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Flora and Fauna of the Civil War

An Environmental Reference Guide

Kelby Ouchley

Publication Year: 2010

During the Civil War, humans impacted plants and animals on an unprecedented scale as soldiers on both sides waged the most environmentally destructive war ever on American soil. Refugees and armies alike tramped across the landscape foraging for food, shelter, and fuel. Wild plants and animals formed barriers for armies and carried disease, yet also provided medicine and raw materials necessary to implement war, greatly influencing the day-to-day life of soldiers and civilians. Of the thousands of books written about the Civil War, few mention the environment, and none address the topic as a principal theme. In Flora and Fauna of the Civil War, Kelby Ouchley blends traditional and natural history to create a unique text that explores both the impact of the Civil War on the surrounding environment and the reciprocal influence of plants and animals on the war effort. The war generated an abundance of letters, diaries, and journals in which soldiers and civilians penned descriptions of plants and animals, sometimes as a brief comment in passing and other times as part of a noteworthy event in their lives. Ouchley collects and organizes these first-person accounts of the Civil War environment, adding expert analysis and commentary in order to offer an array of fascinating insights on the natural history of the era. After discussing the physical setting of the war and exploring humans’ attitudes toward nature during the Civil War period, Ouchley presents the flora and fauna by individual species or closely related group in the words of the participants themselves. From ash trees to willows, from alligators to white-tailed deer, the excerpts provide glimpses of personal encounters with the natural world during the war, revealing how soldiers and civilians thought about and interacted with wild flora and fauna in a time of epic historical events. Collectively, no better sources exist to reveal human attitudes toward the environment in the Civil War era. This one-of-a-kind reference book will spark widespread interest among Civil War scholars, writers, and enthusiasts, as well as environmental historians.

Published by: Louisiana State University Press


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pp. vii-viii


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pp. ix


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pp. 1-4

The Civil War Setting

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pp. 5-12


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pp. 15-18

Flora is often defined as plants of a particular region or period. Most floras are comprehensive, systematic accounts. The classification of plants is constantly evolving, and some groups that were once considered plants such as algae and fungi are now placed in separate categories. Vascular plants are those that have specialized...

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pp. 19-20

"If ash is out before the oak, twill be a summer of fire and smoke, but if oak is out before the ash, twill be a summer of wet and splash.” 1 Adages involving the behavior of flora and fauna as a predictor of weather were common during the Civil War. Ashes...

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pp. 20-23

Nothing characterizes a southern swamp more than a giant moss-draped baldcypress (Taxodium distichum) standing knee-deep in a backwater slough. Commonly known as “cypress,” these survivors of ancient life forms once found across North America and Europe are now greatly restricted in range. In the United...

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pp. 23-24

Undoubtedly, Civil War soldiers joined thousands of other people throughout history in carving their names or initials in the smooth, steel-gray bark of the American beech (Fagus grandifolia). With this unique bark and lustrous, dark green leaves the American beech is one of the most beautiful and unmistakable...

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pp. 25-29

Corporal Rufus Kinsley of the 8th Vermont Regiment wrote from south Louisiana on April 1, 1863: “Co. returned to Bayou Boeuf, had little to eat but blackberries for three days.” 1 Union General Sherman wrote in his memoirs, “I have known the entire skirmish line, without orders, to fight a respectable battle for the possession...

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pp. 29-32

President Theodore Roosevelt aptly described a Louisiana canebrake: “The canebrakes stretch along the slight rises of ground, often extending for miles, forming one of the most striking and interesting features of the country. They choke out other growths, the feathery graceful canes standing in ranks, tall,...

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Chestnut and Chinquapin

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pp. 32-36

ecological integrity of eastern forests since the Civil War has been the loss of American chestnut (Castanea dentata) trees. this majestic hardwood species, which towered to 120 feet tall, comprised as much as 50 percent of upland forests from Maine to Alabama.1 In 1904 a parasitic fungus (chestnut blight) was unwittingly introduced...

