Notes from the White County Historical Society

By Charlene Shields

Notes from the White County Historical Society as they appear in "The Carmi Times."

Copyright ©2001 by "The Carmi Times" Permission to reprint granted to Cindy Birk Conley and the ILGenWeb by Tammy Knox, editor, "The Carmi Times."

Steel in Southern women

Since seeing Ken Burns' documentary on the Civil War on PBS a few years
ago, I've meant to read Mary Chestnut's diary of her life in the South.
Still haven't done it, but I've read "Heroines of Dixie," a book about
how Southern women coped during that time. (The book was published about
50 years ago, so you probably won't find it anywhere.)

After the North set up a blockade during the Civil War, most of the
clothing and food items disappeared, and women had to improvise.
Salt was not available. Soda was not available. Most food and medical
staples were not available. Women found that ashes of corncobs
possessed the alkaline essential for raising dough. Whenever soda was
needed, corn was shelled. (The cob must be red.) The cobs were burned in
a clean place, the ashes were gathered up and placed in a jar or jug,
and a certain amount of water was poured according to the quantity of
ashes. When needed for bread-making, a teaspoonful of the alkali was
used with the flour or meal as required.

Several coffee substitutes were devised, most of them unsatisfactory.
Okra seeds, browned, were one substitute. Dried squares of yams were
parched and used for coffee. Browned wheat, meal and burnt corn made
passable beverages.

Many people planted raspberry briars, to use the leaves as a substitute
for tea leaves. Blackberry leaves and buckleberry leaves were also used.

Persimmons dried served as dates.

Sometimes food was available on a sort of black-market with butter being
$12 a pound and a Christmas turkey selling for between $50 and $100.
As the Northern armies came through, the soldiers took all animals, meat
and anything else they could find to eat. If they didn't need anything,
they shot and killed all the chickens and other farm animals, set fire
to storage bins and hunted up whatever the plantation owners had tried
to hide and destroyed it. With the Southern men all gone to war, the
Southern women and children were left with practically nothing to eat or
live on.

Many people, especially children, perished for want of proper food and
medication, to say nothing of shelter. With their homes and
outbuildings burned, many people were forced to live in caves.
Yet many of us think of a Scarlet O'Hara type when we think of ladies
from the deep South. Maybe Steel Magnolia would be a more apt


For Civil War buffs, we have a complete set of books on The War of the
Rebellion--more than 100 big volumes. Then a couple of weeks ago Brenda
Powell of Eureka Springs, Ark. brought us 10 additional books. These
were about naval operations during the war.


The Mary Smith Fay Genealogy Library is open from 10 to 2 Tuesdays
through Saturdays.


Address letters to Genealogy, White County Historical Society, PO Box
121, Carmi, IL 62821.

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The Coordinator for the White County, Illinois ILGenWeb page is Cindy Birk Conley

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