Weird Foods and Methods People Used to Survive During the Civil War
Weird Foods and Methods People Used to Survive During the Civil War

Weird Foods and Methods People Used to Survive During the Civil War

Khalid Elhassan - July 21, 2021

Weird Foods and Methods People Used to Survive During the Civil War
Civil War drummer boy Alexander H. Johnson. Kentake

5. The Massachusetts Drummer

Civil War child soldier Alexander H. Johnson was born in Massachusetts, and enlisted in the Union Army when he was fourteen-years-old. He joined the 54th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment, whose exploits were depicted in the 1989 movie Glory, as a drummer boy when that regiment was formed. Since the 54th Massachusetts was one of the Union’s first colored regiments, young Alexander was probably the first African American musician to enlist in the Civil War. He saw significant service during the conflict.

During the war, young Alexander was the with the 54th as it took part in the battles of Honey Hill, Boykins Mill, James Island, Olustee, and the siege of Charleston, South Carolina. He was present at the murderous assault on Fort Wagner, and participated in Sherman’s march through the Carolinas. His drum was struck by enemy fire six times, and he was wounded in the leg while on active service. Alexander stayed with the 54th Massachusetts until war’s end and his discharge in 1865.

Weird Foods and Methods People Used to Survive During the Civil War
Alexander H. Johnson with his drums, years after the Civil War. Worcester Historical Museum

4. After the Civil War, Alexander H. Johnson Led His Town’s Drum Corps

After the Civil War, Alexander H. Johnson returned home with the drum he had carried at Fort Wagner. The former child soldier settled in Worcester, Massachusetts, where he taught drumming and founded that town’s first drum corps. Nicknamed “Major”, in reference to his being the drum major of the town’s drum corps, Alexander married, raised a family, and had 17 children. He was a lifelong active member in the Grand Army of the Republic, as well as a member of the Sons of Union Veterans.

In 1897, a memorial sculpted by Augustus Saint-Gaudens was unveiled in Boston, to honor the 54th Massachusetts and its colonel, Robert Gould Shaw, who had died fighting at the regiment’s head during the assault on Fort Wagner. The memorial, erected in front of the Massachusetts State House in Boston, where it can be seen to this day, depicts Colonel Shaw and his regiment as they depart the city for the South. In that bronze bas relief, Alexander is depicted with his drum, tapping the beat at the head of a column of his comrades. He lived to the age of 83, and died in 1930.

Weird Foods and Methods People Used to Survive During the Civil War
Confederate Civil War veteran Henry Hopkins Sibley. University of Kentucky

3. Confederate Veterans Fought in Africa After the Civil War

Surreal as it might sound, the second half of the nineteenth century saw Confederates in the thick of combat in Africa. Ten years after they lost the Civil War, some Confederate veterans were back in action when they fought as mercenaries in what was then termed “The Dark Continent”. One of them rose to a high rank in the Egyptian army, and played a key role in an attempt – that ended in disastrous defeat – to forge a colonial empire in eastern Africa.

Weird Foods and Methods People Used to Survive During the Civil War
William Wing Loring. Find a Grave

In 1868, Union Army veteran Thaddeus Mott met the ruler of Egypt, the Khedive Ismail, and regaled him with tales about American military advances during the recent fratricidal war. Ismail was convinced to hire veterans of that conflict to help modernize the Egyptian army. The first of them, Confederate veterans William Wing Loring and Henry Hopkins Sibley, arrived in 1870. Loring became the Egyptian army’s Inspector-General, and in 1875 he was appointed chief of staff of an army that was sent to fight Ethiopia.

