Greensburg Daily News, Greensburg, IN


October 31, 2013

A few acorns and sweet potatoes?

Greensburg — Do you suppose the Chautauqua students will grind up acorns to mix with coffee or dry sweet potatoes to grind for coffee so we can see what it was like in the Civil War? No kidding, read on and I’ll tell you some people coped with little or no money.

The second day of the Chautauqua this year is about the Civil War. John Pratt said the theme shifts from music by some mighty impressive greats on November 5 to the Civil War on November 6. Pratt said there will be a lecture and a piano concert in the morning. In addition, the students will be hosting a community Civil War tour for three hours after that. He said they are also working in partnership with the museum on an exhibit to run at the same time: “Decatur County History in 100 Objects.” They asked us to loan their unique items for the first three weeks in November.

After reading in the “Military Times,” loaned to me by Tom Imel, about Gettysburg in particular and the Civil War in general I learned what soldiers earned during that war. Rick Maze wrote in the “Military Times” that the monthly pay for Privates in the Confederate Army was $ 11 but for the Union Private it was $13. When men on both sides became Corporals the pay was the same, that is, $13. In fact it was the same for Sergeant for both at $17, First Sergeant for both was $20. Monthly pay for Quarter Master Sergeant and Sergeant Major in both armies was $21.

Now, when a man got up to Second Lieutenant there was a more significant difference. Confederate Second Lieutenants received $80 – Union soldiers of the same rank got $105. A Confederate First Lieutenant received $90 and Union $105. There was no raise for a soldier going from Second to First Lieutenant.

It’s interesting that a Captain in the Confederate Army earned $130 per month while the Union Captain only earned $115. There was a jump from Captain to Major in both armies though. Confederates earned $150 while Union soldiers got $169. Lieutenant Colonel received $170 a month and a Union soldier got $181. The pay went on up as the men went up in rank until a Lieutenant General received $301 a month and a Union soldier with the same rank received $748 (no word on why the big difference.) The rank of four-star general wasn’t used by the Union Army during the Civil War but a Confederate General received $500 per month.

Navy recruits received $12, an ordinary Seaman $14, an Able Seaman $18, Third Class Petty Officer $20 and a Senior Petty Officer received $45. The Military Times states that Union soldiers were clamoring for a pay raise, but the War Department was having problems making the payroll it already had.

So with the money earned by soldiers and sailors in mind, how did they feed families? In various places in the south during 1863, bacon had gone up to $10 per pound. Sugar prices had increased 15 times and coffee 40 times. Salt sold for $45 a bag and turkeys at $50 each. A pound of butter cost $15 in much of the south and potatoes sold for $24 a bushel. A barrel of flour went for $250 and later became simply unavailable.

Prices going up that much encouraged hoarding, which drove prices up even more, stated the article. Salaries of soldiers didn’t rise fast enough and families went hungry. Farmers would often refuse to sell food to the military because they could get better prices elsewhere, which made stealing food commonplace.

An article in Military Times by Jon R. Anderson states that when coffee became scarce people were encouraged to “Try grinding up acorns and mixing in with the good stuff. The poor would find it equally a source of economy and a valuable remedy; and soldiers in camp would be less exposed to diarrhea. In order to prepare this coffee, the acorns must first be roasted in an oven. The hard outer shell is removed, and the kernel is preserved, which, after being roasted, is ground with ordinary coffee.”

Another recipe was to cut peeled sweet potatoes into pieces “about the size of the joint of your little finger” and then dry them either in the sun or by the fire. Then roast and grind the same as regular coffee.” Try it, not for its economy, but for its superiority over any coffee you ever tasted,” stated one paper.”

I love to hear from readers, please feel free to contact me at

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