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pp. 36-41

Some speculate that Alexander the Great died of a stab wound. Others think that the deadly dagger was likely not that of his Persian enemies but rather the proboscis of a malaria-infected mosquito. The relationship between conquest...

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pp. 41-42

Wood from both species of cottonwood (Populus deltoides and P. heterophylla) found in the eastern United States was used in the manufacture of shoes during the Civil War. Cottonwood thrives in rich alluvial soils of wetlands and is especially...

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pp. 42-43

The snowy blooms of flowering dogwoods (Cornus florida) are a sure sign of spring from the Atlantic coastal states to east Texas. Several species of dogwoods grow in this area, but none are as well known as flowering dogwood. The actual...

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pp. 43-44

Elms (Ulmus spp.) moved the heavy loads of the Civil War. The hard, dense wood was sought because it was “the best wood we have for blocks” in block and tackle rigging used to mount mortars, unload cargo, and hoist sails. Wheel hubs made...

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pp. 44-47

Grapes (Vitis spp.) are woody vines that climb with tendrils in search of sunlight. About twenty species of native grapes are found in the eastern United States in a variety of habitats. The well-known fruits of grapes have been consumed by humans...

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pp. 47-52

Herbs can be broadly defined as nonwoody plants (usually perennials) that humans use for culinary or medicinal purposes. For thousands of years until well into the twentieth century the use of herbs to treat various ailments was standard...

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pp. 52-53

The term huckleberry is a catchall used to identify about two dozen species of similar shrubby plants known for their edible fruits. Huckleberries (Vaccinium spp. and Gaylussacia spp.) are usually differentiated from blueberries by having...

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pp. 53-56

The tree referred to most often as “cedar” during the Civil War was not a cedar at all but rather a juniper, confusingly known today as eastern redcedar (Juniperus virginiana). An evergreen...

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pp. 56-57

Three different tree species were referred to as “locust” during the Civil War. Each has thorns and compound leaves and produces beanlike seed pods. Honey locust (Gleditsia tricanthos) and water locust (G. aquatica) are closely related and armed...

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pp. 58-59

Perhaps no tree is more emblematic of the Deep South than the southern magnolia (Magnolia grandiflora). Large, lustrous evergreen leaves and fragrant white flowers nine inches in diameter were cherished as ornamentals by southerners...

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pp. 59-60

“Reveille,” “Taps,” “The Long Roll,” “The Rogue’s March”—these drum calls brought forth emotions as varied as the men they summoned, both Union and Confederate. All reverberated from drums made of hard maple (Acer spp.). Fifes...

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pp. 60-62

To the Druids, mistletoe (Phoradendron spp. et al.) appeared to spring from thin air. Equally strange, it seemed to defy nature by living its entire branches of trees, never descending to earth, a plant’s natural habitat. For these reasons they declared mistletoe and the oak trees on which it grew to be sacred. More than twenty species of mistletoe grow...

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pp. 62-63

The Civil War may be indirectly implicated in the continuing devastation of American forests by an army of insects proven to be less stoppable than the armies of the Union or Confederacy. When southern cotton became unavailable in the North...

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pp. 63-71

Timbers hewn from mighty oaks (Quercus spp.) framed the ships of both Union and Confederate navies. More than thirty species of oaks are native United States. Hybrids among these are common. Oaks are often divided into two major groups of white oaks and red oaks. The...

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pp. 71-75

“From this noble and characteristic tree is derived the well known armorial emblem on the escutcheon of the State of South Carolina.” 1 The plant responsible for South Carolina’s emblem and nickname...

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pp. 75-78

Common persimmon (Diospyros virginiana) is a member of the ebony family, known for its hard wood. This small to medium-sized tree is found throughout the eastern United States in a variety of habitats and grows largest in rich, moist soils. Once...

