Shortages During The Civil War

Salt Making Operation

Salt Making Operation - The Museum of Florida History

Shortages, Substitutes, and Salt: Food during the Civil War in North Carolina written By Thomas Vincent

Colonel Frank Parker was hungry. Parker, the leader of the Thirtieth Regiment North Carolina Troops during the Civil War, wrote to his wife in Weldon in January 1862 that “I shall await the arrival of your potatoes, sausage & c. with patience and shall welcome them with open mouths and good appetites.” Soldiers who fought in the war often did not get enough food. When they did receive food, it often was not very good. They sometimes ate the same thing day after day. The soldiers looked forward to packages from home, but often their families did not have enough to eat themselves.

North Carolinians suffered many hardships during the Civil War. About 125,000 men from the state served in the Confederate army, and others served in the Union army. The war lasted from 1861 to 1865, and soldiers were away from home for months and sometimes years. Since many of the men who joined the army were farmers, the wives and children they left behind had to do the farmwork. That meant less food to eat. People did without some things we consider common, or they found substitutes. An April 1863 article in a Greensboro newspaper, for example, explained that okra seeds could replace coffee beans, if “carefully parched and the coffee made in the usual way, when we found it almost exactly like coffee in color, very pleasantly tasted and entirely agreeable.” Mary Grierson, of Cabarrus County, in her memoir How We Lived during the Confederate War, listed wheat, rye, and sweet potatoes as substitutes for coffee. She also wrote that molasses cane “was crushed with wooden rollers by horse power and the juice boiled in wash pots . . . [and] . . . was used instead of sugar—we called it ‘long sweetening.’”

In the early days of the Civil War, people sent food and clothing to their family members in the army. As the war went on, and the men were away for longer periods, there was less to send. The Union navy blockaded Southern ports to stop ships from bringing in supplies. Agents from the Confederate government requisitioned food and livestock, taking them for the army to use. Union troops came through some areas of North Carolina and stole food and animals.

In early 1863 Mary Williams and fifty-nine other desperate women from the western part of the state asked Governor Zebulon Vance not to draft any more men from their farms into military service. The women noted that without the men they could not plant as many crops. The farmwives wrote, “Famine is staring us in the face. There is nothing so heart rending to a Mother as to have her children crying round her for bread and she have none to give them.” County sheriffs and local governments tried to provide food for soldiers’ families, but many people still went hungry. Sometimes they tried drastic measures to get food.

In the town of Salisbury in March 1863, a group of fifty to seventy-five women armed with axes and hatchets descended on the railroad depot and several stores looking for flour. The women thought that the railroad agent and the storekeepers were hoarding flour, hiding it to sell later at a higher price. When faced with the angry mob, the storekeepers gave “presents” of flour, molasses, and salt to the women. According to the newspaper Carolina Watchman, the agent at the railroad depot insisted he had no flour. The women broke into the depot, took ten barrels of flour, and left the agent “sitting on a log blowing like a March wind.”

Shortages in the western county of Madison had a more tragic result. A group of Union sympathizers from Shelton Laurel raided the town of Madison for supplies. In retaliation for the looting and for attacks on Confederate soldiers, Brigadier General Henry Heth dispatched Confederate troops to the area to stop the Unionists’ raids. Lieutenant Colonel James A. Keith rounded up thirteen suspected Union sympathizers and had his men shoot them. One victim, David Shelton, was thirteen years old.

One of the things that the Unionists had hoped to get in their raid was salt. Salt was very important because people used it to preserve meat. There was no readily available substitute. By early 1863, a Raleigh newspaper reported that the price of salt had risen from twelve dollars to one hundred dollars for a two-bushel sack. Citizens depended on small private saltworks and on government-run saltworks in Saltville, Virginia, and along the coast of North Carolina. Union troops captured saltworks at Morehead City and on Currituck Sound in 1862. Throughout the war, saltworks near Wilmington produced much of the state’s supply. Workers pumped saltwater into shallow ponds, where some of the water evaporated. They then boiled the remaining water in large pans until only salt remained.

In August 1863 the Wilmington saltworks made five thousand bushels of salt. David G. Worth, the state’s salt commissioner, wrote the next month to Governor Vance that production was below normal because many of the workers were sick with a “malignant fever” and because of other struggles, including getting firewood.

