ONE OF THE MOST BASIC AND PERSISTENT PROBLEMS IN THE WHOLE war effort was the one of feeding the soldiers. The South, though predominantly agrarian, had poor transportation facilities for distributing farm produce, and as early as the autumn of 1861 the army was threatened with short rations. Prices were inching upward and farmers found it profitable to hold their produce in anticipation of gain. Even when produce was marketed, the government had difficulty buying it at reasonable prices. If the government paid market prices it would have to bid for goods against civilians, and the merchants would have overcharged both exorbitantly. In addition speculators soon became "worse than Hessians" in competing with Confederate purchasing agents. They would buy provisions at slightly more than market price, wait a few days until prices had risen a little, and then sell the goods to the government at market price and with a tidy profit. If government purchasing agents competed with them the army's budget would be disrupted and prices forced to ridiculous levels. Because of these conditions there was a real fear in Congress that part of the army would have to be disbanded for lack of food,1 and a mounting determination to curb producers' and speculators' profiteering.
The result was that even in 1861 military commanders had begun to impress some of their supplies. They would take what they needed, give a note on the Treasury for what they considered a fair price, and thus write off much of the profit the producer would have made. The rules of war recognized the practice, but though the administration gave tacit approval, it was never happy with impressment and tried to keep it at a minimum. Commanders in the field, however, felt that they had no alternative and always relied heavily upon impressment.