restricted access The Civil War Setting
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Flora Before humans migrated to North America, forests likely covered 650 million acres east of the Great Plains in what is now the United States.1 Anthropomorphic change began with the first Native Americans and their use of fire to alter the landscape. When Europeans reached the continent, the primeval forests had already been modified, although the extent of the change remains poorly understood. European settlers accelerated the pace drastically with new technologies, especially those related to clearing land for agriculture (e.g., iron tools and draft animals). Increasingly, farms replaced forests for two hundred years up until the time of the Civil War. Forests were cleared to plant corn, cotton, rice, tobacco , and vegetables. By 1860 there were an estimated 81.3 million acres of agricultural lands in the North. States with the most farmlands were New York (14.5 million), Ohio (12.6 million), and Pennsylvania (10.5 million ). At this time there was an estimated 73.4 million acres of agricultural lands in the South, including the border states of Kentucky and Missouri. Southern states with the most farming were Virginia (11.9 million acres), Georgia (8.4 million), and Tennessee (6.9 million).2 Some farmlands, such as those in the highly erodible Piedmont region, had already been abandoned and reverted to old-field pines by the time of the Civil War.3 Associated with most farms, domestic or feral livestock impacted native vegetation in many areas. Hogs, in particular, with their omnivorous diets and rooting habits, are agents of change in any natural system. The 1850 census recorded more than two hogs for every person in Alabama, Florida, Georgia , Mississippi, and North Carolina.4 • • t h e c iv i l wa r s et t i n g • • 5 6 Flora and Fauna of the Civil War The developing nation made additional demands on natural forests. Lumber was sought for buildings, wagons, crossties, and barrels. At the beginning of the Civil War, North Carolina’s pine forests were the country ’s center of production for naval stores. Wood for ship planking, spars, and masts, and resin products such as pitch and tar for waterproofing, preserving, and turpentine were in great need.5 Fuel wood fed the boilers of steamboats and locomotives, as well as fireplaces for domestic heating and cooking. Charcoal made from various species of cordwood fueled the fledgling iron industry. Hardwood ashes were used in the manufacture of potash—a basic ingredient in soft soap and gunpowder, and hardwood bark was necessary to tan leather.6 As the following passage shows, the loss of forests in some places was lamented as early as 1849: “the time is not distant when public attention must be drawn to the planting of forest trees in the country . . . we have destroyed our forests . . . and posterity must face the consequences.”7 However, in spite of extensive human impacts, most of the area directly affected by the Civil War was still forested in 1861. Indeed, sizable tracts of virgin forests remained, and large-scale commercial logging did not begin until after the war. Deciduous hardwoods comprising several species of oaks (Quercus spp.) and hickories (Carya spp.), chestnut (Castanea dentata ), yellow-poplar (Lireodendron tulipifera), and sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua) dominated the canopies of eastern interior forests. The coastal regions of the Carolinas and Deep South were blanketed with vast coniferous forests of longleaf (Pinus palustris), loblolly (P. taeda), and slash (P. elliottii) pines. Beneath the larger trees floristic diversity was great, as numerous midstory and shrub species grew alongside a host of perennial and annual wildflowers, vines, grasses, and ferns. Throughout and on the periphery of the general forested landscape, unique habitat types in the form of prairies, marshes, savannahs, bogs, brakes, glades, and balds existed on a much smaller scale in response to special environmental conditions. Civil War forests were not the vast unbroken stands of giant, primeval, old-growth trees depicted by early nineteenth-century romantic writers. Rather they were likely a mosaic of types, ages, and sizes resulting from many factors including various site characteristics (e.g., soil fertility, moisture , slope, latitude, etc.) and past disturbance (e.g., human- or lightninginduced fire, hurricanes and other storms, destructive insects, and disease ). Native plant data relevant to specific sites such as battlefields during   The Civil War Setting  7 the war are scarce. During the research for this book, I contacted the superintendents of all Civil War national military parks seeking information on flora and fauna of their areas at...