Many people employed at the Wilmington saltworks worked there because they objected to serving in the army for religious or personal reasons. That worried Major General William Whiting, the Confederate commander of the area. He thought the war objectors would act as spies or send signals to Union ships off the coast. Whiting also wanted more workers for building forts to protect the city. At one point, his fears led him to seize all of the horses, workers, and boats belonging to the saltworks. The governor wrote, “This is a great calamity to our people, to stop the making of 350 bushels of Salt per day right in the midst of the pork packing season . . . [the salt works] is almost as important to the State, as the safety of the city, as our people cannot live without the Salt.” In spite of the need for the saltworks, Whiting closed it for good in late 1864 and made the workers labor on a fort. The Union army and navy were threatening to attack Wilmington. The city was very important for the Confederates. It was the last open port where ships could bring in supplies.

After the Confederates surrendered in April 1865, North Carolinians could return to their farms and import some things they needed from outside the state. Life was very different when the war ended. Formerly enslaved people became free to work for themselves. More than forty thousand of the state’s men had been killed, and many others had been wounded. A lot of property had been destroyed. It took time, but eventually North Carolinians were able to grow and buy food again, perhaps appreciating it more after suffering wartime shortages.

At the time of this article’s publication, Thomas Vincent was an assistant correspondence archivist at the State Archives, part of the North Carolina Office of Archives and History. He holds a master’s degree in public history.



*Source: Used with permission from Tar Heel Junior Historian 46: 2 (Spring 2007): 14–16, copyright North Carolina Museum of History.

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Civil War Data Told By Mrs. Lillie Scroggs Brasstown December 6 1926


Brasstown - Scroggs Store 1926 - Photo from WCU Digital Collection

From the JCCFS Archives - Fred O. Scroggs

Misc. Data. 
Told by Mrs. Lillie Scroggs, Brasstown, N.C. Dec. 6, 1926

"Josh Harshaw kept his slave negroes quartered in two houses that stood where Goldie Crisp's small barn is now (1926). These houses were right on the old Clay and Cherokee Co. line, --just barely in Clay County. Most of his negroes scattered off after the war."

"Aunt Celia Harshaw, one of his slaves, moved to Macon Co. after the war, where she died in a short time. Before she died she requested that her children be given to Mrs. Jane Strange and Mrs. Myra Dickey. They were sent back to Brasstown. Mrs. Strange raised one till grown. Mrs. Dickey raised the others.

"Wm. J. A. Strange was born in '39. When he was a good size boy, Marsh Harshaw, (one of Harshaw's slave negros, now living at Hayesville, N.C. 1926) carried him on his back across Hiawassee River."

"Wm. J.A. Strange's father, Nelson, died when he (W.) was very young. Wm. J.A. entered the Civil War before he was eighteen years old. He joined at Murphy and went to Asheville. He was under Gen. Frances. He was in the Infantry, and was a comrade of Bob Furman and a man by the name of Russell, both of Asheville. Remember hearing him say he fought in Mississippi."

"He was wounded one time and they gave him a furlow. There was to be a battle the next day and he waited and helped fight the battle then came home. He had a black yoke of cattle and a large mare. While he was at home the Yankees came through. They took his mare, killed and eat his steers, stoled his corn, and would have got his other horses but Bent Mason or somebody hid them. Negro Mose, one of the slave negroes, hid the steers but they found them."

"They went on up to the Harshaws. He had 40 head of hogs and lots of everything. They took his hogs, corn, cattle, etc. Then he had a lot of syrup. They took it and poured it in his feather ticks and stired it up with the feathers."

"These Yankees rounded up all the men in the settlement. Lined them up in the lot above where the store and mill is now. Every one that had a soldier's uniform on, or anything about them to show they had been in the army, they took them along as prisoners. I think this was the time they got Bill Waldroup and others here. W. J.A. had left his uniform at Ben Masons. Had on private citizens clothes, so they left him. He went right straight to Bent Masons and got his uniform and went back to the army. After the war was over he came home and married Jane Green."

Fred O. 1926



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WM. Waldroup Civil War Vet 11/23/26

Rock Island Prison in Illinois

Rock Island Prison - Photo from the Kentucky Historical Society

From the JCCFS Archives - Interview conducted by Fred O. Scroggs in 1926. 


Talk With Wm. Waldroup. Civil War Vet: 11/23/26

*Served under Gen. Polk and Capt. Irish Bill Moore. Was with army fighting around Chattanooga. Got cut off from army and came home with others to Brasstown. Yankees came in and captured him together with several others. Took them to Rock Island Prison in Illinois, where he remained eighteen months, or until the close of the war.

“How did they get you to prison? On the train?

“No! Drove us! We marched all the way. My heels was skinned all over where they rode the horses against us a-trying to rush us on.”

