Between 1861 and 1864, several areas throughout the Northeast and Midwest experienced a lack of government-issued cents. The military on both sides were confiscating any type of metal that they could for the war effort. In addition, people started hoarding all types of coins from gold to copper. This made is extremely difficult for businesses to conduct business. Specifically, stores were having a hard time providing people with change. This meant that people had to either overpay for an item or just simply not purchase the item.
As a result, many merchants turned to private minters to help fill this massive void in the economy. It is estimated that by 1864, there were approximately 25,000,000 Civil War tokens, each of which were valued at 1 cent. With the lack of a central authority, each area made its own type of cent. This created approximately 7000 to 8000 varieties.
As the war winded down, the government eventually passed a law saying that no individual can mint their own coins. This is the same law that is still in effect today.