|PAPER No. 4.- Cooking
[Many of our
readers will be glad to see another of those vivid sketches of soldier
life from the pen of Private McCarthy, whose previous sketches were so
widely read and commended.]
the Army of Northern Virginia were alternately superabundant and altogether
wanting. The quality, quantity and frequency of them depended upon the
amount of stores in the hands of the commissaries, the relative position
of the troops and the wagon trains, and the many accidents and mishaps
of the campaign. During the latter years and months of
the war, so uncertain was the issue as to time, quantity and composition,
the men became
in large measure
independent of this seeming absolute necessity, and by some mysterious
means, known only to purely patriotic soldiers, learned to flight without
pay and find a subsistence in the field, the stream or the forest, and,
on the bleak mountain side, a shelter.
was an abundant issue of bread
and no meat;
then meat in any quantity and no flour or meal. Sugar in abundance
and no coffee to be had for "love or money", and then coffee plenteously
without a grain of sugar. For months nothing but flour for bread
and then nothing but meal, till all hands longed for a biscuit, or fresh
meat until it was nauseating; and then saltpork without intermission.
To be one day
without anything to eat was common. Two days fasting, marching and fighting
was not uncommon, and there were times when no rations were issued for
three or four days. On one march, from Petersburg to Appomattox, no rations
were issued to Cutshaw's battalion of artillery for one
and the men subsisted on the corn intended for the battery horses, raw
bacon captured from the enemy, and the water of springs, creeks and rivers.
No doubt there were other commands suffering the same privations.
A soldier in
the Army of Northern Virginia was fortunate when he had his flour, meat,
sugar and coffee all at the same time and in proper quantity. Having these,
the most skillful axeman of the mess hewed down a fine hickory or oak,
and cut it into "lengths". All hands helped to "tote it" to the fire. When
the wood was convenient, the fire was large
and the red
The man most
gifted in the use of the skillet was
the one most
highly appreciated about the fire, and
as a Turk; but when he raised the lid
of the even
and exposed the brown, crusted tops of the biscuit, animosity subsided.
The frying pan, full
then became the centre of attraction. As the hollow-cheeked boy "sopped"
his biscuit, his
countenance wrinkled into a smile
and his sunken
eyes glistened with delight.
men squatted around, chuckling over
luck and "cooing"-like a child with a big piece of cake. Ah! this was a
sight which but few of those who live and die are ever permitted to see.
And the coffee,
too-how delicious the aroma of it,
and how readily
each man disposes of a quart.
And now the
last biscuit is gone, the last drop of coffee, and the frying pan
is "wiped" clean. The tobacco bag is pulled wide open, pipes are
scraped, knocked out and filled, the red coal is applied, and
the blue smoke
rises in wreaths and curls from the mounts of the no longer hungry, but
happy and contented soldiers.
on the still night air, the merry laugh resounds, the woods are bright
with the rising flame of the fire, story after story is told, song after
is sung, and
at midnight the soldiers steal away one
by one to
their blankets on the ground and sleep till reveille.
Such was a meal when the mess was fortunate. How different when the wagons
had not been heard from for forty-eight hours, and the remnants of stock
on hand had to do. Now, the question is, how to do the largest amount of
to the largest
number with the smallest amount of material? The most experienced men discuss
the situation an decide that "somebody" must go
Though the stock on hand is small, no
anxious to leave the small certainly
and go in
search of the large uncertainly of supper from some farmer's well filled
table. But at last several comrades start out, and as they disappear
for immediate consumption commence. The meat is too little to cook alone,
and the flour
will scarcely make six biscuit. The
that "slosh" or "coosh" must do. So the
bacon is fried
out till the pan is half full of boiling grease. The flour is mixed with
water until if flows
poured into the grease and rapidly stirred
till the whole
is a dirty brown mixture. It is now
ready to be
served. Perhaps some dainty fellow
more imposing "slap jack". If so, the
flour is mixed
with less water, the grease reduced,
and the paste
poured in till it covers the bottom
of the pan,
and when brown on the underside, is
by a nimble
twist of the pan turned and browned again. If there is any
sugar in camp it makes a delicious addition.