“Where was Rock Island Prison?”

“Right across the river from the prison was Davenport, Iowa, a dirty looking, smoky town.

“How long did you stay in prison?”

“Eighteen months, and come out as pore as a black snake. We had a awful hard time. I worked all day for a small piece of tobacco lots of times. I believe I would a starved but I made rings and shell birds to sell. My mother sent me some files and I filed out birds out of mussel shells. One day the Colonel come in. Everybody wanted to sell him something. I followed him to the gate and asked him to buy some shell birds to take home and show what a rebel could do. He looked at them and paid me two dollars for two of them.”

“On our way to the prison we camped one night at Tillico Plains. That was the night John Mitchell Davidson was killed, and I want you to know I kept quiet. Thought my time might come next. Twelve men shot him. I seen it.”

“Did they have a trial?”

“They had some kind of trial. It was a sham thing. They was going to kill coot Ray too. He was a gorilla. He suspicioned something and come to me, and asked me to walk to the guard line with him. When we got there he broke to run, busted the river open and got away.”

“We had a awful time in the prison. They eat every dog they could get hold of. I seen’em eat rats. I never eat any, though. They would set at a rat hole for hours with a gig ready to kill them when they came out. And when they would kill one, they stewed him right then. If I got too hungry I would trade one of my shell birds to a prisoner for a nickel and get me a loaf of bread. There was four hundred had bone scurvey at one time. And they died by the hundreds.”

"One day I had grubbed up stumps all day and they failed to give me my tobacco. I decided I wouldn't work any more if they didn't give me my tobacco. So the next day, when they ordered us out, I wouldn't come. They shot at me and I run into the wash room and jumped into a vat of water and was there throwing water up over my head. Just fighting the water. They run in and asked where I went and a man told them I went through a back door. Then I went and crawled in my bunk. I just wouldn't work without they give me my tobacco."

"We dug us a tunnel under the fence one night with a old ash pan. They was 8 of us going to leave next day after they went to work, but the others got too fast and all went out at break of day, and got caught."

"Why didn't you go with them?"

"They got too fast. I heard shooting at day-light and knowed they had played the dickens. They cought one on the island, and the other six swum the river and went to a farm. They asked the farmer if he would hide them. He said "Yes." He told them to go in the smoke house, and then he locked the door and reported it to Rock Island. Then they come and got'em and crapt their coat tails off and pot balls and chains on 'em."

"The way they had of punishing us, they would tie a fellow's thumbs up to something just as high as he could reach and let him stand for two hours. I'd ruther a bin shot any time. I've seen 'em faint an' fall down an' jist hang there."

"You know, we all got weak. They never give us nothing to eat but great, big, old soup bones with a little water with them, and salt meat. That's why they took bone scurvey and died. We got so weak we couldn't hardly walk, and we was as ill as old sore tailed cats."

"Did you have any fights in the prison?"

"Lots of 'em."

"What was the penalty for fighting?"

"Nothing, they didn't care much."

"How did you get out of the prison?"

"They wouldn't let us out 'till we took the oath. I wouldn't take it for a long time, but I seen they wouldn't never let us out and I was going to starve to death. So I took it, and they give me a ticket to Knoxville, Tenn. I come on the train then to Sweetwater, Tenn. and walked home. They said it was dangerous to come through but I did."

"I suppose you were very weak?"

"Weak! Lord-a-Mighty! I saw men so weak they reeled with their blankets as they walked. All the fresh meat they had was a dog occasionally and some of them big wharf rats. Why, they was eighteen hundred died while I was there, -four hundred with bone scurvey. They fed us on pursley, too. You know what pursley is,--the stuff we give our hogs some times. Looked like redworms when it was cooked. Lots of them took the oath long time before I did, to git out. Twenty eight hundred joined the navy to git out."

Fred O. 11/23/26

WM (Bill ) Waldroup



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Malinda Blalock Civil War Solider




Female Soldier and Bushwhacker in the Civil War written by Maggie MacLean

Union sympathizers Malinda Blalock and her husband Keith enlisted in the Confederate army near their home in the mountains of western North Carolina, planning to desert and join the Union army. In the meantime, Malinda was wounded. The couple deserted and returned home where they became the most feared bushwhackers in the mountains, feared by secessionists and Unionists alike.

Sarah Malinda Pritchard was born in 1842 in the Appalachian Mountains of western North Carolina. She met William McKesson Blalock (nicknamed Keith) in a one-room school they both attended. Their marriage in 1856 was a shock to their neighbors, because their families had been feuding for 150 years.

