Thursday, September 25, 2014

Civil War Hospital Food

     We’ve all heard the jokes about the food in hospitals being terrible.  Were the meals different for Civil War soldiers in the hospitals?  After all, they didn’t have Jell-O back then!

     I was recently cataloging the book “The Hospital Steward’s Manual,” by Joseph Janvier Woodward, published in 1862.  It contains a section titled, “Cooking in Hospitals” which not only lists the foods served to the patients, but the recipes (or “receipts”) as well!  The opening section reads, “Perhaps no subject is more worthy of attention in a hospital than the quality of the food and the character of the cooking.  In the latter there is certainly greater room for improvement in United States army hospitals than in the former.”  So, it appears that perhaps hospital food was regarded about as well as it is today!

     Let’s take a look at a few of the “Receipts adapted to the ordinary diet in hospitals.”

Would it surprise you to learn that the first recipe listed is for making coffee?  Civil War soldiers, much like soldiers today, counted on their coffee to help keep them going!  This 1863 lithograph by Winslow Homer is titled “The Coffee Call” and shows Army of the Potomac soldiers waiting for coffee at a campfire in an encampment.  Library of Congress image.

No.1. Coffee for ten men. 

Put 9 pints of water into a canteen, saucepan (or other vessel) on the fire; when boiling, add 7 1/2 oz. of coffee; mix them well together with a spoon or piece of wood; leave on the fire a few minutes longer, or until just beginning to boil.  Take it off, and pour in 1 pint of cold water; let the whole remain ten minutes, or a little longer; the dregs will fall to the bottom, and the coffee will be clear.  Pour it from one vessel into another, leaving the dregs at the bottom; add 2 teaspoonfuls of sugar to the pint.  If milk is to be had, make 2 pints less of coffee, and add that much milk; boiled milk is preferable.

REMARKS. - This receipt, properly carried out, would give 10 pints of coffee, or 1 pint per man.” 

During the Civil War coffee was also dispensed as medicine.  This bottle contained Coffea cruda, or unroasted coffee.  The handwritten label reads, "2X Coffea * Cruda 10 oz.”

     Many of the hospital patients required fairly bland, easy-to-digest food.  Corn mush, called Indian mush in this Hospital Steward's manual, served this purpose.

No. 12. Indian Mush for one hundred men

Ingredients – Indian meal [corn meal], 20 lbs., water, 70 pints (8 ¾ gallons), salt, 6 oz.  

Moisten slightly the meal with water.  It will require about one gallon and three-fourths for this purpose.  Have the rest of the water – say 7 gallons – in the caldron boiling; add the salt, then stir in the moistened meal.  The stirring should be continued after all the meal is in, to prevent burning.  From twenty minutes to half an hour will be found long enough to boil.  The above quantities will make 100 pints of mush, or a little more.  One pint may be served to each man, with molasses or milk.  If milk, one pint should be allowed to each patient; if molasses, one gallon to one hundred men.

REMARKS. – If the meal is stirred in dry, the mush will be lumpy.”

As you can imagine, making meals for a hospital full of patients was a big job!  Though the Hospital Steward oversaw the kitchen, there were cooks employed to actually prepare the food.  Here you can see the kitchen and staff at the Soldiers’ Rest Home in Alexandria, Virginia, in 1865.  Library of Congress image.

     As the patients improved, so did their dinner menu!  The following recipe for stew may have been a bit bland, but certainly sounds palatable.

No. 9.  Plain Irish Stew for fifty men

Ingredients - Fresh mutton or beef, 50 lbs., large onions, 8 lbs., whole potatoes, 12 lbs., 8 tablespoonfuls of salt, 3 tablespoonfuls of pepper; water, a sufficient quantity.

Directions. - Cut the meat into pieces of a quarter of a pound each; put the ingredients into the pan with enough water to cover them all.  Set it on the fire, and keep up gentle ebullition, stirring occasionally, for an hour and a half for mutton, and two hours for beef.  The mash some of the potatoes to thicken the gravy, and serve.

Variations. - Fresh veal, or pork, may be used instead, when convenient.”
     Other "receipts" in the manual include beef soup, codfish hash, boiled salt pork, bean soup, baked pork and beans, corned beef and cabbage, and of course, bread.  It may not be considered fine dining today, but I’m sure the hospital patients were glad to get something besides hardtack!

