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  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 Tarter’ in the shape of an opossum . He did not catch it either, but bought it of a darkie who had, and who told him it would be good to eat. The soldier—who had never seen one before —brought home his prize and gave it to our Boy Jake to cook but Jake soon discovered that it was not eatable, as it had nine little ones hidden in its pockets! I have heard of people getting fooled by opossums before— but not just in that way. It was the first I ever saw.”7 • Opossums as a commodity were not exempt from the laws of supply and demand, as is reflected in the following example of 300 percent inflation in less than a year. John B. Jones, clerk to the Confederate secretary of war, in Richmond, Virginia, on Jan. 18, 1863: “Common tallow candles are $1.25 per pound; soap, $1.00; hams, $1.00; opossum $3.00.”8 John B. Jones, clerk to the Confederate secretary of war, in Richmond, Virginia, on Nov. 21, 1863: “I saw to-day, suspended from a window, an oppossum dressed for cooking, with a card in its mouth, marked ‘price, $10.’ It weighed about four pounds.”9 Oyst e r s During the Civil War, oysters (familyOstreidae) 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 regions of the Atlantic seaboard and Gulf of Mexico before pollution in the form of toxins and excess nutrients eliminated many natural reefs. As a group of mollusks highly prized for human consumption, their role in maintaining good water quality in marine ecosystems was poorly understood in the nineteenth century, leading to overexploitation . Oyster shells were part of an important construction material for sturdy structures in those coastal areas lacking natural building stone. Tabby, consisting of a mixture of equal volumes of lime, sand, water, and oyster 166 Fauna shells, was poured into forms like concrete. Many coastal forts manned during the Civil War were originally built of tabby in the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. Examples include Forts Sumter and Palmetto in South Carolina, Fort Macon in North Carolina, Fort Powell in Alabama , and Fort Sabine in Texas. Commanders learned quickly that tabby walls, often effective against solid shot, were no match for rifled cannon with explosive shells. For thousands of years humans have consumed oysters wherever they are found around the world. Middens, piles of waste oyster shells, remain as evidence in many areas. Civil War participants frequently mention oysters as food items and often refer to them as curiosities or in a gourmet sense, perhaps because a general lack of refrigeration enhanced the value of fresh oysters. Charles T. Quintard, chaplain, 1st Tennessee Infantry, at Pulaski, Tennessee , on Dec. 22, 1864: “Dined with Major Jones, and for wonder as to time and place, had oyster soup. General Hood and myself enjoyed the­rarity.”1 Private John F. Brobst, 25th Wisconsin Infantry Regiment, near New Bern, North Carolina, on Feb. 21, 1865, in a letter to his future wife: “We have plenty of oysters here. All that we have to do is go down on the beach and pick them up and open the shell, and you have them all nicely dressed. . . . It is quite a curiosity to see an oyster bed. They grow in very large bunches, sometimes two or three dozen in a bunch.”2 Sergeant George A. Remley, 22nd Iowa Volunteers, in a letter to his brother from Indianola, Texas, on Feb. 16, 1864: “Well, when I got there one of the men got out his oyster knife and just as he opened them I took them in charge and soon disposed of about two dozen of the largest oysters I ever saw.”3 Confederate nurse Kate Cumming in Mobile, Alabama, on Jan. 5, 1865: “The enemy have deprived us of one great luxury since taking possession of the bay; that is, oysters. They are not to be had, unless at an exorbitant price.”4   Oysters 167 John Hay, assistant secretary to President Lincoln, at Washington, D.C., on Nov. 8, 1864, while awaiting the vote count of the recent presidential election: “Towards midnight we had supper, provided by Eckert...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9780807137994
Related ISBN
9780807136881
MARC Record
OCLC
680039323
Pages
280
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-01
Language
English
Open Access
No
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