The ability to issue money is one of the major acts to legitimize any nation. For the short-lived Confederate States of America, a fully operating mint had already been in operation since 1838.
January 26, 1861 Louisiana’s secession from the United States was proclaimed. Soon a Secession Convention was held in New Orleans. One official act allowed employees of the US federal government to remain, however they were to be Louisiana State employees. On March 31, 1861, the New Orleans mint resumed operation, this time, under the auspices of the Confederate States.
When the Civil War broke out in 1861, the Confederacy began to issue its own money. The first paper currency was issued in April of that year. The currency was printed in Richmond, Virginia; Columbia, South Carolina, and New Orleans. The denominations of the bills ranged from one up to 1,000 dollars. The paper notes were issued for three years with some 70 different types issued until 1864.
The paper currency was easily counterfeited so it quickly became a way for the north to sabotage the southern economy. Also, as the war progressed, the currency suffered under extreme inflation and the CSA dollar underwent frequent depreciation.
Meantime, the CSA struck coins at the captured federal mint at New Orleans. Relatively few coins were struck while the mint was in Confederate hands, due to the shortage of precious metals in the CSA. Most of the silver and gold bullion was sent to Europe to pay for war materiel.
The few coins that were minted included the penny that had exclusive CSA design. Only a few were struck. Fewer than 20 individual CSA pennies are said to exist today. Fearing prosecution for aiding the enemy, the designer hid the dies and the coins in his basement.
Late in April of 1861, employees of the mint struck four CSA half dollars by hand press. The obverse (front) of the coins retained the United States design of the seated Liberty. The reverse featured the CSA shield and engraved with the words, “Confederate States of America Half Dol.” Two of the half dollars were hidden, so they have survived to today. They are reputed to be worth $1,000,000 dollars apiece, today.
To make up for the lack of dedicated CSA coins, the Confederacy produced United States of America coins from the captured US mints in Dahlonega, Georgia; Charlotte, North Carolina; and New Orleans. Numismatic sources say that the CSA used the mint at New Orleans to strike only about $500,000 worth of silver and gold USA coins.
Even though the Confederate mints had no more precious metals, they effectively ceased operation. Legislation was offered in the Confederate Congress to strike copper coins in denominations of one, five, and twenty five cents. Both houses deferred. After October 1862, there was no further action to produce token coins. In order to allow commerce, the Confederate Congress legalized United States silver coins up to ten-dollars denomination. They also allowed French Napoleons, English Sovereigns, along with Mexican and Spanish doubloons.
Even though CSA minting operations were discontinued in April of 1861, the New Orleans staff remained on site until May 31st. Beginning in June of 1861 the New Orleans mint was used to quarter Confederate soldiers. One year later, the US Marines raised the United States flag once again at the mint.
The mint didn’t open again until 1876, then only as an assay office. It resumed operation as a full mint in 1879 and produced mainly silver coins until 1909 when it was closed.