About the time
the last scrap of "slap jack" and the
of "slosh" are disposed of, the unhappy foragers return. They take in the
situation at a glance-realize with painful distinctness that they
the homely slosh for the wain expectancy of applebutter, shortcake and
milk, and with woeful countenance and mournful voice, narrate their adventure
and disappointment thus: "Well, boys, we have done the best we could. We
have walked about nine miles over the mountain, and haven't found a mouthful
to eat. Sorry, but it's a
"Billy Brown fell down the mountain and mashed his nose; Patso nearly scratched
out with the
briars, and we are all hungry as dogs
-give us our
biscuit". Of course there are none, and,
as it is not
contrary to army etiquette to do so, the whole mess professes to be very
sorry, and is greatly delighted.
however, the foragers returned well
good things, and, as good comrades should, shared the fruits of their toilsome
hunt with the whole mess. Foragers thought it not indelicate
about the house of the unsuspecting farmer till the lamp revealed the family
at supper at supper and then modestly approached and knock at the
An invitation to enter was almost certain to follow and was certainly accepted.
The good hearted man knew his guests were "posted" about the meal which
was in progress in the next room, the invitation to supper
was given, and, shall I say it, accepted with an unbecoming lack of reluctance.
illustrates the ingenuity of the
There was great scarcity of meant, and no prospect of a supply from the
wagons. Two experienced foragers were sent out, and as a farmer about ten
miles from the camp was killing hogs, guided by soldier instinct, they
went directly to his house, and found the meat nicely cup up, the various
pieces of each hog making a separate pile on the floor of an outhouse.
The proposition to buy met with a surprisingly ready response on the part
of the farmer. He offered one entire pile of meat, being one whole hog,
for such a small sum that the foragers instantly closed the bargain, and
as promptly opened their eyes to the danger which menaced them. They give
the old gentleman a ten dollar bill and request the change.
He is pleased with their honest method and hastens away to his house for
the desired change.
The two foragers
hastily examine the particular pile
of pork which
the simple hearted farmer has designated theirs, find it very rank and
totally unfit for food, transfer half of it to another pile, from which
they take half and add to theirs, and await the return of the farmer. He
returns, gives them their change and assures them they have a bargain.
They agree that they have, toss the good and bad together into a bag, say
good-by, and depart as rapidly as artillerymen on foot can. The result
of this trip was a "pot-pie" of large dimensions, and some six or eight
men gorged with fat pork, declaring that they had never cared and would
never again wish to eat pork-especially pork-pies.
A large proportion
of the eating of the army was
done in the
houses and at the tables of the people
-not by the
use of force, but by the wish and invitation of the people. It was at times
necessary that whole towns should help to sustain the army of defence,
and when this
was the case, it was done voluntarily and cheerfully. The soldiers-all
who conducted themselves properly-were received as honored
given the best in the house. There was a wonderful absence of stealing
or plundering, and even when the people suffered from depredation they
attributed the cause of terrible necessity rather than to wanton disregard
of the rights of property. And when armed guards were placed over the smokehouses
and barns, it was not so much because the Commanding General doubted the
honesty as that he knew the necessities of his troops. But even pinching
hunger was not held to be an excuse for marauding expeditions.
of the government to furnish supplies forced the men to depend largely
upon their own energy and ingenuity to obtain them. The officers knowing
this, relaxed discipline to an extent which would seem, to an European
officer for instance, ruinous.
It was no uncommon
sight to see a brigade or division, which was but a moment before marching
in solid column
along the road, scattered over an immense field searching for the luscious
blackberries. And it was wonderful to see how promptly and cheerfully all
returned to the ranks when the field
In the fall of the year a persimmon tree on the roadside would halt a column
and detain it
till the last
wagon, loaded with luxuries, which was so common in the Federal army, was
unknown in the Army of Northern Virginia; and for two reasons, the men
had no money to buy sutler's stores and the country no men to spare for
sutlers. The nearest approach to the sutler's wagon was the "cider cart"
of some old darkey or a basket of pies and cake displayed on the roadside
soldier relied greatly upon the abundant supplies of eatables which the
enemy was kind enough to bring him, and he cheerfully risked his life for
the accomplishment of the two-fold purpose of whipping the enemy and getting
what he called "a square meal". After a battle there was general feasting
on the Confederate side. Good things, scarcely ever seen at other times,
filled the haversacks and the stomachs of "Boys in Gray". Imagine the feelings
of men half famished when they rush into a camp at one side, while the
enemy flees from the other, and find the coffee on the fire, sugar at hand
ready to be dropped into the coffee, bread in the oven, crackers by the
box, fine beef ready cooked, desiccated vegetables by the bushel, canned
peaches, lobsters, tomatoes, milk, barrels of ground and toasted coffee,
soda, salt, and in short everything a hungry soldier craves. Then add the
liquors, wines, cigars and tobacco found in the tents of the officers and
the wagons of the sutlers, and remembering the condition of the victorious
party, hungry, thirsty and weary, say if it did not require wonderful devotion
to duty and great self denial to push on, trampling under foot the plunder
of the camp, and pursue the enemy till the sun went down.
