Northern Wheat, Confederate Corn

Now me, I don’t think you have to be a re-enactor to be fascinated by the American Civil War. I may not relish the thought of spooning with a bunch of unwashed men in a cold tent, but there are other ways to indulge an interest in history. Like, say, digging up answers to questions like this:

Joe, it’s my understanding that hardtack was eaten by Northern troops while Confederate soldiers ate mostly corn bread, is that true?

In general terms that’s true, though particularly at the outset of the war, both sides ate plenty of each. Southerners grew wheat and built hardtack bakeries just like Northerners did, and made crackers that were every bit as, er, appetizing. Conversely, Northern farmers grew plenty of corn. The issue was one of proportion. The North, being wealthier and more industrialized, had both more flour mills and more bakeries. The South, being poorer and having a less developed industrial infrastructure, had fewer of each.

Wheat is a complicated cereal to mill. A wheat kernel has a husk (bran) that’s less pleasant to eat than the starchy endosperm, but also a fatty germ that goes rancid fairly quickly if it isn’t removed. That task is accomplished via elaborate mills that employ steel rollers and multi-layered sifting. Corn doesn’t have the same spoilage problems. It can be ground up into meal as-is, requiring nothing more than a simple stone grist mill. And just about every town in the South had one of those since they were needed to make animal feed.

Over the course of the war, as the South started to run out of resources, it relied increasingly on corn. In the end, it couldn’t even deliver that consistently, which is why so many Rebs died from malnourishment.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *