Above: Picture of New Orleans before Confederates burned the cotton so the Yankees wouldn’t have it when they occupied the city.
At the time of the Civil War, cotton had become the most valuable crop of the South and comprised 59% of the total exports from the United States. As a result, it played a vital role in the conflict. For southern producers, the war disrupted both the producing and the marketing of what they hoped would be the financial basis of their new nation. As Confederate territory shrank under Union attack, invasion, and occupation, the traditional patterns of cotton cultivation and sales likewise came under assault. Blockading southern ports and encroaching into the major cotton-growing areas, the Union stalled not only the cotton economy but also the foreign relations of the Confederacy. As state after state across the South joined the Confederate States of America, the new nation’s foreign relations relied on what came to be known as cotton diplomacy. Planters and the Confederate leaders believed that cotton shortages would secure full diplomatic recognition and possibly aid from European consumers of their produce. Chief among these was Great Britain, which consumed most of the output of the fiber in the textile mills of the Industrial Revolution. In order to starve the world of cotton, b elieving in the power of King Cotton, the Confederates placed an embargo on cotton exports in the summer of 1861. By the time Davis lifted the embargo, it was too late; the Union navy had blockaded Confederate ports. The blockade, begun in 1861, was never perfect. It did not entirely prevent cotton from leaving the South but it did hobble export activities and made cotton sales risky and unpredictable. British manufacturers sought other supplies. The shortfall in shipments from America stimulated cotton production in India, Egypt, and Brazil, which all increased their production in order to meet British demands. The Union army’s presence in Memphis and New Orleans by 1862 brought the cotton market back to life with cotton being sold across enemy line to factories in the North and in England. This unofficial trade continued throughout the rest of the war. The end of the war brought a long period of time before cotton production in the south recovered from the loss of slaves, the destruction wrought by the war and the new suppliers in India and elsewhere.
Picture of New Orleans before Confederates burned the cotton so the Yankees wouldn’t have it when they occupied the city.