A month of Soldiers 'Coffee' Tales

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SWMODave

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September 29th is National Coffee Day and during the month, I will be posting soldier accounts of their adventures of making and drinking coffee during the war. Since some of these accounts (as of today I have 16 to post in this thread) may not be what one would like to read when visiting the food forum, I am posting them in Soldiers Tales.

Account #1
from 'Recollections of a Drummer Boy'

To make a fire was a comparatively easy matter, notwithstanding the rain; for some one or other always had matches, and there were plenty of rails at hand, and these were dry enough when split open with a hatchet or an axe. In a few moments the fence around the cornfield was carried off rail by rail, and everywhere was heard the sound of axes and hatchets, the premonitory symptoms of roaring campfires, which were soon everywhere blazing along the road. " Harry, " said Lieutenant Dougal, " I haven't any tin cup, and when you get your coffee cooked, I believe I'll share it with you; may I ?"

"Certainly, lieutenant. But where shall I get water to make the coffee with? It 's so dark, that nobody can see how the land lies so as to find a spring." Without telling the lieutenant what I did, I scooped up a tin cup full of water (whether clear or muddy I could not tell; it was too dark to see) out of a corn-furrow. I had the
less hesitation in doing so, because I found all the rest were doing the same, and I argued that if they could stand it, why I could too - and so could the lieutenant. Tired and wet and sleepy as I was, I could not help but be sensible of the strange, weird appearance the troops presented, as, coming out of the surrounding darkness, I faced the brilliant fires with groups of busy men about them.

There they sat, squatting about the fires, each man with his quart tin cup suspended on one end of his iron ramrod or on some convenient stick, and each eager and impatient to be the first to bring his cup to the boiling-point. Thrusting my cup in amongst the dozen others already smoking amid the crackling flames, I soon had the pleasure of seeing the foam rise to the surface, - a sure indication that my coffee was nearly done. When the lieutenant and I had finished drinking it, I called his attention to the half inch of mud in the bottom of the cup, and asked him how he liked coffee made out of water taken from a last year's corn-furrow?

"First rate," he replied, as he took out his tobacco pouch and pipe for a smoke, " first rate; gives it the real old Virginny ' flavor, you see."

 

SWMODave

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Account #2
From The Rapidan to Richmond and the Spottsylvania Campaign

One time, in a burst of generosity, the Commissary Department stunned us by issuing coffee. We made "coffee" out of most anything - parched corn, wheat or rye - when we could get it. Anything for a hot drink at breakfast!

But this was coffee - "sure enough" coffee - we called it. They issued this three times . The first time, when counted out to the consumer, by the Orderly, each man had 27 grains. He made a cup - drank it. The next time the issue was 16 grains to the man - again he made a cup and drank it. The third issue gave nine grains to the man. Each of these issues was for three days' rations.

By now it had got down to being a joke, so we agreed to put the whole amount together, and draw for which one of the mess should have it all - with the condition, that the winner should make a pot of coffee, and drink it, and let the rest of us see him do it. This was done. Ben Lambert won - made the pot of coffee - sat on the ground, with us twelve, like a coroner's jury, sitting around watching him, and drank every drop. How he could do it, under the gaze of twelve hungry men, who had no coffee, it is hard to see, but Ben was capable of very difficult feats. He drank that pot of coffee—all the same! After this, there was no more issue of coffee.

Even a Commissary began to be dimly conscious that nine grains given a man for a three days' rations was like joking with a serious subject, so they quit it, and during that winter we had mostly just bread and meat—very little of that, and that little not to be counted on.
 

SWMODave

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Account #3
In Camp and Battle With the Washington Artillery

The sojourn at Montgomery was most delightful ; we had no end of creature comforts at the beautiful country home of some friends of my brother's. Here I was first introduced to the luxury of peanut coffee, and found it excellent ; sometimes it was called cocoa, but it answered for both. A beverage made of sweet potatoes was considered very fine. While at Montgomery I had the honor of being presented to Mrs. Jefferson Davis, and became much attached to her and her immediate family. …..

Meanwhile I entertained my guests by taking them about, and showing them how beautiful my camp was, how thin my horses were, and all the objects of interest, keeping an eye all the while upon the kitchen. At last dinner was served, and, thanks to the officers and the doctor, the menu wasn't bad. A large tin bucket held the soup, and we dipped in with our tin cups. We had plenty of bacon and corn-bread, and some excellent coffee made from "Gouber-peas." Our sugar happened to be just out ; but we explained that to our guests by laying the blame on the " commissary."

He also suffered in reputation for not supplying milk and butter.
 

SWMODave

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Account #4
Richmond Howitzer Battalion

Our rations have been greatly improved since entering Pennsylvania ; today we drew for our mess, flour, salt, soap, molasses, herrings, dried apples, dandelion (a Yankee substitute for coffee), sugar, etc., etc.

We captured nine hundred barrels of flour at Chambersburg and a great many stores of all kinds. Our horses are also faring much better than when we were in Virginia ; we give them corn, oats and clover hay in abundance. When we return to Virginia I fear that our men will be dissatisfied with the scarcity of our rations com-pared with the superabundance of the present.

