Confederacy Found Itself in Dire Need of Salt After Salt Works Lost Early in the Civil War

Dire need prompts Evening Shade, Arkansas, residents to journey to buy supplies, including salt.

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It is well-known that, during the Civil War, the North had greater supplies of guns, gunpowder, railroads, steel, uniforms, shoes and food than the South. Less known is the fact that the Confederacy was in dire need of a precious commodity, salt. The shortage was felt as early as 1861 when the South lost the salt works at Charleston, Virginia. It produced 7,000 bushels of salt per day, enough to supply the entire Confederacy. In New Orleans, salt was worth $1 per sack while cotton was $160 a bale. On November 18, salt brought $1.10 a pound at auction. The next day it brought $1.30 a pound.

As the war dragged on, in the small towns of the South, salt might not be available at any price. That was the case in Evening Shade, Arkansas, where people boiled the soil from smokehouse floors to regain the salt that had fallen to the earth in past years. The situation was so critical that in one of the late war years, a group of local citizens organized an expedition to the Missouri boot heel to obtain a supply of salt. One member of that expedition, Charles Shaver, wrote details of what came to be known as "the salt trip" for the Sharp County Record in 1901.

Three wagons pulled by oxen left Evening Shade in early October of one year late in the war. The wagons were loaded with bales of cotton, which they hoped to sell in Missouri in order to buy much-needed supplies, particularly salt.

Everything went well until they reached a point near Crowley's Ridge. There they encountered a band of jayhawkers who demanded tribute. Jayhawkers were ruffians who professed Union allegiance but were more intent on gaining booty. Southern bands of this ilk were called bushwhackers. Two jayhawkers rolled a bale of cotton off Charles Shaver's wagon before allowing the wagons to continue. The 450-pound bale would have brought over $400 in New Madrid, so it was no small loss.

The Arkansans took their cotton into New Madrid where it brought 95 cents a pound. Charles Shaver even used the cotton from his mattress to piece out a bale. After making some purchases, they returned to their camp near Point Pleasant. It was dark when they arrived. The men were feeding the oxen, and the women were cooking the evening meal when a band of blue-clad jayhawkers burst into the camp firing their guns. They ordered the travelers to surrender their valuables at once.

The travelers felt great relief to find themselves back on the soil of Arkansas. But, the first four miles were covered by more than a foot of water with no visible road to follow. They had to move slowly through the timber until they reached higher ground. At Crowley's Ridge, an old clock peddler invited them to spend the night in one room of his house. The peddler's wife let the women raid her cabbage patch, and the weary travelers enjoyed a sumptuous meal of cabbage and pork.

The trip from the Cache River was in familiar surroundings and proved uneventful. Charles Shaver wrote, "When I got home, I had been gone five weeks and four days. I had slept on a bed two nights and in a house only six or seven times. Along with the others, I was exposed to the elements of rain, snow, sleet and cold. I weighed 95 pounds when I returned."

Sam Thompson
Evening Shade, Arkansas

Back in 1955 a call went out from the editors of the then CAPPER’s Weekly asking for readers to send in articles on true pioneers. Hundreds of letters came pouring in from early settlers and their children, many now in their 80s and 90s, and from grandchildren of settlers, all with tales to tell. So many articles were received that a decision was made to create a book, and in 1956, the first My Folks title – My Folks Came in a Covered Wagon – hit the shelves. Nine other books have since been published in the My Folks series, all filled to the brim with true tales from CAPPER’s readers, and we are proud to make those stories available to our growing online community.