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Volume 29, No. 3 – March 2016

Volume 29, No. 3

The President’s Message

You will all notice that this month’s newsletter is drastically smaller.  This is due to the fact that Steve Seftenberg cannot longer carry on the role of Secretary and Editor.  We owe a large debt to Steve, who has done a remarkable job for ten years turning out over 120 issues of Haversacks and Saddlebags.  Thank you Steve for all that you have done.  Robert Schuldenfrei and I cobbled this issue together at the last minute.  While Bob can continue to take a finished newsletter, adjust it for the Internet, and upload to our website, he cannot write this document every month.  If this is to continue, we must have a new editor.

March 9, 2016 Program:

FalciThe Man in the Red Battle Shirt- the Life of General A.P. Hill will be presented by Patrick Falci, actor and performing historian.  He portrayed A.P. Hill in the movie Gettysburg.  Patrick Falci gives a mesmerizing program in his vivid red shirt and with sword in hand will transport you to 1863.  This is one meeting that you do not want to miss.  Patrick was historical advisor for the movies Gettysburg and Gods and Generals that were written and directed by Bob Maxwell.  In addition to the historical research and supplying photographs of the era, Patrick scouted out locations in Maryland for the films.  Patrick took Maxwell on a Stonewall Jackson tour of Civil War battlefields and other historical sites.  Patrick played Rough Rider #2 in producer/actor Tom Berenger’s film of the same name.  He, served as Jeff Shaara’s historical advisor, and provided research and tours of Civil War sites portrayed in his books.  Patrick vetted John Jakes’s manuscripts for On Secret Service and Charleston, at its editor’s request.

February 10, 2016 Program:

Gerridine LaRovere was the speaker for our February meeting.  Her delicious presentation was titled A Taste of the Civil War.  Not only did she talk, but she brought alone some vittles to give us some idea of what the troops ate.  This, however, was more than a “cooking show.”  The topics ranged from civilian diets, to soldier’s rations, to suttlers, to foraging.  Although there was balance between Blue and Gray, since most of the war took place in the South, the talk had a definite southern flavor, if you will forgive the pun.

The Confederacy was an agricultural society, so food should not have been a problem for the Rebs.  However, a combination of things made the Commissary a real disaster.  On top of the list of issues was mismanagement.  This started with the head of the commissary, Lucius B. Northup.  Close behind was the distribution system in the South.  Since they wanted to concentrate food in a centralized system, Richmond became the hub of the program.  With the gradual decay of the rail network getting food from where it was produced, to Richmond, and then to the troops was a real problem.  Northup compounded this by devising a bureaucracy loaded with red tape.


The North ate well, particularly under McClellan.  Not that they were free from scandal, but in general Billy Yank had the advantage of better rations.  Because the railroads were better in the North, food got from where it was produced to where it was consumed in good order.  Hooker gets praises for the system of bakeries he established.  Nothing like freshly baked bread to raise moral.

Culinary arrangements varied in the North, but as a rule it was the Company Plan.  Cooking was done by a permanent or rotating detail, usually by men of poor fighting abilities.  The Mess Concept was used in the field where four to eight men took turns as cook or “dog robber.”  The North issued cooking equipment to the companies.  These were things like kettles and pans.  They were usually made of iron and often nested to ease transportation.

In the South each man was expected to cook his own food.  This meant that the common soldier had to carry a heavy skillet.  Late in the war the men were reduced to a cup and a few sticks to be used as utensils.  In the first few years Southern officers were not given rations, but permitted to buy food from the commissary at cost.  This practice was badly abused and was abandoned.

The foods that they ate were wheat based in the North and corn based in the South.  Pork was used by both sides because it was easy to preserve by smoke or salt.  Although it was easy to process, it did cause problems on the move.  On a hot day a pocket full of pork oozed as the fat melted.  The tinned beef was better for distribution, but the troop did not think much of tin’s contents.  It was called “embalmed beef.”  Fresh foods were often procured.  References were found to fish, oysters, crabs, rabbit, squirrels, possum, and alligator.  Beans were a staple on both sides.  If prepared poorly, they caused gastric distress!

In the South peanuts were a real hit with the troops right on up to Robert E. Lee.  They were called Goober peas, field peas, ground nuts, monkey nuts, and earth nuts.  Fresh fruits and vegetables depended on the locale and the season.  Dried fruits kept well such that apples became common faire.  When the apples became hard to come by vinegar pie was served.  At the end of the evening we all had a chance to sample vinegar pie.  It turned out to be custard-like and quite good.  The North issued “desiccated vegetables.”  It was not a big hit with the men, but kept them reasonable well fed.  In June of 1863 the Southern troops demanded and got sauerkraut from a raid at Chambersburg, PA.  The good folks of that town found it amusing, but it was a known scurvy preventative.

The main stay for both armies was bread.  Both sides established bakeries.  For example, enormous ovens were installed under the west terrace of the Capitol Building in Washington.  16,000 loaves were backed per day.  Men liked soft bread because it made an excellent dish rag to wipe clean his dirty plate.  If soft bread was not available, Hard Tack was used.  Hard for the consistency and tack was an Old English word for food.  It was easy to transport and was supposed to keep for a long time.  However, it was prone to spoilage, weevils, worm castles, mold, and noted to be rancid, damp, and stale.  To make these crackers easier to eat they were often softened in coffee.  A tin of hard tack was passed around at the meeting.  It was, indeed, hard!

Rations were often augmented in a number of ways.  Suttlers followed the armies and set up shop whenever they stopped to camp.  Independent peddlers and farmers pitched in with necessities and luxuries.  Foraging took place both out of necessity and to subdue the enemy on the home front.  Early in the war packages of food from home made its way to the armies in the field.


Last changed: 03/03/16

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