Southern Postmasters Rallied
In the Midst of Chaos
Confederate Postal Service Begins
On June 1, 1861, the Confederate States of America took control of their own postal operations.
As North and South grew closer to war in early 1861, the Federal government continued postal service in the South for a limited time. However, U.S. post offices across the South held substantial stamp inventories and the Federal government feared they would be used or sold for profit. To this end, the U.S. government declared that all existing U.S. stamps would be demonetized (declared invalid) as of June 1, and U.S. postal operations in the South would cease on that day.
As a result, the Confederate Post Office Department was formed in February 1861. John Henninger Reagan was appointed Postmaster General of the Confederate Post Office in March of 1861. Reagan persuaded many of the U.S. Post Office’s most talented bureau heads to follow him to the Confederacy. Several brought their records and account books with them.
Reagan was able to establish a Southern postal service within six weeks, but was hamstrung by shortages of ink, paper, and printing companies with the resources to produce sufficient quantities of postage stamps.
When the June 1, 1861, deadline approached and mail service between the two sides ended, the Confederacy lacked stamps. Some postmasters handstamped the word “PAID” on envelopes, while others in major cities like New Orleans produced provisional stamps to keep the mail moving within their region. But the first government-issued stamps did not become available for twenty weeks.
Express companies suddenly found themselves busy carrying mail between the North and South. The U.S. Post Office Department ordered an end to the practice on August 26, 1861. After that date, mail between the Union and the Confederacy had to be sent by Flag of Truce.
A 5¢ stamp picturing Jefferson Davis was issued on October 16, 1861. It was produced by the Richmond firm Hoyer & Ludwig using stone lithography. In an era before television and the Internet, the 5¢ Jefferson Davis stamp offered some people in the South a first glimpse of the new Confederate president. This also marked the first time a living president appeared on a stamp used in the U.S.
Click here for more Confederate stamps and here for more stamps relating to the Civil War.