When it was
allowable to halt, what a glorious time
it was! Men
who a moment before would have been delighted with a pone of corn-bread
and a piece of fat meat now discuss the comparative merits of peaches and
milk and fresh tomatoes, lobster and roast beef, and forgetting the briar-root
pipe, faithful companion of the vicissitudes of the soldier-s life, snuff
the aroma of imported Havanas.
In sharp contrast
with the mess-cooking at the big fire was the serious and diligent work
of the man separated from his comrades, out of reach of the woods, but
bent on cooking and eating. He has found a coal of fire, and having placed
over it in a ingenious manner the few leaves and twigs near his post, he
fans the little pile with his hat. It soon blazes. Fearing the utter consumption
of his fuel, he hastens to balance on the little fire his tin cup of water.
When it boils, from some secure place in his clothes, he takes a little
coffee and drops it inthe cup, and almost instantly the cup is removedand
set aside; then the slice of fat meat is laid on the coals and when brown
and crisp, completes the meal-for the "crackers" or biscuit are ready.
No one but a soldier would have undertaken to cook with such a fire, as
frequently it was no bigger than a quart cup.
"hard tack" as they were called, are notoriously poor eating, but in the
hands of the Confederate soldier were made to do good duty. When on the
march and pressed for time, a piece of solid fat pork and a dry cracker
was passable or luscious, as the time was long or short since the last
meal. When there was leisure to do it, hard tack was soaked well and then
fried in bacon grease. Prepared thus it was a dish which no Confederate
had the weakness or the strength to refuse.
the absence of the better molasses of peace times, was greatly prized and
eagerly sought after. A "Union" man living near the Confederate
one day busy boiling his crop. Naturally enough, some of "our boys" smelt
out the place and determined to have some of the sweet fluid. They had
found a yearling dead in the field hard by, and in thinking over the matter
determined to sell the Union man if possible. So they cut from the dead
animal a choice piece of beef, carried it to the old fellow and offered
to trade. He accepted the offer and the whole party walked off with canteens
having tender consciences and no muskets, seldom, if ever, shot stray pigs;
as an act of friendship, wholly disinterested, point out to the infantry
a pig which seemed to need shooting, and by way of dividing the danger
and responsibility of the act, accept privately a choice part of the deceased.
On one occasion,
when a civilian was dining with the mess, there was a fine pig for dinner.
This circumstance caused the civilian to remark on the good fare. The "forager"
remarked that pig was an uncommon dish, this one having been kicked by
one of the battery horses while stealing corn and instantly killed. The
civilian seemed to doubt the statement after his teeth had come down hard
on a pistol bullet, and continued to doubt though assured that it was the
head of a horse-shoe nail.
The most melancholy
eating a soldier was ever
do, was when pinched with hunger, cold,
wet and dejected,
he wandered over the deserted of battle and satisfied his cravings with
the contents of the haversacks of the dead. If there is anything which
will overcome the natural abhorrence which a man feels for the enemy, the
loathing of the bloated dead and the awe engendered by the presence of
death, solitude and silence, it is hunger. Impelled by its clamoring men
of high principle and tenderest humanity, become for the time void of sensibility
to acts which, though justified by their extremity, seem afterwards, even
to the doers, too shameless to mention.
became so very small that it was absolutely necessary to supplement them,
and the camp was permanently established, those men who had
the physical ability worked for the neighborhood
farmers at cutting cord-wood, harvesting the corps, killing hogs
or any other farm work. A stout man would cut a cord of wood
a day and receive fifty cents in money or its equivalent in something eatable.
