From The Potter Journal (Coudersport, PA), 5/20/1863, p. 1, c. 4
LIFE IN RICHMOND.
PARTICULARS OF THE RECENT BREAD RIOT.
A lady of foreign birth, who has resided in Richmond for several years, has just arrived in Washington. Her statements, which the Republican pronounces perfectly trustworthy, are very interesting. She says there is a decided Union sentiment in the rebel capitol, and this sentiment is spreading in spite of the pressure directed against it. Outward demonstrations are prevented, but there is a large community who know each other, and whose feelings for the Union can not be crushed out.
Provisions are so scarce in Virginia, according to her statements, that the enemy will be compelled to capture some of our stores to sustain themselves. She predicts that as soon as the roads are in good condition rebel raids will be the order of the day. The bread riot of Richmond was a more serious affair than we have been led to suppose by any accounts that have hitherto reached us. Several hundred females, led by a woman of determined character, assembled, and after arming themselves with hatchets, divided themselves into three parties and marched through the three principal streets, which run parallel through the city. While on their way they halted at the principal stores and seized whatever provisions and groceries they could find. Teams passing through the streets were impressed, and the articles were sent, as fast as captured, under the care of persons detailed for that duty, to the quarters inhabited by the poor people and distributed. After passing through these streets the whole body concentrated in a quarter-occupied chiefly by Jew speculators and traders, and proceeded to open the retail establishments and help themselves. The plundering had by this time become rather promiscuous, and various high functionaries were vainly endeavoring to quell the riot.
General Winder interposed without effect. Governor Letcher attempted to harangue the crowd, but they would not listen. Finally Jeff. Davis himself came to the rescue in a barouche, but even the conspirator-in-chief could make no impression for some time. He made several attempts to speak, but his voice was drowned in the cries of the excited mob.
At length the police succeeded in arresting a few of the ring-leaders and locking them up in the central guard-house, after which silence was so far restored that Jeff. Davis was able to make himself heard. He promised them relief, and the Confederate Treasurer appearing at the same time, distributing Confederate scrip to rioters, the excitement abated and the crowd dispersed.
They reassembled subsequently, however, in front of the guardhouse, and demanded the release of those who had been arrested and were to be tried for rioting. General Winder, military governor, sent secret orders for their release, alleging that the Virginia troops would lay down their arms if the excitement among their families at home was not allayed.
Since that time the government has issued to the poor of the city small rations, and the government supplies are failing even at that.
It should have been stated that the women, before commencing their raid, reported to the Governor’s mansion and asked for food. He replied that it was out of his power to afford them any relief, as the government demanded all the provisions it was possible to get for the army.
There was deep mutterings among the people already, and symptoms of uncontrollable disaffection are plainly exhibited. A few are making immense fortunes out of the war, but the many suffer severe privations, which they cannot endure much longer. Some boldly declare, in moments of excitement, that it is in vain to contend longer with the Yankees, for they must be beaten at last. During the bread riot an individual noted for his eccentricities was in the crowd shouting, “It’s of no use! We might as well give it up. We are whipped,” &c.
It was noticed, at the time of this grand emute, that the most potent influence in quelling the mob was the free distribution of money to the people, and it was the general opinion that blood would have flowed freely if this remedy had not been applied.