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pp. 78-89

Very soon after his assassination President Lincoln was placed in a pine (Pinus spp.) coffin.1 From the cradle, where the umbilical cords of infants were dabbed with turpentine, to the grave no group of wild plants were more utilized by humans during the Civil War than pines. Thirteen species of pines grow in the eastern United...

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pp. 90-91

Without sassafras (Sassafras albidum) General Benjamin Butler would not have been able to experience the delights of a genuine New Orleans gumbo dinner during his occupation of that city. The dried, powdered leaves known...

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Spanish Moss

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pp. 91-95

The name Spanish moss (Tillandsia usneoides) is a misnomer. It is not a true moss like sphagnum but rather a flowering plant in the bromeliad family closely akin to pineapples. It grows in coastal and swampy regions of the southeast and as far south...

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pp. 95-96

Sumacs (Rhus spp.) are shade-intolerant shrubs or small trees usually having compound leaves. About eight species are found in the eastern United States. Staghorn sumac (R. typhina) is named for its appearance in winter when bare branches stand...

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pp. 96-98

Distinctive star-shaped leaves identify sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) trees. Found throughout the eastern half of gum grows to 150 feet tall and occurs most abundantly on rich alluvial soils of the southeast. Underappreciated for its wildlife

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pp. 98-99

Sycamore (Platanus occidentalis), often called “plane tree” during the Civil War era, is one of the largest hardwoods in eastern North America, growing to heights of 170 feet with a diameter of ten feet. It is easily recognized by its...

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Walnut, Hickory, and Pecan

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pp. 99-104

Walnuts (Juglans spp.), hickories (Carya spp.), and pecans (Carya spp.) are deciduous trees in the same taxonomic family. Dense, hard wood and edible nuts are characteristics of most species. Two types of walnut (black walnut, J. nigra, and butternut, J. cinerea) and about

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pp. 105-107

Worldwide, several hundred species of willows (Salix spp.) grow most often on wet sites in the northern hemisphere. At least four species are found in the Civil War arena. Willows frequent the banks of streams and rivers, helping to prevent shoreline...


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pp. 111-114

Fauna is an assemblage of animals of a defined region or time. Like plants, the classification of animals continues to change as new scientific techniques to determine kinship, such as DNA analysis, are developed. Animals have traditionally been classified into tiers based on physical similarities such as the...

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pp. 115-118

The name alligator is derived from the Spanish term el lagarto—the lizard— the label used by early Spanish explorers in Florida to describe the American alligator (Alligator mississippiensis). Alligators are found from North Carolina west to central Texas...

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pp. 118-119

A diverse group with 1,200 species worldwide including 45 in the United States, bats are the only mammals capable of sustained flight. Most American bats are insectivorous and play important roles in controlling insect populations in many...

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pp. 120-121

Black bears (Ursus americanus) were the largest wild, terrestrial animals found in that part of the United States where most Civil War campaigns occurred. Already reduced in range and numbers by hunting because of their omnivorous feeding habits that included depredation of livestock, gardens, and bee hives, bear...

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pp. 121-133

More than 700 kinds of birds are found in North America. At least 230 species live today in that part of the United States where most of the Civil War was fought. Five species—passenger pigeon, zenaida dove (Zenaida aurita)...

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Body Lice, Ticks, and Harvest Mites

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pp. 133-138

Misery! The ordeals of Civil War soldiers were often aggravated by “vermin” as much as by the enemy. Body lice (Pediculus humanus corporis) vied with mosquitoes as the most dreaded of insect pests. One writer penned, “Like death, it was no respecter of persons. It preyed alike on the just and the unjust. It inserted...

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Dolphins, Porpoises, and Whales

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pp. 138-140

Dolphins, porpoises, and whales are related groups of highly specialized, aquatic mammals found throughout the oceans of the world. Many species are found in the marine environments where most Civil War activities occurred, the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico. In general, dolphins and porpoises are smaller...

