also printed and shipped a typographed 1¢ orange stamp depicting John C. Calhoun. The Confederate Post office had planned to reduce the drop-letter rate to one cent, but this proved impractical and, as a result, the 1¢ stamp was never put into use. Joubert De La Ferte again engraved the central image of Calhoun, placing it in the same framework design used for the Jefferson Davis 5-cent issue, a clear attempt to show that the two stamps were part of the same series. (Later, De La Rue sent altered plates of both typographed stamps to the Confederacy with revised denominations, intended for 2-cent Calhoun and 10-cent Davis issues, but neither stamp was put into production. The printed versions of these that are sometimes seen all date from the 20th century, and cannot be considered true Confederate stamps.)
- Also in 1862, a new 5¢ stamp of Davis, this time utilizing typography, was issued in large quantities. Produced by the De La Rue firm in London, it employed an engraving of Davis by Ferdinand Joubert (1810–1884). De La Rue shipped 12,000,000 copies of this issue to the Confederacy, accompanied by a set of printing plates and a supply of English paper so that additional copies could be produced locally. More than 36,000,000 of the 5¢ Davis stamps were subsequently printed from the De La Rue plates by Archer and Daly in Richmond. Archer and Daly eventually ran out of the English paper, and their later printings on Confederate paper tended to become increasingly coarse, with individual examples exhibiting blank areas in the design from plate damage or filled in areas due to plate wear. (Today they can be purchased for approximately US$10 depending on condition.)
- In 1862, a 2¢ stamp of Andrew Jackson appeared, in green, and was issued imperforate. This issue was again lithographed by Hoyer & Ludwig of Richmond, Virginia. Only one transfer stone used in this printing. The earliest known usage of this stamp was March 21, 1862. Sheets of this issue consisted of two panes of 100 stamps each arranged in two blocks of fifty (10X5) taken from the 50-subject transfer stone with a wide vertical gutter between panes. This was the last lithographed stamp produced by the Confederate Post Office.
- A 10¢ blue with 
- The first postage stamp issued by the Confederate States (1861) was a 5¢ green depicting Jefferson Davis. It was printed by the lithograph process by Hoyer and Ludwig of Richmond, Virginia. Like almost all Confederate issues, these stamps were imperforate, and single stamps had to be cut from the sheet with razors or scissors. This stamp was reprinted in blue in 1862.