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, except where otherwise noted.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Pets and Mascots of the Civil War

     Civil War soldiers endured many hardships during the time they served.  Though they couldn’t do much about the long marches and short supplies, many of them did find ways to cope with the loneliness and home-sickness.  There are many recorded instances of soldiers bringing pets from home, or adopting pets they found, as a way to provide companionship and to boost their moral.  Sometimes an animal would be adopted by the whole regiment as a mascot. 

As you might expect, dogs were very popular as pets and mascots.  This Library of Congress image shows an unidentified Confederate soldier with his hound dog.

     In searching the museum’s collection for examples of pets in the Civil War, I discovered a poem written by Colonel Salome Marsh of the 5th Maryland Infantry.  He was so distraught over losing his dog, Sam, that he memorialized him in a poem.  It’s a bit long, so I’ll just share the first part of it here.  It’s not quite a literary classic, but it does convey Col. Marsh’s feelings for his lost pet. 

Epitaph on a Favorite Dog

Poor Sam is dead and gone,
We ne'er shall see him more,
He has left us here to mourn,
Whom we did once adore.

Alas, Thy days are numbered,
True and faithful friend,
The tender ties are severed,
That kept thee to thy end.

When other friends proved false,
Thou wert always true,
Hence, death, hath given cause,
To mourn the loss of you.

     Horses and mules were an essential part of the war effort, but many of them became more than just a mode of transportation to their owners.  The most famous example is General Robert E. Lee’s horse, Traveller.  He became so popular that people would pull hairs from his tails as souvenirs!  An officer with the 3rd Louisiana had a pet donkey named Jason.  Jason was allowed to sleep in his owner’s tent at night (probably for the added warmth), but he sometimes got the wrong tent and tried to curl up next to the commander instead! 

This tintype which is on loan to the NMCWM from the collection of Dr. Gordon Dammann, depicts the horse of Surgeon John Wiley of the 6th New Jersey.  Unfortunately we don’t know this horse’s name, but Dr. Wiley obviously thought enough of him to have him photographed!

     Raccoons and squirrels were often kept as pets too.  The 12th Wisconsin and the 104th Pennsylvania both kept raccoons as their mascots.  A Union nurse, Clarissa Jones, was given a pet squirrel by her brother, Lane.  She named the gray squirrel “Secesh,” which was a nickname at the time for Confederates!  She wrote home to Lane about him, “Let me tell you about Secesh—I have put it out to board—the poor little beast seemed so lonely and felt so lean that I feared it pined for its native woods and as I had not the time to notice it thro’ the day I concluded to lend it to Tom Lyman Mr. H’s grandson.  I took it there today to exhibit it to the children.  Tom brought up a large cage which he made for his own pet of a like race - he offered it to me and knowing his propensity for….such things I loaned it to him till he got tired of it.”
     Some farm animals became pets and mascots as well.  General Lee kept a chicken in camp as a pet.  She reportedly laid an egg under his cot every morning, which he then had for breakfast!  The 2nd Rhode Island had a sheep they named Dick.  Dick was taught to do tricks to amuse the men.  Unfortunately for Dick though, he was later sold to a butcher for five dollars to buy food for the men.

       There are accounts of a few more unconventional pets as well. 

The 8th Wisconsin Regiment kept a bald eagle named “Old Abe” as their mascot.  He had his own shield perch so that he could be taken on marches and in parades.  When they went into battle though, Old Abe would fly over the battlefield and screech at the enemy.  Library of Congress image.

     The 26th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry had a badger for their mascot, probably since Wisconsin is known as the Badger State.  The 12th Wisconsin was a bit more unconventional though, and had a bear which accompanied them on their marches!

My pick for the most exotic mascot is Old Douglas the camel!  Douglas, who had been part of Jefferson Davis’s Texas Camel Experiment, belonged to the men of the 43rd Mississippi Infantry.  This “faithful, patient” mascot accompanied them into battles, and was shot and killed during the siege of Vicksburg.  Photo by Natalie Maynor.

NMCWM Educator, Tom, and unofficial museum mascot, Lacy, show that faithful pets are just as much a part of our lives now as they were during the Civil War!

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, except where otherwise noted.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Look Inside an Old Medicine Chest

     It’s time to take a look at another one of my favorite artifacts! 