Weird Foods and Methods People Used to Survive During the Civil War
Years after fighting for the Confederacy in the Civil War, William Wing Loring became Loring Pasha, a general in the Egyptian army. Wikimedia

2. The Confederate Leaders of the Egyptian-Ethiopian Wars

William Wing Loring (1818 – 1886) and fellow Confederates had fought in America’s Civil War to preserve a system based on the enslavement of Africans and their descendants. A decade later, Loring was back at war, this time in Africa. He sought to realize Khedive Ismail’s dreams of an Egyptian empire in Africa, that stretched from the Mediterranean Sea to Lake Victoria, and from the Sahara to Somalia. In 1874, Ismail took the first steps to realize his dreams when he ordered an invasion of Ethiopia, Egypt’s chief rival in northeast Africa.

That kicked off the Egyptian-Ethiopian War (1874 – 1876), in which Egyptian columns set out on two occasions to conquer that landlocked kingdoma. The first marched from Egyptian-controlled Sudan, and the second one began its invasion from the Egyptian-controlled Red Sea coast of what is now Eritrea. Each time, the Egyptian forces, equipped with modern weapons and led by Western officers such as Loring, were crushed by poorly equipped but numerically superior Ethiopians. Loring played a significant role in the second failed attempt, which ended in a crushing defeat at the Battle of Gura in 1876.

Weird Foods and Methods People Used to Survive During the Civil War
Nineteenth century Egyptian army. Smithsonian Institute

1. The Confederate Who Lost in Africa

Command of the second Egyptian invasion of Ethiopia had initially been promised to William Wing Loring, but the assignment went instead to an Egyptian named Ratib Pasha, and Loring was appointed his chief of staff. In March, 1876, an Egyptian army of 13,000 men, equipped with modern firearms and artillery, and an Ethiopian force of 50,000 armed mostly with swords and spears, drew near at the Plain of Gura, in today’s Eritrea. The Egyptian commander sought to fight a defensive battle from a fortified position. It was a sensible choice, but Loring taunted Ratib Pasham and accused him of cowardice for not marching out to meet the Ethiopian host in an open valley.

Weird Foods and Methods People Used to Survive During the Civil War
Ethiopian tribal warriors attacking an Egyptian fort. Look and Learn

Stung, the Egyptian commander led his army out of its fortifications to offer battle in the surrounding plain. It got routed at the Battle of Gura, a disastrous defeat that ended Egypt’s ambitions to conquer Ethiopia. Loring, who rose to the rank of major general in the Egyptian army, was heavily criticized. In 1878, he and other American officers were dismissed. He returned to America, where he penned his experiences in Africa, A Confederate Soldier in Egypt, published in 1884.


Where Did We Find This Stuff? Some Sources and Further Reading

American Battlefield Trust – The Declaration of Causes of Seceding States

American Battlefield Trust – The Reasons for Secession: A Documentary Study

Bonds, Russell S. – Stealing the General: The Great Locomotive Chase and the First Medal of Honor (2006)

Brown, Dee – Grierson’s Raid (1954)

Catton, Bruce – The Coming Fury (1961)

History Collection – The Life of a Slave in Thomas Jefferson’s House

Keesee, Dennis M. – Too Young to Die: Boy Soldiers of the Civil War (2001)

Library of Congress – Civil War Thanksgiving Foods

Loring, William Wing – A Confederate Soldier in Egypt (1884)

Military History Now – Confederates on the Nile: Meet the Civil War Vets Who Volunteered to Fight For the Egyptian Army

National Museum of the United States Navy – Powder Monkeys and the American Civil War

National Park Service – Fort Scott: Cooking Food Rations

PBS – Causes of the Civil War

Quartz – For the Last Time, the American Civil War Was Not About States’ Rights

Ranker – Unconventional Foods People Ate to Survive the Civil War

Sears, Stephen W. – To the Gates of Richmond: The Peninsula Campaign (1992)

Spaulding, Lily May and John, Editors – Civil War Recipes (1999)

United States Navy Memorial – Aspinwall Fuller

Warfare History Network – Grierson’s Raid: Wrecking the Railroad With the Butternut Guerrillas

Washington Post, February 26th, 2011 – Five Myths About Why the South Seceded

Wikipedia – Ethiopian-Egyptian War

Wikipedia – USS Indianola (1862)

Wikipedia – William Tappan Thompson