By Sherry Harris
To understand the Alabama Salt Lists, one must first grasp the significance of Salt as a factor in the Civil War. To do this, the reader must transport himself back in time. Back to the period of the Civil War. Back to a time when life was much simpler and Salt was a definite necessity.
The reader now transported back, will no doubt recognize the importance of Salt for curing meat. There was in that period no refrigeration. In order for meat to remain fresh, it had to be cured with Salt. Farmers wishing to butcher hogs, cattle , etc. were required by the process of curing to have large quantities of Salt available. Without the necessary stores they were unable to butcher the herds or sell their product. Thus, a domino effect was begun. No Salt, no product. No product, no money. No money, no supplies for the families. No supplies, the family became destitute.
Not only was Salt used in the curing of meat, but in many other areas of every day life. Anyone who has been restricted to a Salt -free diet can understand the importance of it as a condiment on food. Enormous numbers of horses, cattle and mules required it to survive. Not only farm animals, but those belonging to the Army of the Confederacy required it in large amounts.
Immense quantities were required to keep hides from spoiling, until time for tanning. All planters were forced into tanning leather for their own use and for that used in the production of soldiers shoes. Women of the South used Salt in the dyeing of their homespun to set the color. Without Salt, there would be no clothing, shoes or leather products.
Planters used Salt as a fertilizing agent, believing that it was important in improving the soil. It was considered useful in sandy pine areas and for killing the roots of certain weeds. The fertilization of the cotton plant with Salt from the ocean was said to explain it’s superiority.
During the period preceding the Civil War, most of the Confederate Salt came from Europe. There were a few Salt springs and wells, but they were found to be, in many instances, of inferior quality. At that time, there were three majors methods of producing Salt: extracting it from Salt wells, boiling down Salt from the sea, and mining it from rock Salt. After the War broke out, the North began a blockade of Southern waters. This blockade caused a shortage of many things, including Salt.
Realizing their position, the Confederacy reverted to pioneer methods to get the precious commodity. Many states began an in-depth search for Salt Wells or springs. Ordinary citizens were rewarded for finding them. Some examples of outstanding Salt Wells, were found in the following places: Clarke County, Al.; Washington and Mobile Counties, Al.; North Louisiana and Saltville, Va. in Smyth and Washington Counties.
Needless to say, that when something such as Salt is in great demand, a long with the demand goes greed and corruption. It was no different for Salt. As the demand increased, so did the price per barrel. Those in control of the Salt works realized the profits they could make and charged accordingly. States forced in many instances to pay exorbitant prices retaliated by invoking large taxes. Some states passed laws forbidding Salt to be removed from their State.
In order to consider Salt for the Confederacy, the question of exemption from the military had to be considered for those engaged in its manufacturing. The Confederate Secretary of War, in the summer and fall of 1862, extended the scope of exemption to include those men detailed to the salt works and government contractors. Therefore, Salt-making as a government contractor became very popular as an occupation. Some religious groups, such as Quakers, were given the opportunity to pay a $100 tax or work In the Salt mines instead of serving in the military.
It goes without saying, that the United States Government was not blind to the plight of the Confederacy and it’s need for Salt. From the very beginning of the War, the Federal Government made the capture of Salt Wells, and mines a priority. They were determined to force the Confederacy into submission any way they could. One after another, Salt works were captured and equipment destroyed. Mining on Avery Island in Louisiana ended abruptly in 1863 when Union forces destroyed the Salt works. A major blow to the Confederacy was the capture of the works at Saltville, Va. in the beginning of 1865.
The Salt Wells on the State Reservation of Alabama in Clarke County, together with the privately owned wells in Washington and Mobile counties, supplied the Interior of the State with Salt from 1862 through the end of the War. Three localities in Clarke Co., in the southwestern part of the state became differentiated as the Lower Works (North of Oven Bluff), The Central Works (near Salt Mountain) and the Upper Salt Works (range one of township seven). The state reservations were at the Upper and Lower Works. There were many smaller works throughout Clarke, Washington and Mobile counties, where salt was made for domestic use and for sale. The Salt-making months were limited to April to December because of the flooding of the salt land by the Tombigbee River.
The governors had no power to exempt from confederate service, but they could recommend for exemption. Alabama suspected the Governor of abusing his privilege and called upon him to show how much salt had been received from persons exempted. He was unable to answer their request. Figures quote the number exempted as 1,223 for the State of Alabama.
One of the early acts of the Alabama Legislature in 1861 was a law allowing the Governor to seize for public use all salt stored or held for high prices, and making it illegal to hide it. In Alabama, a distinction was made between Salt from Lessees and that made at the state salt works. “County Commissioners” was stamped on the bags for the lessees, while “Alabama” went on the bags from the state works. The lessees were required by law to turn over two-fifths of all salt to the state as rental for the land. This salt was then distributed to the counties.
Within the Counties, the salt was dispersed through the courts of county commissioners. In July 1862, as an emergency measure, salt was secured from a stock which the state purchased at high prices and sold for ten cents a pound at Selma. The first lessee shipment was made in Sept. 1862, the price set at $1.25 a bushel and raised to $2.25 by the end of the month. This first shipment was designed for Indigent families of volunteers.
The first statewide shipment occurred in Jan 1863 and the price was set at $2.50 per bushel of fifty pounds. No one was allowed to purchase more than twenty-five pounds per capita, for private use only, until all the people had been supplied with the initial allotment.
With the above information, you the reader will have a better understanding of why these Salt Lists were created and the history behind them. With the knowledge you’ve gained, you’ll have a better understanding of your ancestors everyday life in the Confederacy during the chaotic Civil War years. Particularly those ancestors from Alabama.
Notes about the 1862 Alabama Salt List
As the first official dispersal of Salt occurred on July 1862 to indigent families, it is unknown the exact purpose of this early list. One must assume that it too was probably an emergency dispersal, perhaps also composed of indigent families.
Along with the list of names, the researcher will be provided with certain vital statistics for the listed Individuals when known. The additional information provided is the following:
State Applicant was born in
Age in 1860
Occupation in 1860
County of Residence in 1860
1860 Census page #
The lists of names and counties of application have been extracted from the original Salt Vouchers in the Alabama Salt Commission Collection ALAV90-A233, Alabama Department of Archives and History, Montgomery, Alabama.
This 1862 roll only includes the counties of: Autauga, Butler, Choctaw, Conecuh, Coosa, Monroe, Montgomery, Tallapoosa