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

Text Only
  • Why government openness matters Failing to share information makes us weaker. It enfeebles congressional oversight, which is a cornerstone of representative democracy and which, when aggressively carried out by fully informed legislators, can strengthen policy-making.One of the fun

    August 21, 2014

  • Ferguson is Everytown, U.S.A. The tragic killing of college-bound teenager Michael Brown has raised questions about the frequency with which police kill unarmed black men in America. The answer, unfortunately, is far too often.Just three months ago, on a warm April afternoon, a w

    August 21, 2014

  • Walking makes a comeback Just a few years ago, the idea that we could have a national conversation about walking might have seemed unlikely. After all, we’ve been walking forever. What’s there to talk about? As it turns out, plenty. As a number of groups cite a range of reas

    August 21, 2014

  • nei-gb082014-linda kennett column pic A collecting bonus? It's in the cards Remember the packs of sports trading cards from the 1970s and 80s? I recently stumbled across several boxes of them that I thought my son had taken when he bought his first home 15 years ago. But there they were, still in the closet and mixed among t

    August 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • nei-gb082014-homemakers column file photo Summer has flown by It seems summer is nearly gone. The State Fair is over, the Power of the Past is gone for another year, and the children are back in school. It may be time to think about getting involved in making and donating some items for Riley Hospital. We alw

    August 20, 2014 1 Photo

  • Pat Smith: Goofy golf raises breast cancer awareness Last week I stopped in to ask Susan Doerflinger Burkhart to please interpret a letter I received from an insurance company I had two or more years ago. As usual, she was able to ease my mind. While there she asked if I was going to play in the all-fe

    August 20, 2014

  • Craft brewers, vintners bring spirits to State Fair Brad Hawkins felt right at home hawking his beer at the Indiana State Fairgrounds last week.When Hawkins opened his Salt Creek Brewery in a converted filling station in tiny Needmore three years ago, some tee-totaling neighbors protested he was putti

    August 19, 2014

  • Back to the classroom These days, it seems like the summers are going by even faster than they did when I was a student! Just yesterday, the temperatures were beginning to warm up and children were hanging up their backpacks. Now, many of them are already back in the clas

    August 19, 2014

  • Our children and their children Let’s ponder “our children” and “their children.”First, Gov. Mike Pence made a wise call this past week when he ordered the Department of Child Services to begin reimbursing families who had adopted special needs children.A class action lawsuit filed

    August 19, 2014

  • Remember the joy Williams gave Ball State’s Wes Gehring, the author of dozens of books on Hollywood stars, says the apparent suicide of Robin Williams will not tarnish the comedian’s legendary achievements.Williams was found dead Monday in his California home. He was 63.“As the li

    August 16, 2014