The couple resided on Grandfather Mountain, where mountaineers were divided regarding secession and impending war. It seems that Malinda originally sided with the Confederates, while Keith opposed the election of Abraham Lincoln, but was an ardent Unionist.

When the Confederate recruiting officer came to town seeking enlistments for the 26th North Carolina Infantry, Keith joined the regiment, planning to later pass through the lines and join the Union army. Fearing for Malinda'a safety at the hands of the secessionists, he made sure they saw him march away with the Rebels.

Malinda had plans of her own. Barely had Keith begun his march to the depot that would carry him to the war when he noticed a small young man marching beside him. It did not take him long to notice the new recruit was his wife, Malinda, who had dressed in her husband's clothes and cut her hair short. At the enlistment station in Lenoir, NC, she signed her enlistment papers as twenty year old "Sam" Blalock, Keith's brother.

Malinda was one of only two women known for having served in any North Carolina Confederate regiment. Keith turned out to be a better soldier than expected being appointed a brevet sergeant almost immediately. His men were fond of him and quick to obey his orders. His standing order to "Sam" was to stay as close to him as possible.

The 26th Infantry was soon transferred to New Bern in eastern North Carolina. In a night operation Keith's company received orders to scout for enemy pickets they hoped would lead them to the location of General Ambrose Burnside's regiments located further up the coast.

A firefight soon broke out. Keith and most of his men managed to make their way to the safety of their side of the Neuse River. However, much to his dismay, upon reaching the shore, he found a wounded Malinda propped up against a pine tree, a bullet embedded in her left shoulder. Carrying her in his arms back to camp he turned her over to the surgeon, Thomas J. Boykin.

Realizing Malinda's identity would soon become public knowledge, Keith began devising a plan that would secure his release from Confederate service. In the dead of night he slipped past the pickets and found a bed of poison oak, prevalent in that area. Stripping himself bare he rolled around in the toxic substance. The next morning he appeared for sick call with a high fever and a rash. The surgeons, fearing an outbreak of small pox, authorized his immediate medical discharge.

This suited Keith's purposes perfectly but left Malinda in a bind. Her wound was not serious enough to garner her a discharge so she decided to personally plead her case to Col. Vance, saying she wished to accompany her brother home in order to care for him. When that plan failed, she had no choice but to reveal her gender to her commanding officer, who then had no recourse but to send her home. They were both released on April 10, 1862.

The Blalock story does not end here. The couple returned to the mountains, but Confederate agents discovered that Keith was healthy and ordered him to re-enlist. To avoid conscription, the Blalocks moved and started hiding out with other draft dodgers.

In a few months the couple became raiders for the Union army throughout the Appalachian Mountains, and terrorized the citizens of western North Carolina. They assembled a band of marauders and raided the farms of Confederate sympathizers. In one of these operations, they shot it out with the Moore family and Malinda was wounded. At another such incident, Keith had an eye shot out by one of the Moores.

Essentially the Blalocks became the most feared bushwhackers of the western North Carolina mountains. Bushwhacking, thieving and murder became their hallmark. Malinda was always by her husband's side as they made foray after foray into the countryside terrorizing the locals as well as their Yankee compatriots when the need arose.

Then Keith became a leader in the "Watauga Underground Railroad," which helped Union prisoners escape from the Confederate prison in Salisbury, North Carolina, the largest in the state. He guided those men through the mountains and safely into Tennessee, but the Confederate patrols were making that job increasingly tougher.

When the war was finally over the brazen young couple moved back to the cabin in Watauga County to live the rest of their lives as farmers. Keith and Malinda's four children who lived to adulthood gave them several grandchildren.

On March 19, 1903, Malinda Blalock died in her sleep of natural causes at the age of 61. She was buried in nearby Montezuma Cemetery. A heartbroken Keith moved in with his son, Columbus, in nearby Hickory.

On April 11, 1913, Keith Blalock was killed in a freak accident while pumping a hand car along a local railroad. Rumors circulated that it was no accident but a final payback for all the grief he and Malinda had brought to Watauga County during the war. However nothing ever came of the rumors.

On April 14, 1913, William McKesson (Keith) Blalock was laid to rest beside his beloved Malinda.