At first glance, it simply looks like a wooden chest with a lock, drawer, and dovetailed joints.  Though not visible in this shot, there is also a metal handle on each side of the chest.  Once you know that the chest was made for an apothecary named Dr. Thomas Ritter, you get a better idea of what it contains. 

The upper portion of the chest is filled with medicine containers.  It appears that only one container is missing, so it is nearly complete!  In addition, all but one of the containers still retain their labels, so this gives us a good idea of the types of medicines in general use in the mid-19th century.  

The drawer, which is stuck shut, would have held a small set of apothecary scales and weights, and some basic medical supplies.

     I discovered that Dr. Ritter wrote a book to accompany his medical chests, "A Medical Manual and Medicine Chest Companion".  Though it pretty much starts as an ad for his product, this book also contains a list of the medicines in the chest along with their uses and dosages, “recipes” for some of the remedies of the time, and a guide for treating various ailments. 

     Here’s what Dr. Ritter has to say about his product, “The subscriber [Dr. Ritter] devotes his energies chiefly to the business of putting up Medicine Chests for families, ships, and plantations.  His prices for new chests, and for replenishing, have given very general satisfaction.  Having put up some thousands, he ventures to say, that for neatness of style, the excellent quality of the medicines, and for the care taken for the preservation of the perishable articles, he is exceeded by no one in the country.  In the replenishing of Medicine Chests, he is strictly careful to put up only such quantities as may be needed, never crowding the chest in order to enhance the amount of the bill."

This view shows the wooden dividers in the upper portion of the chest, which helped to protect the medicine containers.  The missing container would have been in the bottom middle section.  Also, if you look carefully you’ll see a few glass containers which look a bit too small for their compartments.  These containers are not original to this chest.

     These chests were somewhat customizable, so that his customers could choose some of the medicines which went into them.  He charged according to the amount of containers inside the chest, which explains his comment about enhancing the bill!

This is one of the larger ironstone containers in the chest (from the top row in the photo), which held Epsom salts.

     In the book there is an entry for “No. 8 – Epsom Salts” which reads, “May be taken in the dose from one to two ounces, or two to four large spoonsful dissolved in a tumbler of cold water.  They are a very cooling purge in fevers, and in external and internal inflammation. 

When a person has taken, by mistake or otherwise, an overdose of sugar of lead, or extract of lead, the best antidote to the poison is Epsom salts, dissolved and drank as soon as possible.  They decompose the poison, and carry it out of the system.”

A smaller ironstone container (from the row at the bottom of the photo) is labeled, “31- Mercurial Ointment.”

     According to Dr. Ritter’s book, mercurial ointment was used, “to destroy vermin upon the human body.  Rub a little on the parts affected.  (See Venereal Diseases.)  Steel and iron, covered with a little of this ointment, will be preserved a long time free from rust.”  I like how he worked in a household use for his medicine too!

One of the square glass containers held sulphuric ether, which apparently was one of Dr. Ritter’s favorite medicines!

     The entry for “No. 21 - Sulphuric Ether” reads, “This medicine ought to be in every medicine chest, and every family.  Its great variety of uses, its instant operation, renders it of great value in sudden attacks.  Its influence is felt to the ends of the fingers and toes almost as soon as swallowed.  It relieves cramps, dizziness, palpitation of the heart, cholera morbus, Asiatic cholera, faintings, wind in the stomach and bowels, producing colic.  Asthma is relieved, on breathing the vapor of ether.  It may be used for wind-colic by injection, mixed with the common laxative injection.  I have never found any remedy so speedily to compose both mind and body, in delirium tremens, or the horrors, after an emetic.  It is also useful in dyspepsia, combined with Tinct. Bark (No. 25,) three or four times a day.  It may be applied externally for headache, toothache, rheumatism, gout, ruptures.  Dose, one teaspoonful, in sugar and water, every half-hour, until relief ensues.

The water and sugar should be first mixed, and when the patient is ready to receive the dose, the ether should be added and swallowed immediately, as it evaporates very rapidly.  Great care should be taken to keep this article from a lamp, as it takes fire as readily as gun-powder.”
      I just hope he didn’t discover that last part by accident!

     This medicine chest is currently on display here at the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, so that everyone can see it and all of its medicine containers.  

Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine.