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100 Years Ago

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Feeding the Men and Horses

Such huge armies required equally huge amounts of food and other provisions. It was commonplace for the men to go days with little or no food. Dr. Wilson advised his Sidney, Ohio family in July of 1863 that "Presently we are out of rations and obliged to wait for supplies." Sergeant Oldroyd of the 20th Ohio related a typical incident that occurred outside of Vicksburg one day. General Leggett approached their campfire and inquired whether or not the men had food for supper. When he was advised they had none, he said, "Well, boys, I have none either, and we shall probably have to fight for our breakfast." Oldroyd replied: "Very well, general, I guess we can stand it as well as you."

One unforgettable type of food was hardtack, a form of hard, dried cracker. The men had to break it over their knees, or soak it overnight in order to eat it. When mixed with water, it was known as 'sluce'. As has feedingthemen.gif (34968 bytes)been the case throughout all of the wars, the folks back home heard a different story. J. W. Morrow, chaplain for the 99th Ohio, sent a letter which the "Sidney Journal" printed on June 3, 1863. It quoted Col. Swaine of the 99th as saying, "A man could not be blamed for loving to soldier, when furnished with such a nice camp, superb cooking arrangements and good boarding."

The 118th Ohio, with a large contingent of men from Shelby County, suffered terribly during the winters of 1862-1863 and 1863-1864. Lt. D. L. Crites provided this graphic description in a letter dated November 29, 1863: "We are living entirely on corn sometimes ground, sometimes in the ear or shelled and it is only through the greatest exertions that we can get that. Hundreds of our men are becoming sick through fatigue and famine and unless the enemy is soon driven from our front, we will have to retreat toward Chattanooga to get something to keep soul and bodytogether. I have118thohiovoldrawing.gif (65483 bytes) now seen the war in all its shapes, from enjoying the calm sea breezes of a northern conscript camp to the mangled bodies of the dead upon the battlefield together with the shock of contending armies, yet all is pleasant when compared to the horrors of a starving army."

The armies inevitably resorted to taking food from the surrounding countryside. This practice, considered theft by the owners of the plantations and farms, was charitably referred to as 'foraging.' Pvt. Frank Stockstill, a Sidney, Ohio resident who fought with the 118th Ohio, was often placed in charge of a foraging detail. He and ten or so other soldiers foraged for several days at a time, and returned with livestock, food, and often rebel prisoners. Cassius Wilson, a brother of Dr. Albert Wilson, and a member of the 118th Ohio, related in a letter home to his brother Henry in December, 1863, that "...being short of rations, Col. Young told the boys to go for hogs or anything else good to eat." Union General William Tecumseh Sherman made a telling observation about the effects of foraging on June 26, 1864: "We have devoured the land and our animals eat up the wheat and cornfields close. All the people retire before us and the desolation is complete. To realize what war is one should follow our tracks."

Dr. Albert Wilson expressed his disgust at the practice in a letter home on February 5, 1863: "I sincerely wish there was better discipline in our army as there has been so much vice and wanton destruction of property that I am almost disgusted with it. If this course was likely to bring the war to a close any sooner I might think differently...But the worst light in which it can be viewed is the probable result on the morals of the young men. After they return from the service, they may not give up so readily the vicious habits they have been accustomed to practice."

A private in the 20th Ohio wrote a Letter to the Editor of the "Journal" on June 13, 1864, in which he reported the reaction of one Southern lady he encountered while looking for food to the practice of foraging: "This morning your nasty beast company (meaning cavalry) came along and took nearly everything I had, and then your walking company (infantry) came along and took the rest and burned my house!"

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'Civil War' segment written in July, 1998 by Rich Wallace


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