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  • How Much Does a War Cost?

    War is expensive. In addition to munitions and equipment, soldiers need to be paid for their services—and it was no different during the Civil War. Storyteller Peter Bonner recounts tales of Civil War paydays—payroll deductions, each Southern state printing its own money that soon lost its value, and replaced clothing at the soldier’s expense.

    Support Materials

    Discuss

    1. Why was is so challenging for the Confederacy to issue currency?

    2. Explain why soldiers sometimes referred to the days when they received money as "worthless paydays."

    3. Inflation is the general rise in prices over time. Why is this situation so harmful to an economy?  

    Expansion

    1. Dig deeper and be able to explain why Confederate money became worthless. Discuss military service and who should be responsible for providing for soldiers’ basic needs.

    2. Research and explain what the economic system of supply and demand is by using real or fake money and objects or food that you “sell” to other students. (Make sure you have a lot of a few of these things you are selling, and not very much of the others.) Illustrate one type of inflation (Demand-Pull) that is caused by having too much or too little of a product on the market.

    3. Follow the stock market: You can pick a stock (or several stocks) and follow its (or their) price for several days. Find out why the stock prices go up and down or stay the same. We suggest consulting the National Council on Economic Education.

    Vocabulary

    anarchy: state or condition of life without government
    conscription: mandatory military service (the draft)
    curmudgeon: a stingy, hateful person
    depreciate: to fall in value 
    disbursement: distribution of payment in money or goods
    gratuitously: acting without motivation for compensation; also means to act inappropriately
    greenbacks: U.S. currency
    nominal: small
    nubbin: an ear of corn that has not reached full development
    redundancy: excessive repetitiveness
    retribution: retaliation, "payback"
    scorn: a display of contempt for a person or thing

    For Teachers

    Discussion Guide

    1. Why was it so challenging for the Confederacy to issue currency? 
    Because of the Confederacy's focus on States' Rights, every state could print its own currency. In this way, soldiers from different states would have money from all over the South, and could not be sure how much it was worth as they traveled throughout the region. The government also had to deal with inflation as the war continued. Soldiers' money bought less and less goods over time, meaning the government had to print more and more which led to an endless cycle of the same. 

    2. Explain why soldiers sometimes referred to the days when they received money as "worthless paydays."
    Soldiers were issued few items for personal use--especially clothing which they found would wear out under the harsh conditions of everyday use. They would then have to purchase more clothing, might even miss out on receiving new clothing if they were absent when it was issued, and could be charged for losing certain items. While in camp when not in battle, soldiers often turned to activities like playing cards and gambling to take their minds off of the trauma of war. The debts they collected were also deducted from their salary come payday. 

    3. Inflation is the general rise in prices over time. Why is this situation so harmful to an economy?
    Although the steady rise of prices may seem harmless over time, it doesn't always coincide with a rise in wages. That is, as goods became more expensive for soldiers to buy, they were not paid more to keep up with the increasing costs. Over time, soldiers' paychecks bought less and less, as did the money they sent back to their families. Without money to spend, the Confederacy's economy began to suffer, endangering the viability of a new nation during war.   

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