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182 Fauna pets he procures for me meet! He stopped here just now on his way somewhere , and sent me a curious bundle with a strange story, by Miriam. It seems he got a little flying-squirrel for me to play with (must know my partiality for pets), and last night, while attempting to tame him, the little creature bit his finger, whereupon he naturally let him fall on the ground, (Temper!) which put a period to his existence.”19 T u r t l e s 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 the two-hundred-pound alligator snapping turtle (Macrochelys temminckii) frequent rivers, streams, lakes, ponds, and marshes. Two species (eastern box turtle, Terrapene carolina, and gopher tortoise, Gopherus polyphemus) are terrestrial, and six species of sea turtles are found along the Atlantic seaboard and Gulf coasts. All turtles lay eggs in burrows on land, with sea turtle clutches sometimes exceeding one hundred. Turtle eggs and meat have been valued as food by humans for thousands of years, leading to the near eradication of some species. The diamondback terrapin (Malaclemys terrapin), a resident of brackish marshes and estuaries and now greatly reduced in numbers, was once reported abundant enough to be a mainstay for feeding slaves in Maryland. Now banned from commercial use by international treaty, tortoiseshell from hawksbill sea turtles (Eretmochelys imbricata) was used during the Civil War era to produce combs, jewelry, hair ornaments, picture frames, and snuff boxes.1 Private John Westervelt, 1st New York Volunteer Engineer Corps, near Hilton Head, South Carolina, on Feb. 15, 1864: “Today while taking a stroll back of the camp I found a terrapin (turtle) weighing about 5 lbs. This was quite a prize, particularly as fresh meat has been unusually scarce lately. It was a female and I suppose was about to deposit its eggs in the sand, which accounts for its being so far from the water. Terrapin is considered one of the most delicious of the turtle species. I do not know how large they grow, but on the voyage from New York I saw thousands of them floating on the sea that did not appear to be much larger than this one. I   Turtles 183 took from it 15 eggs as large as a small sized hens eggs. I boiled them and found them much richer then hens. . . . I made a stew of the flesh for dinner, and boiled the eggs for breakfast next morning, and they made two of the finest dishes I ever tasted.”2 Private John Westervelt, 1st New York Volunteer Engineer Corps, on the Appomattox River, Virginia, on June 11, 1864: “Fishing nearly all day and caught a fine lot with the three last hooks sent me. Ed Whittenoure caught a snapping turtle weighing about 15 lbs. As he did not know what to do with him he offered me half if I would cook him so I cleaned and salted him for the night.”3 Mary Boykin Chesnut at Richmond, Virginia, on Jan. 31, 1864: “Someone sent up a supper of terrapin stew, oysters and Rhine wine, and a box of sugar plums.”4 Lieutenant Rufus Kinsley, Second Corps d’Afrique, in a letter to his father from Ship Island, Mississippi, on May 29, 1864: “the east end of the island is covered with alligators and turtles. The turtle furnishes excellent meat, and the eggs, which are found in bushels, are quite as good as hen’s eggs.”5 Lieutenant Rufus Kinsley, Second Corps d’Afrique, at Ship Island, Mississippi , on June 15, 1864: “Have had considerable sport hunting turtles, for a month or two; they are found here at this season in great numbers. Most of them weight from three to five hundred pounds each. They come on shore in the night, to deposit their eggs in the sand. A turtle deposits two or three hundred eggs in a night, and leaves them to their fate.”6 British journalist William H. Russell in a letter to a friend from Washington , D.C., on March 26, 1861: “If the rapidly expanding orb which contains your stout friend’s digestive apparatus had been provided with adequate masticatory apparatus & ducts he could have dined seven times a day—terapin soup, canvas backed ducks clam chowder I abhor ye.”7...


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