The South (and the North) had a largely agrarian economy. In 1860 about 85% of the population of the United States lived on small farms or rural communities, and excess crops were usually traded or sold locally. In the South, the large amounts of arable land planted in cotton prevented the growth of sufficient food crops to feed the region.
Several Confederate states attempted to discourage the planting of cotton, which large planters were reluctant to discontinue as a cash crop, confident in a coming boom market in Europe. Many wealthy cotton planters believed that the increase in European cotton prices would help fuel European intervention. In frustration Georgia passed quotas for cotton, exceeding of which would be criminal. Still planters stuck to their “proven” cash crop even as the blockade strangled trade.
With not enough food being grown and imports blocked by Union ships, shortages of all foods and medicines were soon evident, and grew worse with each month the war went on. The demand of the Armies in the field added to the woes of the home front.
Southern families sought alternatives for coffee, by 1863 nearly non-existent in the South. Some replaced coffee beans with toasted okra pods, others used the leaves of the chicory plant as a substitute. Items like flour became scarce despite the presence of multiple mills in the south. There was no way to move the grains to the mills, and little grain to begin with.
By 1853 food riots were commonplace in many of the South’s larger cities, including the capital at Richmond, where the Congress and administration witnessed the fruit of their labors. The combination of food shortages and the rampant inflation eroding the strength of the Confederate dollar continued to grow worse until the end of the war, when the southern railroads were completely destroyed, and the means of moving what little food there was became non-existent.