Malinda Blalock: Confederate Soldier
NC History Project: Sarah Malinda Pritchard Blalock
Women in the Ranks: Concealed Identities in Civil War Era North Carolina


I hope you enjoyed Maggie's guestpost as much as I did! She has an entire website about women of the Civil War. Jump over and check it out by clicking here: Civil War Women


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Vaccinations In The Confederate Army

Cedar Mountain, Va. A Confederate field hospital Library of Congress

Cedar Mountain, VA - A Confederate Field Hospital - Library of Congress

HOW THE CONFEDERATE ARMY WAS VACCINATED C. W. P. BROCK, M. D., Chief Surgeon of the Chesapeake and Ohio Railway, and Late Surgeon in the Confederate Army.

In the fall of 1863, during the late war between the States, I was sent for by Surgeon-General S. P. Moore and told that smallpox was assuming alarming proportions in the Confederate Army and that he wished me to secure enough vaccine virus to vaccinate all the soldiers, and this done very speedily. He offered to place at my disposal as many surgeons as I deemed necessary.

I asked him how many soldiers were to be vaccinated, and he told me about two hundred and fifty thousand-that is, the entire Confederate Army at that time. I asked to have Dr. Russell Murdock report to me, which he did at once. I instructed him to start in at the western end of Richmond, and making a house to- house visitation, to vaccinate all healthy children of healthy parents, while I myself did the same in the eastern end of the city. The children were vaccinated in six places on each arm, thus securing later twelve healthy vaccine crusts. It is of interest to note that in no instance did a mother refuse to have her child vaccinated when told that this was done to stop an epidemic of smallpox among the soldiers.

On the fourteenth day after vaccination, the crusts were collected, being then about to drop off. Not a single untoward case developed among the children. The crusts were wrapped in tin foil and distributed throughout the Army, with directions how to use them. All this was done in six weeks' time. The threatened epidemic was promptly and completely controlled. In no case was any other disease communicated by the vaccine. The takes were much quicker than with bovine virus, and the arms were nothing like as sore. The protection was at least as good.

Even up to the present time I occasionally see some man or woman with six faint scars on each arm, standing as a record of service rendered as an infant to the soldiers of the Confederate Army in 1863.

* Read before the American Public Health Association, Havana, Cuba. 1911. 23


Fascinating article! Sounds like vaccines were improved upon during the Civil War-much like the items listed in this post from the other day.

The US stopped giving smallpox vaccines in 1972 since the disease had been virtually eradicated. The vaccine left a round scar on the upper arm of its recipients. I have one do you?


p.s. Thank you to Ed Ammons for sharing the vaccination article with me. 

*Source: HOW THE CONFEDERATE ARMY WAS VACCINATED C. W. P. BROCK, M. D., Chief Surgeon of the Chesapeake anid Ohio Railway, and Late Surgeon in the Confederate Army

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Civil War Surgery

Civil War Surgery

Top Ten Surprising Things About Civil War Medicine written by Carole Adrienne

1) There wasn’t an ambulance to be found. The American Civil War spurred a revolution in emergency rescue and evacuation. Union Major Jonathan Letterman devised the first dedicated ambulance system with trained personnel. Our 21st century emergency rescue systems are still based on his concepts.

2) Most doctors had never performed surgery or seen a gunshot wound. Of the estimated 16,000 physicians who served in the Civil War, only 5% had ever seen or performed surgery. They would learn from hasty training, field manuals and the experience of working with hundreds of thousands of casualties.

3) Anesthesia was used for most wartime surgeries. Despite widespread tales of soldiers biting on bullets while undergoing surgery, almost all Civil War surgeries were performed with the use of ether or chloroform. Dentists in the United States had been using anesthesia since the 1840’s and Northern and Southern surgeons quickly embraced its use. Both armies maintained a steady supply throughout most of the war. 

4) Operating conditions were filthy by modern standards. Nothing was sterile. News of European research on sterilization of wounds had not reached America. Surgeons were known to sharpen their scalpels on the soles of their boots. Silk for sutures was wetted with the doctor’s saliva. President Lincoln’s fatal head wound was probed with the unsterilized fingers of some of the most respected physicians of the period. 

5) You couldn’t find a trained nurse to save your life. Before the Civil War, family members usually provided care for ailing relatives. The wartime casualties required a rapid organization and training of volunteer nurses to aid in the massive relief effort. Their work would lead to the establishment of formal schools and associations for skilled nurses. 

6) Nerve injuries were identified and addressed for the first time. Dr. Silas Weir-Mitchell of Philadelphia, worked with many post-surgical amputee patients. He noticed some common phenomena, including “phantom limb”. Dr. Mitchell’s observations and treatments formed the basis for our modern medical area of specialty known as neurology.

