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The Confederate Postal System

photo of John H. Reagan
John H. Reagan

The Confederate States of America (CSA) formed their own Post Office Department on February 21, 1861. John H. Reagan was named as the service's postmaster general. In all Reagan placed 8,535 of the nation's 28,586 post offices under Confederate control and sought assistance from southern-sympathizers in the U.S. Post Office Department. Reagan tried to bring not just employees from the Federal system into his, but also all that they could bring in the way of maps, reports, forms and plans that would build and strengthen the new service.

At first all postal business was conducted with U.S. money and postage stamps. The first confederate stamps were not available until October 1861. Most printers capable of doing the work were in the northern states. Until Confederate stamps became available, some local postmasters created and sold their own provisional stamps or marked mail "paid" by hand.

green 5c 1861 Confederate stamp featuring the image of Jefferson Davis
1861 Confederate stamp featuring the image of Jefferson Davis

The first Confederate stamps were printed by the Richmond, Virginia Lithography firm, Hoyer & Ludwig, which had no background in stamp printing. The first official issue was a 5 cent green stamp bearing the portrait of CSA President Jefferson Davis, making him the first living President to appear on a postage stamp. Because of the low quality of their stamps, Hoyer & Ludwig lost the contract. The internationally-known London, England printing firm of Thomas De La Rue & Co., prepared plates and stamps to the CSA until a southern firm was found to take over the work. That firm, Archer & Daly, began producing stamps in 1863.

Old stocks of U.S. stamped envelopes and ordinary envelopes were imprinted to indicate that the enclosed correspondence was official business of the Confederate Post Office Department. Such mail required no postage when properly endorsed. Other Confederate government departments, minor offices and bureaus, army headquarters, military divisions, and individual states used imprinted envelopes for official correspondence, but were required to pay postage.

As Union troops regained southern territories, federal mail service began to be restored. By the end of 1865, almost 500 routes had been restored. By November 1, 1866, almost half of the post offices in the south had been returned to federal service.

John Reagan traveling with Jefferson Davis, was arrested on May 8, 1865, and imprisoned at Ft. Warren in Boston Harbor. Reagan was pardoned and released from prison almost two years later. He returned to his home state of Texas. He eventually made it back to Congress, where he became chairman of the Committee on Post Offices and Post Roads.

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This exhibit, once part of Binding the Nation, is no longer on display in the museum. It is still available online.