A Civil War-era survival guide

Bake cornbread on a bayonet, cure a cough with laudanum, cook stew for fifty, and more
Illustrations by Todd Detwiler
Illustrations by Todd Detwiler

Like civilians across the country, Atlantans had felt the hardships of war, with access to food and goods severely restricted. By the summer of 1864, the privations grew.

Confederate currency flooded the South and quickly lost value. A barrel of flour that cost five Confederate dollars at the start of the war cost 225 dollars in 1864, says Jonathan Scott, curator of the Southern Museum of Civil War and Locomotive History. “It was a hard life,” says Scott. “No matter who you were or where you were, the war touched you.”

Daily Rations
A Confederate soldier’s standard allotment: twelve ounces of bacon and about a pound of cornmeal or hardtack. Beans, sugar, and coffee were given at the war’s start but scarce by 1864.

Thrifty Tips
Published in 1863, the Confederate Receipt Book contained more than 100 hints for making do in wartime. A few tips gleaned from its pages:

Extra Wear for a Petticoat
One flannel petticoat will wear nearly as long as two if turned behind part before, when the front begins to wear out.

A Cheap Taper for a Sick Room
Take a piece of soft pliant paper, part of newspaper for example, and form a circle, then gather the centre together and twist it into a wick, immerse the whole in a saucer of lard and light it, and you have a taper that will last some hours.

For a Troublesome Cough
Take of treacle and the best white wine vinegar six tablespoonfuls each, add forty drops of laudanum, mix it well, and put into a bottle. A teaspoonful to be taken occasionally when the cough is troublesome. The mixture will be found efficacious without the laudanum in many cases. [Editor’s note: Also known as tincture of opium, laudanum was a strong narcotic.]

Charcoal Tooth Powder
Pound charcoal as fine as possible in a mortar, or grind it in a mill (1), then well sift it (2), and apply a little to the teeth about twice a week (3), and it will not only render them beautifully white, but will also make the breath sweet, and the gums firm and comfortable.

To Prevent Blisters
Blistering or soreness of the feet may be prevented on long marches by covering the soles of the stockings with a coating of the cheapest brown soap. Coarse cotton socks are the best for walking.

Battlefield Cornbread
Mix cornmeal into pork grease to make a stiff batter. Spin a bayonet in the batter until it is coated. Hold the bayonet over the fire to cook the bread; the metal heats and bakes the dough.

Coffee Substitute
Take sound ripe acorns, wash them while in the shell, dry them, and parch until they open, take the shell off, roast with a little bacon fat, and you will have a splendid cup of coffee.

Indian Sagamite
Three parts of Indian meal [cornmeal] and one of brown sugar, mixed and browned over the fire, will make the food known as “Sagamite.”

Used in small quantities, it not only appeases hunger but allays thirst, and is therefore useful to soldiers on a scout.

Plain Irish Stew for Fifty Men
Cut fifty pounds of mutton into pieces which equal ¼ pound each. Put them in a pan and add twelve pounds of whole potatoes. In addition, add eight tablespoons of salt and three teaspoons of pepper.

Cover all with water, giving about half a pint to each pound of meat. Light the fire and 1 to 1 ½ hours of gentle ebulation will make a most excellent stew.

Mash some of the potatoes to thicken the gravy, and serve.

To Make Old Silk Look a New
Unpick the dress (1), grate two Irish potatoes into a quart of water (2), let it stand to settle, strain it without disturbing the sediment (3) and sponge the silk with it. Iron on the wrong side (4).

This article originally appeared in our July 2014 issue.