7) Civil War medicine brought a new perspective to the lives of American women. In a passionate outpouring of support, women emerged from the parlors and plantations onto the battlefields, the hospitals, and prisons to nurse the wounded. They appeared publicly in business for the first time and took on the task of fundraising for the relief effort.

8) The concept of Medical record-keeping on a large scale was born. From meticulous records kept throughout the war, The Medical-Surgical History of the War of the Rebellion, a massive six-volume compendium, was published. It included case histories, autopsy reports, disease records, post-surgical photographs and follow-ups. It was the first comprehensive study and analysis of its kind and was considered by the European medical community to be America’s finest contribution to the future of medicine.

9) The largest post-war budget expenditures of some Confederate states were for prosthetic limbs. Despite the non-sterile conditions of Civil War surgery, a surprising 75% of amputees survived. Their needs spurred the makers of artificial limbs to improve the comfort and effectiveness of their products. 

10) The elements of “triage”, or sorting of the wounded, appeared during the Civil War. Amputation of a wounded limb was the quickest way to save a life. Chest, abdominal and head surgeries were rarely attempted, and those patients were usually left to die. 

*Source: Post from Civil War RX The Source Guide to Civil War Medicine.  



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Survival Lessons From The Civil War

Today's guestpost was written by Leon Pantenburg, who blogs at Survival Common Sense

I ordered by inter-library loan a book named “Three Years with the 92nd Illinois: The Civil War Diary of John M. King.”

My great-great-grandfather, Pvt James Hallowell, Company A, 92nd Illinois Infantry, is buried in Ruthven, Iowa.

My great-great-grandfather, Private James Hallowell, had served with the 92nd, and was invalided out after being wounded at Chickamauga. I  love reading diaries of historical events and happenings, anyway, and to find a record that might have included mention of my grandfather was incredible.

Sometimes, my dual passions of research and wilderness survival skills come together, and I experience a resounding “AH-HAH!” moment.

That’s what happened with King’s book. King provides details of camp life, and campaigning I had not been aware of. In particular, details of an ordinary soldier’s day-to-day life are rare.

Here are some survival skills I learned from the diary.

Cast iron Dutch ovens can be an important part of preparing food outdoors.

“When the army was not too far from the base of supplies, we could get some flour instead of hard tack. Then the soldiers would go to the negro cabins and dwelling houses and unceremoniously borrow or carry away these bake ovens. One could bake anything in them, in the house or out of doors, rain or sunshine, wherever hot embers could be obtained. Soldiers could get green apples, slice them into thin pieces, roll out crusts made from the flour, lay in the sliced apples and cover with another crust….”

Cooking kits don’t need to be elaborate.

“The cooking outfit for two men consisted of one very light-handled sheet from a frying pan, one tin coffee pot with the handle melted off and wire bail attached through bayonet holes at the top, two tin cups, two tin plates and two forks. The coffee pot answers the triple purpose of boiling coffee, rice and sweet potatoes.”

On the march, King writes, each mess of three or four soldiers functioned smoothly. Each had a specific job related to getting the food prepared quickly.

“When the army camped for the night, one man of each squad went for fuel for the fire, the other for water. A fire was quickly built, the coffee boiler was placed upon the fire, the frying pan with slices of meat by its side, a rubber blanket was spread near the fire with (the cooking gear) opened and supper was ready. In half an hour after camping, a whole army of thousands…was eating all divided into groups of twos, threes and fours.”

Improvise lighting:

King and his comrades were in winter camp, where the days were short, and lighting after dark was non-existent. Here’s what he did.

“Many of the men…were great readers, but there were two great obstacles in the way. First, it was  difficult to get a great deal of matter to read, and second, it was difficult to get proper lighting for the evening. We had some candles furnished us, but not near enough…Necessity is the mother of invention, and I remembered what I had seen my mother do during the poverty-stricken times of an early day in Illinois. I attended to frying the meat, and at each frying I poured a portion of the clear fat into an empty oyster can. From this fat, I made what the boys called a “betty.” I tore a piece of cotton lining from my coat, twisted it into a wick and buried it in the lard, one end projecting above the surface. This made a fair light, but not brilliant.”

Make a shelter:

The 92nd spent part of the winter of 1864 campaigning in and around Pulaski, Tenn. On Jan. 10, temperatures plummeted to minus eight degrees below zero. The  soldiers were dressed “in clothing prepared for a warm climate.” Hill and his buddies improvised shelters using whatever materials they could find.