Hogs were slaughtered for the "fifth quarter". When the corn became large
enough to eat, the roasting ears, thrown in the ashes with the shucks on
and nicely roasted, made a grateful meal. Turnip and onion patches
also furnished delightful and much-needed food, good, raw or cooked.
when a mess was hard pushed for eatables, it became necessary to resort
to some ingenious method of disgusting a part of the mess, that the other
might eat their fill. The "pepper treatment" was a common method practiced
which once failed. A shrewd fellow who loved things "hot" decided to have
plenty of soup,
and to accomplish
his purpose, as he passed and repassed the boiling pot, dropped in a pod
of red pepper. But, alas! for him, there was another man
who adopted the same plan, and the result was the "mess" waited in vain
for that pot of soup to cool.
coffee boiler of one man in the Army
Virginia was always kept at the boiling point. The owner of it was an enigma
to his comrades. They could not understand his strange fondness for "red-hot"
coffee. Since the war he has explained that he found the heat of the coffee
prevented its use by others and adopted the plan of placing his cup on
the fire after every sip. This same character never troubled himself to
carry a canteen, though a great water drinker. When he found a good canteen
he would kindly give it to a comrade, reserving the privilege of an occasional
drink when in need. He soon had an interest in thirty or forty canteens
and their contents, and a drink of water if it was to be found in any of
them. He pursued the same plan with blankets and always had plenty in that
line. His entire outfit was the clothes on his back and a haversack accurately
shaped to hold one half pone of corn beard.
time was a trying time for the hungry privates. Having been fed during
the whole of the winter on salt-meat and coarse bread, his system craved
the fresh, luscious juice of the corn, and at times his honesty gave way
under the pressure. How could he resist?-he didn't-he took some roasting
ears! Sometimes the farmer grumbled, sometimes he quarreled and sometimes
he complained to the officers of the depredations of "the men". The officers
apologized, eat what corn they had on hand and sent their "boy" for some
One old farmer
conceived the happy plan of inviting some privates to his house, stating
their co-operation in the effort to
corn. He told them that of course they were not the gentlemen who took
his corn! Oh no!
the were not do such a thing; but wouldn't they please speak to the others
and ask them please not to take his corn? Of course! certainly! oh yes!
certainly remonstrate with their comrades. How they burned though as they
though of the past through the field they filled their haversacks with
ears, and were met on the other side of the field by the kind farmer and
a file of men who were only too eager to secure the plucked corn "in the
line of duty".
officer, worn out with the long, weary march, sick, hungry and dejected,
leaned his back against a tree and groaned to think of his inability to
join in the chase of an old hare, which, he knew from the wild yells in
the wood, his men were pursuing. But the uproar approached him-nearer,
nearer and nearer until he saw the hare bounding towards him with a regiment
at her heels. She spied an opening made by the folds of the officer's cloak
and jumped in and he embraced his first meal for forty-eight hours.
was camped for a day where no water was to be had. During the night, awakened
by thirst, he arose and stumbled about in search of water. To his surprise
he found a large bucketful. He drank deep and with delight. In the morning
he found that the water he drank had washed a bullock's head and was crimson
with his blood.
came up one night and found the camp silent. All hands asleep. Being hungry
they sought and to their great delight found a large pot
of soup. It
had a peculiar taste, but they "worried" it down, and in the morning bragged
of their good fortune. The soup had defied the stomachs of the whole battery,
being strongly impregnated with the peculiar flavor of defunct cockroaches.
the evacuation of Petersburg, a
went hunting. He killed and brought
to camp a
muskrat. It was skinned, cleaned, buried
a day or two,
disinterred and eaten with great relish.
It was splendid.
seven days' battles around Richmond,
private observed the rats as they entered and emerged from a corncrib.
He killed one, cooked
and invited a friend to join him in eating
a fine squirrel.
The comrade consented, ate heartily, and when told what he had eaten, forthwith
disgorged. But he confesses that up to the time when he was enlightened
he had greatly enjoyed the meal.
It was at this
time, when rats were a delicacy, that
around Richmond agreed to divide their rations with the poor of the city,
and they were actually hauled in and distributed. Comment here would be
like complimenting the sun on its brilliancy or warmth.
on the genius and skill of the general officer; historians tell of the
movements of divisions and army corps, and the student of the art of war
studies the geography and topography of the country and the returns of
the various corps: they all seek to find and to tell the secret of success
soldier knows the elements of his success-courage, endurance and devotion.
He knows also by whom he was defeated-sickness, starvation, death.
He fought not men only, but food, raiment, pay, glory, fame and fanaticism.
He endured privation, toil and contempt. He won, and despite
the cold indifference of all and the hearty hatred of some, he will have
for all time, in all places where generosity is, a fame untarnished.
*Taken from Southern Historical Society
Volume VI July, 1878 Pages 1 - 9
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