‘Send More Butter’: Finding Meaning in Civil War Food References


December 2021


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Food in the American Civil War meant more than nutrition. It served as a means of communication, status elevator, social lubricant, and bridge between home and front, and even across battle lines. This work examines how food, cooking, and references to food can be interpreted to tell us more about how the war operated on different levels. Approached thematically, the study looks at express boxes, mess bonding, cooking, social hierarchy of cooks, the blockade, and trade across lines. Central to the argument is that food references in Civil War letters acted as a subtle communications tool that give insight into how soldiers felt and responded to the historic events around them. Essentially, it seeks to decode the language of food in Civil War letters. In addition to the letter diagnostics, the study takes a food-centric look at Sherman’s actions in Georgia and the Carolinas in 1864-65, with an eye toward how his seizure and destruction of the resources can be interpreted, and why he felt so confident in his success. Another intervention involves the express boxes and how they connected the home front and the war front. By examining tax data, it becomes clear that many more boxes were sent to the front than previously estimated, which changes how we should approach these gifts and civilian contributions to the war effort. Food is also used as a lens into the blockade, women’s resistance, and the formation of bonds between soldiers. Cooking is examined for its ability to change the social status of meal preparers, both white and Black, free and enslaved. Cooking changed attitudes and lives during the war, even as it is suspected to have ended others. Food is more than calories and comfort, it is also a means of communication, identity, commerce, and social tie. Through this perspective, the Civil War takes on fresh nuances.



History, United States, History, Military, American Studies