“My bunkmate and myself went out into a cornfield and loaded our horses with corn fodder (stalks). We took this corn fodder and carefully packed it in our tent (an open-ended pup tent shaped structure with no floor) and made our bed on top. Only one blanket was necessary for the bottom sheet and the rest we had over us. We buttoned our overcoats together and made a blanket cover of them also. We slept with all our clothing on except for our hats. We covered up our heads and lay “spoon fashion.” We each kept open a little breathe hole to get air…after a few moments we were as warm as two kittens in the chimney corner; and to tell the truth, I do not know that I ever slept warmer at home."

“Self preservation is the first great law of nature, and I determined to preserve No. 1 to the best of my ability. There was no mother to care for me now.”

It doesn’t matter what you have to work with, or when. The best  tool is your survival mindset. 


I hope you enjoyed Leon's post. Be sure to jump over to his blog Survival Common Sense  and check it out. 


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150th Anniversary Of The Civil War

150th anniversary of the civil war in western nc

James Jasper Scroggs Confederate Solider

"Two-thirds of all Civil War deaths were a result of disease, not battlefield injury. Most died of diarrhea, typhoid fever and dysentery, but the cause of four soldier deaths was officially listed as "nostalgia," or homesickness." 

Quote from


This year marks the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War. I hope to conclude my series of Civil War letters written by W.C. Penland this year. More than a few of you are probably saying "Yeah right you said that last year."

I did say that last year...and I said it again last January. Here it is almost 5 months into 2015 and I haven't really even made a start. 

I've been dragging my feet. Why? For one, I keep finding other things I want to write about connected to W.C. and to the war in general.

But I would guess if I laid myself on the couch of a local head doctor I'd admit the real reason has nothing to do with the writing that lies ahead of me.

It was a war that nearly destroyed our country as a whole, not to mention the effect it had on individual lives. Heavy stuff to let roam around in your mind un-tethered. 

I've had folks ask me how could you find the Civil War interesting when it was so destructive? I suppose the answer is the same answer I have for all the bad things that have happened in the annals of history.

I'm not interested in the blood and gore, nor in the politicians. I'm interested in the everyday folks like me and you who lived through the event. 

People like James Jasper Scroggs who survived the war and made it home to live out the rest of his days just down the road from me.

Folks like W.C. Penland and his family. He cared enough to write letters to them often...and they cared enough to keep those letters forever. 

Drop back by in a few days to read about how soldiers survived day to day during the Civil War. 


p.s. The Pressley Girls (and the rest of us!) will be playing at the Martins Creek Community Center this Saturday April 25th. Singing starts at 6:00 p.m. - food serving starts at 5:30.

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Sweet Water Monroe Co. E Tenn July 19th 1863 - Letter 13

Library of Congress Civil War

Knoxville, TN, vicinity. Bridge at Strawberry Plains - Library of Congress


July 19th 1863

Sweet Water Monroe Co. E Tenn

Dear Father and Mother I now set myself to write you a few lines in answer to your letter which came to hand some time ago   but there has been a good deal of passing lately but they always started with so little warning that I did not have time to write   I can say to you that I am well at this time and have been ever since I wrote to you   There is a good deal of sickness at this time John Sherman, S. V. Ledford, Eli W. Lewis, J. P. Cherry are all gone to the hospital at Louden   Andy Carson, J. M. Ownby and H. P. Ownby are all sick besides several others to tedious to mention   Mark Auberry that was left in Kentucky sick came to camp yesterday morning the Yankees took him and parolle him he started home yesterday with A. L. McConnell   there has been a talk of several of our men a getting to go home soon but I do not know whether they will get off or not   there is a fine crop of wheat in Tennessee this year the citizens says that there is the best looking prospect for corn that there has been for some years   my horse is a mending some now I will send him home the first chance that I have   the boys that went yesterday took some horses and could not take any more or I would have sent him by them   my mare looks very well at this time there is several of our company at Wattsburgh on picket and have been ever since we come from Kentucky  Lieutenant Virgil Barnard & R. V. Alexander are there with about 16 men   we are a looking for Samuel H. Allison to come into camp now every day   he has been gone a good deal over his time now   I would be very glad to see him come for I think that I will surely get a letter when he comes from home   I am anxious to hear from there now for I have heard that there is a good deal of sickness in that country this Summer   I want you to write to me what has become of A. E. Pendergrass it is a mistake about Big Jason being shot for deserting he was taken by the Yankees at Wattsburgh by the Yankees   I saw Newton Gibson he stayed with us night before last a going to his command below Sweetwater   I want you to have me a good pair of Boots made by fall and send them to me for boots can not be had here for less than 50 per pair and I do not expect that they are very hard to get there but I want them if they can possible be had   I would like for you to come down and see us all and see how we are a coming on and if you can not tell Mr. Sherman or J. H. Penland one or both of them to come  I forgot to state that J. H. Ledford was terrible bad off and has been for several days I will bring my few lines to a close by saying write soon and often   give my respect to all enquiring   Direct your letters to Sweet Water and as before excuse bad writing and composure   So no more at present but remains your Son as ever