(wonder why he says dandelion is a Yankee substitute for coffee? Is he just mocking them for their 'real' coffee?)

Account #5
The Cannoneer (author used stories from real CW artillery veterans to write this fictional first person account)

Shortly after dark some cavalrymen brought a squad of Rebel prisoners back to our position and halted them by the roadside near us, and we strolled over to look at them. They were all more or less hit, but none of them disabled, and it is a fact that they did not seem very sorry.

The horse battery men had given them some coffee, and they not only thank up every drop of it, but ate up the grounds from the bottom of the kettle! There were about 20 of them, and they were guarded by a Corporal and three cavalrymen from the regiment that had captured them — the 8th New York.

The Corporal was instructing his men about the reliefs for the night, when a Rebel Sergeant interrupted him. He said : " Corporal, I beg your pardon ; but are you going to give us some more of that coffee in the morning?"
"Of course, Johnny, you will get the same grub that we get. This ain't no Andersonville ! "
"Well, then, old boy, you can all bunk in and go to sleep , for you bet we ain't going to run away from that coffee !"

Enjoy your weekend..... and your coffee.
 

donna

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Maybe the soldier is not mocking the dandelion coffee. Found this about dandelion coffee being in the North.

Susanna Moodie wrote about dandelion coffee in her book, "Roughing It In The Bush". She was living in Canada in 1852. She further wrote she heard of dandelion coffee from 1830's article in the "New York Albion" by a Dr. Harrison. I guess this gets pretty "Yankee". I am going to look further into this.
 

SWMODave

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Account #6
Four Years Under Marse Robert

Among matters worthy of note occurring prior to Chancellorsville, it may not be out of place to mention the very active commerce or interchange of commodities, carried on by tiny sailing vessels, between the north and south banks of the Rappahannock River at and below Fredericksburg, both before and after that battle. The communication was almost constant and the vessels many of them really beautiful little craft, with shapely hulls nicely painted, elaborate rigging, trim sails, closed decks, and perfect steering apparatus. The cargoes, besides the newspapers of the two sides, usually consisted on our side of tobacco and on the Federal side of coffee and sugar, yet the trade was by no means confined to these articles, and on a sunny, pleasant day the waters were fairly dotted with the fairy fleet.

Many a weary hour of picket duty was thus relieved and lightened, and most of the officers seemed to wink at the infraction of military law, if such it was. A few rigidly interdicted it, but it never really ceased.
 
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Copied in the back of sailor/POW Fred James's diary was this unattributed poem:


Morale
Now Volunteers and Substitutes whilst marching in the column
It behooveth each and all of you to take this warning solemn
Don’t leave your ranks on any account or circumstances whatever
Or else you’ll see that nabbed you’ll be unless you’re very clever.
The host of Union prisoners that swell the number taken
Are captured by the roadside at their coffee and their bacon.
This fact should well be bourne in mind by all good Union thinkers.
That two out of three, that captured be, are straggling coffee drinkers.
The prison fare as served out here is scanty, poor and bad;
A mite of pork, of meal one pint, is all that can be had
Of Coffee you’ll not get one sup, in this Pinelog institution.
But foul air and water quite enough to wreck your constitution.

Since Fred was a sailor rather than a soldier, I suspect he was not the author. He was at Andersonville with a character known as "The Wondering Poet of New Hampshire." He's my lead suspect as the author.
 

SWMODave

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Account #7
The Other Side of War

(Nurse on hospital work) Getting them all washed, as I say, is a droll piece of work. Some are indifferent to the absurd luxury of soap and water, and some are so fussy. Some poor faces we must wash ourselves, and that softly and slowly.

I started along each row with two tin basins and two bits of soap, my arm being the towel-horse. Now, you are not to suppose that each man had a basinful of clean water all to himself. However, I thought three to a basin was enough, or four, if they didn't wash too hard.

But an old corporal taught me better. " Stop, marm ! " said he, as I was turning back with the dirty water to get fresh; "that water will do for several of us yet. Bless you! I make my coffee of worse than that."

(hopefully you read this one AFTER your morning coffee)
 

O' Be Joyful

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Account #7
The Other Side of War

(Nurse on hospital work) Getting them all washed, as I say, is a droll piece of work. Some are indifferent to the absurd luxury of soap and water, and some are so fussy. Some poor faces we must wash ourselves, and that softly and slowly.

I started along each row with two tin basins and two bits of soap, my arm being the towel-horse. Now, you are not to suppose that each man had a basinful of clean water all to himself. However, I thought three to a basin was enough, or four, if they didn't wash too hard.

But an old corporal taught me better. " Stop, marm ! " said he, as I was turning back with the dirty water to get fresh; "that water will do for several of us yet. Bless you! I make my coffee of worse than that."

(hopefully you read this one AFTER your morning coffee)

Sad but, "like". Whatta a trooper that guy must have been.
 

captaindrew

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Account #7
The Other Side of War

(Nurse on hospital work) Getting them all washed, as I say, is a droll piece of work. Some are indifferent to the absurd luxury of soap and water, and some are so fussy. Some poor faces we must wash ourselves, and that softly and slowly.

