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  Opossum 163 • Idle soldiers, including prisoners, often spent their time making an assortment of jewelry and curios from whatever natural materials were at hand. Shells from freshwater clams (mussels) were a popular raw material. Captain William H. A. Speer, 28th Regiment of North Carolina Troops, as a prisoner of war at Johnson’s Island in Lake Erie on June 22, 1862: “Various amusements are followed by the prisoners. The most are employed in ring making in which they use guts [?] & such for the ring & put in it sets of gold & silver but mostly of shell of various colors, some of which are exceeding nice. The shells are obtained out of Lake Erie. We get them when we go into the lake bathing by diving after them. Many thousands of the rings, breastpins, shirt buttons, bracelets & watch fobs are made.”6 Private Harvey Reid, 22nd Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry, in a letter from Murfreesboro, Tennessee, on Aug. 3, 1863: “The camp, since we have been here has been a regular manufactory of trinkets, and every one who had the genius or taste for such employment had some shell ornament to send home. At Annapolis, the boys’ material for displaying that ingenuity was laurel root and cannel coal—at St. Louis, everything was made of bone—here they use clam shells from the river. The fact of the shells being found in Stone River is supposed to give the trinkets great additional value.”7 O p o s s u m 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 and the state where it was first described. Opossums are found throughout most of the eastern United States and Central America. They are unique in being the only native marsupial in the United States. The young of marsupials are born incompletely formed and develop for an extended period in the female’s specialized pouch (called a marsupium). Adult opossums are about the size of a large domestic cat with a bare tail, and usually long grayish-white fur that is sometimes 164 Fauna tanned for leather. Opossums are omnivorous and will eat almost anything , dead or alive. They are especially fond of persimmons, leading to the nineteenth-century term “possum beer” for homebrew made from persimmons .1 Folklore pertaining to opossums abounds, including the myth that they feign death. During the Civil War, opossums were almost always mentioned in the context of food. Many considered them a delicacy. Sergeant George W. Bolton, 12th Louisiana Volunteers, in a letter to his family from near Grenada, Mississippi, on Dec. 18, 1862: “The boys in my mess got about twenty pounds of butter, a ham of bacon, besides a good deal of cakes, and Jim Sutton got a baked opossum which was splendid indeed.”2 Colonel Thomas W. Higginson, 1st South Carolina [African American] Volunteers, near Beaufort, South Carolina, on Nov. 24, 1863: “today I dined on roasted opossum. Done to perfection, done brown, with such cracklings as Charles Lamb in his visions of roast pig only dreamed of, I found it a dish of barbaric fascination. Bear meat is delicious, it is like beef that has been fed on honey; alligator steaks are a kind of racier fried-halibut ; but I see that ’possum is one of the great compensations of Nature.”3 Lieutenant William R. Montgomery, 1st Georgia Sharpshooters, at Lookout Mountain, Tennessee, on Nov. 2, 1863: “Received my box [from home] today. Had a good time. Had Opossum, Chicken, Potatoes, Butter, peach pies & some oh! such nice apples. Like to hurt myself eating.”4 Private Melville Follett, 42nd Illinois Infantry, near Stones River, Tennessee , on Feb. 3, 1863: “Bennett Goodrich and myself went hunting Possom . Cut down one tree but were not lucky enough to find one.”5 Colonel Thomas W. Higginson, 1st South Carolina [African American ] Volunteers, near Beaufort, South Carolina, on Dec. 1, 1862: “I reproached one [soldier] whom I found sitting up by a camp fire cooking a surreptitious opossum—telling him he ought to be in bed after his hard work.”6 Private S. O. Bereman, 4th Iowa Cavalry, near Helena, Arkansas, on Feb. 4, 1863: “Our Co. on picket. Snowed all day & at night set in to rain-   Oysters 165 ing, and freezing. What a dismal night to be out in. In the morning killed several rabbits. One of the boys ‘caught a...


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