William C. Penland

To H. M. & P. M. Penland

PS write to me whether you know where Uncle Chamberlain is or not I have not had a letter from Mr. E. M. Scroggs now for a long time he did not answer my last letter I do not know what is the reason of it W. C. P.


Things I noticed in this letter:

  • A few new names among the ones he mentioned from home.
  • He must have 2 horses-wonder if he's had 2 the whole time?
  • He is anxious for word from home-he's worried they may have been sick.
  • I would like to have known Big Jason-W.C.'s mentioned him so many times he must have been a character that everyone at home was familiar with.
  • The line-Write soon and often tugs at my heart.
  • I'm wondering if E. M. Scroggs is from the Scroggs family of Brasstown and if A.L. McConnell is related to my friend Kathy's husband-Stanley McConnell. Kathy and her husband live in Clay County. 

Leave me a comment and let me know what you noticed.


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Camp Near Clinton East Tennessee May 24th 1863 - Letter 12

Col. Sharpe's horses, Falmouth, Va., April, 1863

Col. Sharpe's horses, Falmouth, Va., April, 1863 - Library of Congress

Camp near Clinton East Tennessee

May 24th 1863

Dear Father

I now seat myself to write you a few lines to let you know that I am well   hoping that these few lines may find you all well    I was out on guard last night   we have had to give up our tents    there has not been any rain since we gave them up    I think it will be a tolerable bad chance when it rains    our mess has just a cloth but I do not know how long we will get to keep it    I have heard the boys a talking that we had to leave our wagons    I do not know whether it is so or not     we are a going to start to Ky. this morning    we have drawn list days rations of provisions and I mean we will certainly start to day    we have not been a getting much to eat since we have been at this place but I am inclined to think that men will be healthyer in camps on tolerable short rations    as far as I am concerned I am doing very well on what we get with a few exceptions    James and Prator and Joseph McClure are at the hospital at Knoxville    there is some few sick but none of them very bad off    you can tell Mr Sherman that John is well and hearty at this time M A Martin is also well and R V Alexander and L C Harper are also well at this    A M Cook is well also & James Wood Crawford    we have been a pasturing our horses now for some days & feed a little on corn    old Rubin Leatherwood's mare is gone and has been ever since yesterday    I do not know what has become of her    I would not be surprised if she was stolen for this is a bad place here for such as that    we are ordered to Monticillo KY it is between one hundred and one hundred and twenty five miles from this place    I expect that it is a tolerable scarce country of anything to eat and feed upon    I have not heard from uncle Chamberlain since I wrote to you    the three Ledford boys are in jail at Knoxville and I expect it will be a good while before he gets out of there    I would not be surprised if they was to shoot Big Jason    His trial has not come up yet    I recon A E Pendergrass is home before this time    I would advise him to come to camp himself as soon as possible    I think that is will go easier than if he has to be gone after    If they do have to go after him this time he will be apt to be brought in strings and it will be apt to go hard with him    we belong to Pegrams Brigade and he and Moore are both in K.Y. at this time    We are to join them Col Fains Regt is at this place    now I do not know whether they will go with us or not    Riley McConnell has the worst arm that I ever saw in my life it was lansed by vacination    all of the rest of our company are well of the vacination    I do not know how long we will stay in Kentucky I want you to continue to write to Knoxville and there will be a chance for us to get them through by couriers going through    write soon give my respects to all of the friends and if I have any time to write I will write to you

I will close

Wm C Penland


My thoughts or I should say my questions:

  • WC seems more worried in this letter-is it because things have gotten harder for him-or since the letter is addressed to his Father maybe he isn't trying to make it sound better for his Mother?
  • I'm guessing the Ledford boys and A E Pendergrass ran off from their duty?
  • I want to know what the vaccination was for and if Riley's arm got better?
  • I wonder if all the initial names-are initials or actual names? I know several older men here that have initial names-but the initials don't stand for anything-the letters are their actual names.

Hope you'll leave me a comment with your thoughts.


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