I started along each row with two tin basins and two bits of soap, my arm being the towel-horse. Now, you are not to suppose that each man had a basinful of clean water all to himself. However, I thought three to a basin was enough, or four, if they didn't wash too hard.

But an old corporal taught me better. " Stop, marm ! " said he, as I was turning back with the dirty water to get fresh; "that water will do for several of us yet. Bless you! I make my coffee of worse than that."

(hopefully you read this one AFTER your morning coffee)
Was reading it in mid sip! :smile coffee: :eek: 🤮
 

SWMODave

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Account #8 - allow me to sneak in tomorrow's story while this thread is featured
Recollections of a Drummer Boy

There was a certain chivalrous etiquette developed through this social intercourse of deadly foemen, and it was really admirable. Seldom was there breach of confidence on either side. It would have gone hard with the comrade who should have ventured to shoot down a man in gray who had left his gun and come out of his pit under the sacred protection of a piece of white paper.

If disagreement ever occurred in bartering, or high words arose in discussion, shots were never fired until due notice had been given. And I find mentioned in one of my old army letters that a general fire along our entire front grew out of some disagreement on the picket-line about trading coffee for tobacco.

The two pickets couldn't agree, jumped into their pits, and began firing, the one calling out : “Look out, Yank, here comes your tobacco." Bang!
And the other replying : " All right, Johnny, here comes your coffee." Bang!
 

Lampasas Bill

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I wish I could remember the source of this story, but it's too good not to paraphrase: After Lee's surrendered at Appomattox the soldiers of both sides began to mingle. Many Federal soldiers shared their rations with the poorly supplied Rebels. One Yankee hosted a pair of Rebs with salt pork and hardtack, then he brewed two cups of genuine coffee, which the grateful Southerners had not tasted in a long, long time. Looking up from his brew, one proclaimed, "Yank, if we'd a-had coffee like that we could of beat you-all with sticks!"
 

SWMODave

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Account #9

There is a good deal of complaint, in our company at least, about the coffee we get. It seems not quite SO good as that we have had, and I suspect it has been adulterated by somebody who is willing to get rich at the expense of the poor soldier, whose curses will be heaped strong and heavy on anybody who deteriorates any of his rations, and particularly his coffee.

The only time a soldier can not drink his coffee is when the use of that ration is suspended. In fact, there is nothing so refreshing as a cup of hot coffee, and no sooner has a marching column halted, than out from each haversack comes a little paper sack of ground coffee, and a tin cup or tin can, with a wire bale, to be filled from the canteen and set upon a fire to boil. The coffee should not be put in the water before it boils.

At first I was green enough to do so, but soon learned better, being compelled to march before the water boiled, and consequently lost my coffee. I lost both the water and the coffee. It takes but about five minutes to boil a cup of water, and then if you have to march you can put your coffee in and carry it till it is cool enough to sip as you go.

Even if we halt a dozen times a day, that many times will a soldier make and drink his coffee, for when the commissary is full and plenty, we may drink coffee and nibble crackers from morning till night. The aroma of the first cup of coffee soon sets the whole 'army to boiling and the best vessel in which to boil coffee for a soldier is a common cove oyster can, with a bit of bent wire for a bale, by which you can hold it on a stick over the fire, and thus avoid its tipping over by the burning away of its supports.

A Soldier's Story of the Siege of Vicksburg
 

SWMODave

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Account #10

Rations continue plentiful and good-flour, bacon or beef, sugar, coffee, and sometimes rice. Nearly every mess of eight or ten men has a negro man for cook.

Coffee is made in large camp kettles holding several gallons, and it would astonish you to see what quantities of it the men drink. Strong coffee, liberally sweetened, is the favorite beverage here, and it goes well and does good when one is just off guard duty these cold mornings.

I will not say it is the only beverage drank here, for there is a sutler's shop here, where cider and beer are sold, and the men get frequent "permits" to visit Smithfield, four miles from our camp.

Under The Stars and Bars
 

SWMODave

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Account #11

In Camp and Battle With the Washington Artillery

Meanwhile I entertained my guests by taking them about, and showing them how beautiful my camp was, how thin my horses were, and all the objects of interest, keeping an eye all the while upon the kitchen. At last dinner was served, and, thanks to the officers and the doctor, the menu wasn't bad.

A large tin bucket held the soup, and we dipped in with our tin cups. We had plenty of bacon and corn-bread, and some excellent coffee made from "Gouber-peas." Our sugar happened to be just out; but we explained that to our guests by laying the blame on the "commissary." He also suffered in reputation for not supplying milk and butter.

In due time I was presented; and, although I went to Montgomery "heart whole and fancy free," my "wings were scorched," and I surrendered.

The sojourn at Montgomery was most delightful; we had no end of creature comforts at the beautiful country home of some friends of my brother's. Here I was first introduced to the luxury of peanut coffee, and found it excellent; sometimes it was called cocoa, but it answered for both. A beverage made of sweet potatoes was considered very fine.

While at Montgomery I had the honor of being presented to Mrs. Jefferson Davis, and became much attached to her and her immediate family.
 
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