What were pertinent factors that determined the war? History may suprise
|We all have images of what the Civil War was like. They are grand images: forces coming over the hill with dramatic bravery. Strategy. Bravery. The Civil War had the largest artillery battle ever fought in North America.
When it comes to logistics, the Civil War was a bad dream on a plate. America went from having a force of 13,000 to having 100’s of thousands in the field. There is a little known secret. America went to war and predominantly, no one could cook.
Cooking was woman’s work. I know that sounds so sexist in today’s standards, but get a grip on reality. This was America in 1860. Men never cooked. Many families, even of modest means, had servants and they cooked. When America went to war both sides thought that they’d be gone for just a few months and put down these upstarts. Nobody was thinking cooking lessons. They wanted to join up quick and be part of the glory. Certainly no one was thinking anything like lessons or a cookbook. Most of Americans who took up arms couldn’t wield a cooking spoon.
Imagine a group of men in the field surrounding a big piece of salt port wondering “Is it done yet.”
I don’t know. Stick a stick in it
What good will that do?
If it goes in easy, it’s done.
The brain trust thought it was a good idea and boiling the mean for 3 hours was the result. Some of the braver ones would borrow cookbooks from local housewives. You never saw a scene like that in a John Wayne movie.
Well, the army did try. They sent around a few experienced cooks to teach others. They put out manuals (cookbooks). Army officialdom would say that never was an army so well provided for. You have expressions that have come down from that time. Cleanliness is next to Godliness. We’ll talk more about that one a little later. Beans badly boiled kill more than bullets.
When it comes to cleanliness, let’s look at reality. Bread and meat were chopped on the same cutting board, without even a hit that it should be washed. All the men were infested with lice. The only thing remotely big enough for cleaning uniforms were kitchen pots. There were no refrigerators. Desiccated vegetables were well known. They would have to be cooked for 2 hours. Most of the combatants wouldn’t eat them. Salt pork would have to be rinsed overnight in a stream to make it palatable, barely. It would take 24 to 25 times longer to cook salted meat than fresh meat
Then there was their daily bread. There were no large bakeries in the Civil war. No body had figured out how to preserve freshness. There was also the wide spread supposition that fresh bread was bad for you. You’d have to let it get stale before you could eat it. Besides, it shipped better stale. It didn’t collapse when you stacked up all those loaves. There was fraud in the bread making business. The loaves would be made smaller so that the extra doe could be used for prisoner’s bread and charged 25 cents a loaf.
Most of the men ate hardtack. The men had a love-hate relationship with hardtack. Years later, veterans would have hardtack in their box of memorabilia. It went by colorful names like toothdullers and sheet iron crackers. They were pretty much impervious to soaking them in coffee to soften them up. Soaking them did make them a little more elastic. They came in fifty pound boxes. Having them infested with worms was not unusual. One sergeant worrying about the hardtack in their emplacement had is men tell him that we tried to throw it out, but it kept crawling back. An artillery company used them for paving. When supplies for southerners came into short supply, some used it in their guns as lethal projectiles.
So what did the diet of a soldier look like? There were ten basic entrees including a lot of salt port. In a 3 year stint in the military they would eat the same thing 9 times a month or 328 times during their enlistment. One of the things they talked about the most was bad food. Bad health and poor officers were the only thing more talked about.
There were other ways to get what they wanted or needed. 19/20 disposable income went to buy extra food from traders. Prices were enormously inflated.
They also received things from home. All of these packages had to be inspected by the office of the provost marshal. Whole turkeys came by mail and it was not unknown to have liquor stashed in the turkey. Imagine all these nice compact packages after they’ve been inspected. Everything wouldn’t necessarily fit back in the box. Some boxes came completely empty. Where did the confiscated liquor go? Everyone was pretty sure what headquarter was doing with it.
Another source for food would be a decree of congress. All property of the rebellion was contraband and forfeit. You had a lot of Union soldiers would say that they knocked the sheep in the head, because it wouldn’t say the oath of allegiance
The South had more intense problems feeding the troops as the war went on. There was food. There were logistical problems of getting the food to the men. The number one reason for the south loosing the civil war is that they ran out of men. By the end of the war, the south had called up 100% of eligible men.
Cornmeal was so poorly ground, that bits of the hull would cut and inflame the intestines. They were fed scraps of bacon and spoiled cornmeal. One soldier counted 365 worms and 14 insects before he quit counting. He want to eat some part of his meal. Of course union prisoners had severy problems with malnutrition and starvation. They could have some 200 more servings than they had prisoners. Deaths were not recorded, so when the role was called at suppertime, someone answered here, they fed them.
There were other nonconventional ways to eat at prison camps. Fried rats taste just like chicken. A commandants pet dog and chicken would mysteriously disappear. Traders would have windows in the fence. We look at pictures like Andersonville and think that this should not have happened. But here is the reality. Union forces in prison ate about as well as Southerners in the field.
The Southern forces ate so much corn the last days of the war that wags in the field were calling their army, the cornfederacy. For 2 months they ate no meat excepts for fish and alligators or a calf that was secreted from the field. Coffee was made of chickery, burnt corn, peas potatoes and peanuts. Salt peder, a preservative for food had to be made of human urine collected in cities. Often the only thing to eat was a couple of ears of corn—small ones at that. A few hornses, dogs cats and mules met their demise, not to mention a few rats.. Boots were boiled.
There were the more imaginative. Confederate currency was going for about 500 confederate dollars for one dollar of gold. Try this recipe. Equal portions of confederate currency and ground bran, using bacon rinds as a binder and flavoring. It was written, if confererate notes will pass in no other way, they certainly will in this. The final meal of the confederacy was two ears of corn and a bit of sorgum, served by a black man
What does this all mean? It gives us a totally new look on something we thought we knew. More people died in the Civil War than in all the subsequent wars of American history. 700,000 died in the civil war. 200,000 died of bullets. 100,000 died of diarrhea. Certainly a lot of those had typhoid fever, but certainly nutrition played a huge part
In short, the Civil War was a disaster on a plate. Said one Union surgeon, “Death by Frying pan was not unknown. It may not be the history we think we know, but it is exactly what happened