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  Sumac 95 of a superior quality, could be supplied from this abundant natural production . It is quite strong and very durable.”11 • Others found Spanish moss such a curiosity that they sent it home to family and friends. Captain Jacob Ritner, 25th Iowa Infantry, in a letter to his wife from Young’s Point, Louisiana, on February 22, 1863: “I will send you a specimen of moss that grows on the branches of trees down here. It hangs down all over the trees, sometimes two or three yards or more long and looks very odd—it makes a good bed to sleep on.”12 John M. Follett, 33rd Illinois Volunteer Infantry, at Milliken’s Bend, Louisiana, in a letter to his sister on April 5, 1863: “Enclosed you will find some moss such as hangs on every tree in the woods in these parts. It is for you.”13 Private Isaac Jackson, 17th Ohio Battery, at New Orleans, Louisiana, on May 17, 1864: “That Moss I sent home was of a bright green color when I pulled it. It may change its color. It is the same as the moss that they use up there to make carriage cushions.”14 S u m ac 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 out in the shape of a stag’s antlers. Poison sumac (R. vernix), like the closely related poison ivy (R. radicans), contains the allergen urushiol that causes severe dermatitis in many people. Although not preferred wildlife plants, sumacs can be important to birds such as quail during severe winters. Sumac was important during the nineteenth century as a raw material in the tanning industry. Sumac mills were common in the East and worked on the same principle as gristmills. During the Civil War, millstones that were later turned by engines were powered by water or horses and mules. One source reported that a horse and three mules were used to convert 96 Flora 150 tons of sumac leaves into 130 tons of sumac “sauce.”1 A trade magazine stated that bark tanning of leather involved a twelve-hour sumac liquor bath.2 Tannin from sumac was sought when light-colored, supple leathers, such as those used in bookbinding, were required. An unknown amount of nonnative sumac was imported by the Union to supplement that gathered locally for the industry. Sumac was also an important source of bright red and black dyes during the Civil War both for the commercial mills of the North and the southern housewife’s dye pots. Smooth sumac (R. glabra) was used in shoe wax, and the drupes were fermented into vinegar. “Sumac-ade,” a refreshing drink, was made from at least two species. Sections of the pithy, easily hollowed stems were inserted into sugar maple bore holes to collect sap into pans below. Medically, the various species of sumac were used in the treatment of hemorrhoids, ringworms, syphilis, gonorrhea, rheumatism, and “putrid fevers.”3 Poison sumac was at the center of one Civil War story that ended with an odd twist: “Private William McKesson Blalock resided in Caldwell County with his young wife of 20, Sarah Malinda Pritchard Blalock. On March 20, 1862, Sarah, being a truly loving wife, donned male attire, and enlisted, as ‘Samuel’ Blalock, with her husband in company F, of Zebulon Vance’s famed 26th Regiment North Carolina Troops. A month later William Blalock was discharged for hernia and ‘poison from sumac,’ at which time Samuel (Sarah) immediately confessed her sex, and was ultimately discharged with her husband.”4 Private William Blalock is alleged to have intentionally wallowed in poison sumac for the purpose of obtaining a medical discharge. Rev.FrancisSpringer,chaplain,10thIllinoisCavalry,describingthedebriefing of a spy at Rhea’s Mill, Arkansas, in December 1862: “While the general [Blunt] listened & asked questions, he [the spy] plied his pocket knife most industriously on stick after stick that he cut from the lowly sumac that had grown on the spot.”5 Sw e et g u m Distinctive star-shaped leaves identify sweetgum (Liquidambar styraciflua ) trees. Found throughout the eastern half of the United States, sweet- 96 Flora 150 tons of sumac leaves into 130 tons of sumac “sauce.”1 A trade magazine stated that bark tanning of leather involved a twelve-hour sumac liquor bath.2 Tannin from sumac was...


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