The states that seceded from the United States in 1861—South Carolina, Mississippi, Florida, Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas—formed the Confederate States of America, also referred to as the ‘C.S.A’ or the ‘Confederacy’. The creation of the Confederacy, which existed between 1861 and 1865, precipitated the American Civil War. Its territory consisted of most of the southeastern section of today's United States. Due to claims from the U.S., there was never a definitive delineation of the Confederate States' northern boundary; Mexico was its southern land boundary. It was otherwise bounded by the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. The vast majority of combat occurred in Confederate territory, but the Army of Northern Virginia, under General Robert E. Lee, made limited forays onto Union soil.
On February 4, 1861, representatives from the seven states that had seceded from the United States met in Montgomery, Alabama, to form the new republic. On February 8, the convention announced the establishment of the Confederate States of America and declared itself the provisional Congress. The following day, the Congress unanimously chose Jefferson Davis and Alexander Stephens, two moderate politicians, as provisional president and vice president. The task at hand: convince the remaining eight slave states to join the Confederacy. A committee spent the next five weeks composing a constitution, which was approved on March 11. The document closely followed the U.S. Constitution, including its Bill of Rights. There were, however, a few notable differences. The constitution omitted language about ‘the general welfare’, and while the right to own slaves was explicitly guaranteed, foreign slave trade was forbidden.
The president, who was to serve a single six-year term, held line-item veto power over the budget, and his cabinet held non-voting seats in Congress. To guarantee Southerners their prized states' rights, the government had no authority to levy protective tariffs, make internal improvements, or overrule state court decisions. The states had the right to sustain their own armies and enter into separate agreements with one another. They also had greater power in amending the constitution. Although there was a provision for a federal Supreme Court, Confederate legislators never agreed on its configuration or even the wisdom of its establishment, and thus the Confederacy lacked a high court throughout its existence. The provisional Congress sent three envoys to Washington to try to negotiate a final, peaceful split from the United States, but, at the same time, it shrewdly prepared for combat by establishing an army.
Hopes for a nonviolent settlement died after the Confederacy’s April 12, 1861, attack on Fort Sumter, which expelled Union troops. Four more southern states—Virginia, North Carolina, Arkansas, and Tennessee—joined the Confederacy once the war began. Missouri and Kentucky formed secessionist governments, though they officially stayed in the Union. The western counties of Virginia rejoined the Union. The Confederacy's capitol was moved from Montgomery to Richmond, Virginia, the following month, and regular presidential and congressional elections were held in November. Though negotiations took place, no foreign power ever recognized the Confederacy.
Richmond fell to Union forces on April 2, 1865, and the Confederate government collapsed. On April 9, 1865, Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to Union General Ulysses S. Grant, thereby ending the Confederacy. Although most counseled against it, Davis intended to reestablish a seat of government west of the Mississippi River and continue the struggle, but his capture outside Irwinville, Georgia, on May 10 squelched his plan. The Confederacy, established little more than four years earlier, ceased to exist. The Confederate States reunited with the Union.
Union navy blockades isolated the Confederacy from world markets, creating shortages of almost every kind of commodity. Southerners could barely find a piece of unused paper by the time the war ended. As a result, every available scrap with sufficient writing space was pressed into service, creating a collecting category called 'adversity covers'. Turned covers were one of the first signs of the growing paper shortage. Envelopes from previous correspondence were carefully turned inside out, regummed, and used again. Sometimes a single envelope was reused three or four times before the sheer weakness of its folds forced its retirement. The previous stamp was either removed or covered with a new one. People stripped books of their flyleaves and title pages for letter paper and material for homemade envelopes. Tax receipts, wrapping paper, election ballots, bank checks, insurance blanks, military requisitions, religious tracts, accounting forms, and music sheets were just some of the alternative sources.
In April of 1861, the U.S. Navy formed a blockade of Confederate ports, which lasted the duration of the war. This blockade effectively strangled the Confederacy, and was largely responsible for the Union's victory over the seceded states. Blockade running became an enormous naval industry. The principal transfer points were Nassau and Bermuda in the West Indies. The captain's fee was a minimal two cents, a pittance considering the risk involved. His profit, of course, was derived not from the mails, but from the high-priced goods he smuggled from abroad.
When the onset of the American Civil War ended postal service between the North and South, express companies such as Southern Express Company carried mail, primarily civilian business mail, across the lines. The U.S. Post Office Department ordered an end to such traffic, effective August 26, 1861. Thereafter, mail had to be sent by Flag-of-Truce. The U.S. imposed special regulations to control, inhibit, and delay civilian through-the-lines mail and letters to prisoners on the other side. The same inner and outer envelope requirements were mandated that applied to prisoner mail. Mail could only cross the lines at specified exchange points. Mail going from the North to the South passed primarily at City Point, Virginia; mail going from the South to the North passed primarily at Fortress Monroe, Virginia.