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pp. 140-149

More than nine hundred species of fish inhabit the various freshwater habitats of North America. Almost every stream, bayou, river, and lake harbors fish of some kind. The great diversity of species was generally unknown to the common person of the Civil War period, as the many varieties of obscure minnows, darters, chubs...

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Flies and Mosquitoes

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pp. 149-155

Of all the species in the animal kingdom, none had more impact on the Civil War than those in the taxonomic insect order Diptera. Characterized by a single pair of wings, this group includes mosquitoes, houseflies, black flies, sand flies, horse flies, gnats,...

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pp. 155-157

About fifty species of frogs and toads are found in the eastern United States. They live in a diverse range of habitats, from below ground to treetops. Most are closely tied to wetlands during part or all of their life cycle, especially during egg and larval...

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pp. 157-160

For thousands of years humans have gathered honey from the hives of wild honeybees (Apis mellifera). People ate honey, concocted the alcoholic beverage mead, and made candles from beeswax. Honey...

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pp. 160-161

At least seventeen native species of lizards and their kin are found in the eastern United States. Since the Civil War, almost as many exotic species have been introduced, primarily in south Florida. A great many more are found in the West, especially...

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pp. 161-163

Mollusks are a very diverse group of invertebrates that includes snails, clams, oysters (addressed separately in this book), squids, and octopus. Most live in the oceans of the world, but many are found in fresh water...

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pp. 163-165

The opossum (Didelphis virginiana) was called simply “possum” during the Civil War, and still is in many parts of its range. Virginia opossum, the scientifically recognized common name, is derived from the Algonquian Indian word apasum for the animal...

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pp. 165-168

During the Civil War, oysters (family Ostreidae) were so abundant in Chesapeake Bay that they may have filtered that estuary’s entire water volume in less than a week, a process that would now take a year. Oysters were common throughout coastal...

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pp. 168-171

The eastern cottontail rabbit (Sylvilagus floridanus) was one species of wild mammal that actually benefited from the throngs of forest-clearing pioneers. Although found throughout a range of habitats in eastern North America, fields, gardens...

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pp. 171-174

Rats and mice can be divided into two groups—those native to the New World and those found originally in the Old World. New World examples include the white-footed mouse (Peromyscus leucopus) and wood rats (Neotoma spp.). Old World examples include...

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pp. 174-178

Despite stories that the first fatality of the Civil War was caused from a coral snake bite, no reliable documentary evidence of the claim has surfaced. One popular magazine writer made the following relevant comments in 1910: “Nowhere in...

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pp. 178-182

Several species of squirrels are found in the eastern United States. Those mentioned most frequently by soldiers were likely gray squirrels (Sciurus carolinensis) and fox squirrels (S. niger). Both species are common tree squirrels and prefer similar...

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pp. 182-184

As a unique type of reptile, turtles are characterized by ribs expanded and modified into a protective shell. All freshwater habitats in the eastern United States are home for turtles. About thirty species of aquatic turtles ranging in size up to..

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Miscellaneous Invertebrates

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pp. 184-188

Invertebrates are animals without vertebral columns (backbones). About 98 percent of all animals are invertebrates—every group except mammals, birds, fish, reptiles, and amphibians. During the Civil War, invertebrates played sundry roles as...

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Miscellaneous Mammals

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pp. 188-192

The white-tailed deer (Odocoileus virginianus) is the deer of the eastern United States. Once called the Virginia deer, the species is more common today than during the Civil War era. At that time, habitat modification and large-scale, unregulated...

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pp. 193-200

The impacts of the Civil War on flora and fauna are difficult to determine, although from a population perspective nearly all were likely short term. As mentioned elsewhere in this book, the conflict occurred for the most part in a region...


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pp. 201-227


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pp. 229-242


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pp. 243-259

E-ISBN-13: 9780807137994
Print-ISBN-13: 9780807136881

Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2010