When postal service between the North and South ended at the onset of the Civil War, express companies carried mail across the lines. This continued for nearly two months before the U.S. Post Office Department ordered an end to such traffic, effective August 26, 1861. Thereafter, mail had to be sent by Flag-of-Truce, although express companies continued to do some illegal business. To send a piece of correspondence by express carrier, a sealed and addressed letter with fifteen cents to twenty-five cents was enclosed in a second envelope. This package was sent to the nearest express office for forwarding. Part of this amount paid for the postage, and the balance was the company's fee. The major express companies were Adams Express, American Letter Express, and Whiteside's Express.
Until the Confederate government provided adhesive stamps, some postmasters created their own adhesives. Some postmasters reverted to the pre-stamp period practice of stamping the word "Paid" with the appropriate rate on the envelope, a procedure made obsolete by the first issuance of stamps in 1847. Postmasters either crafted new handstamps, resurrected old pre-adhesive U.S. handstamps which rates corresponded to the new five- and ten-cent Confederate rates, or altered pre-war “Paid 3” handstamps to the new, higher Confederate rates.
Although the first Confederate stamp was issued on October 16, 1861, the era of Confederate collecting began almost a year before when, on December 20, 1860, South Carolina became the first of 13 Southern states to secede from the Union. Covers bearing clear dates of usage between the day a state seceded and the date of its admission to the Confederacy are termed Independent State Usage.
The J.W. Hincks family of New Orleans was relatively well-off at the outbreak of the Civil War. Two of their children were Confederate soldiers. Henry Anatole is listed as Sgt. A. Hincks, Louisiana Militia, Orleans Guards Regiment, Co. D. Joseph A. Hincks is listed as J.A. Hincks, South Carolina Artillery, Manigault’s Battalion, Co. D. Joseph Hincks enlisted May 7, 1864, and was detailed to Maj. Gen. Jones at headquarters as a 1st Class clerk. In that capacity Hincks was able to censor his own outbound Flag of Truce mail as well as take advantage of his contacts at the Federal command post at Hilton Head. His knowledge of the constantly changing military developments along the Atlantic coast allowed him to alter his mailing methods, thus ensuring that substantial numbers of his letters to family members in New Orleans reached their destination.
Though the Confederacy terminated franking privileges on March 15, 1861, provision was made for the postmaster general and various other Post Office Department officials to send official mail free-of-charge when endorsed “Official Business” over their signatures. In most cases, printed envelopes prepared especially for this purpose were used, and they are referred to as 'Officials'. When used for private correspondence, regular postage was due.
There were two different groups of official envelopes. The primary group was for the Post Office Department in Richmond, Virginia, and the other for the Trans-Mississippi agency in Marshall, Texas. Used but unsigned imprinted official envelopes generally were hand-carried or bore Confederate stamps to pay the postage.
During the Civil War, partisans clearly displayed their emotions on the colorful covers known as 'patriotics'—envelopes decorated with flags, portraits, slogans, cartoons, and battle scenes. The custom originated in the North, where printers found that envelopes boasting these picturesque designs were immensely popular.
The South lacked the North's industrialized advantages and was short of supplies, so Confederate patriotics are very rare and highly valued. The most common designs were flags with stars representing the number of states in the Confederacy at the time. Specific designs can be rare, such as the 9-star flag design, but most flag designs are more common than other types of designs. Many covers included slogans and verses as well.
Many departments of the Confederate government used envelopes imprinted with the names of their bureaus or branches, often with the words 'Official Business'. Although these words were commonly a part of the imprint, these envelopes were not official in any way, nor did they enjoy the free franking privilege. Prepayment of postage was required. Imprinted envelopes are found from the state and local governments, as well as the Confederate government and the military.
Soldiers' covers are full of human interest. Early in the war, a resolution was passed allowing soldiers to send their letters "due" since it was difficult to obtain stamps in the field. The recipient paid the postage at the receiving end. Soldiers were required to identify such covers with their name, rank, and company, which delights today's collector-researcher. Often these soldiers' covers had traveled to and from historic military addresses in care of now-famous generals.
In April of 1861, the U.S. Navy formed a blockade of Confederate ports that lasted the duration of the war. When Union forces gained control of the Mississippi River, the western Confederacy was separated from its sisters in the east. The conveyance of mail between the divided territories became an extremely dangerous proposition. Trans-Mississippi blockade-run covers are often water stained because of the perilous journey they endured. Most often, they were carried across the river in half-sunken boats in the dead of night. The forty-cent rate such delivery commanded emphasizes the hazards involved for the mail carrier.
Covers bearing clear dates of usage and postmarked after the date of a state’s admission into the Confederacy through May 31, 1861, are referred to as 'Confederate State Usage of U.S. Stamps'. Until June 1, 1861, the postal system in the seceded states remained under the nominal control of the United States Post Office Department. Surprisingly, the mails between the North and the South went through with few interruptions during this transitional period, although there was much confusion within the postal system itself.