The Art of Hiding Personal Effects, Part Three: Food

This is the last installment in the series The Art of Hiding Personal Effects.

Some of Sherman's bummers riding off with confiscated chickens and horses.

Some of Sherman’s bummers riding off with confiscated chickens and horses.

In addition to hiding slaves and valuables, many Southerners attempted to hide livestock, grains, and any food they could before Union foragers arrived. Most families didn’t have much luck, as several hordes of soldiers would raid a household throughout the span of a day, and up to several times in a week. When one group left, another followed soon after, taking whatever the former had left behind. Soldiers searched every possible space for additional provisions, and they confiscated what they wanted, and then discarded, spoiled, or killed the rest.

Barrels of grains, large portions of meat, and farm animals of all kinds were considerably harder to hide than valuables. Some Southerners attempted to send their cows and horses into the neighboring swamps, ravines, or the woods behind their homes. Sometimes this worked, but in other cases soldiers would search the surrounding landscape just as thorough as the house. One family attempted to hide most of their livestock behind their house, and heard a few days later that Union soldiers were “just shooting down cows all thro’ the woods,” and that the family should check on their cows as “five or six [had been found] lying dead round the stable.”[i]

Most families didn’t have time to hide anything more than their valuables, and any animals in the yard or stable were either confiscated and used by the soldiers, or “shot down…and hunted as if they were rebels themselves.”[ii] Foragers confiscated meat first, including those live animals that could easily be secured and killed, followed by whatever they could carry on the horses and cattle they stole.

Sherman's Bummers pilfered anything they could find.

Sherman’s Bummers pilfered anything they could find.

Soldiers raided pantries, broke into cellars, and took what they could from the grain storage. What they didn’t want, they sabotaged in order “to keep the ‘d – d rebels’ from having it.”[iii] At Sarah Tillinghast’s house, the pillagers “poured [our] rice and rye…on the dining room floor and poured molasses over the pile, while flour was tracked from the barrels across the house.”[iv] In a similar instance, soldiers “took the stopper from a barrel of syrup stored in the cellar, letting it gurgle onto the dirt floor.”[v]

Families couldn’t be as creative in hiding food as with their valuables, but some certainly tried. One North Carolina family, hearing the rumors of Sherman’s ‘bummers’ heading through South Carolina, killed their pet hog and buried some of the meat in the woods, covering the spot with leaves and branches in order to make it look natural. They also hid some underneath one of their slave cabins, which, unfortunately for them, was found.[vi] Dolly Sumner Lunt hid meat under her bed. Sally Brown went to an extreme: she pulled the siding off her house, and “crammed meat, grain, and dried food such as beans, dried fruits and vegetables between the walls, then nailed the boards back in place.”[vii] Elizabeth Davidson asked one of her trusted slaves to hide a ham “at the bottom of a barrel of sand that sat off their front portico.” When a Union soldier came to search the house, and lingered near the barrel of sand smoking a cigar, the slave “never let on,” and the soldier “finally put out his cigar in our hiding place,” none the wiser.[viii]

When chaos ensued and all else failed, hiding items in plain sight seemed to be one of the better methods of saving food and to keep from starving. After their last bit of bread and milk had been found hidden in the sideboard, one woman “filled a bucket with flour and…molasses” before it had all been dispersed around her house, had given it to a family member, and requested she “sit on this bucket, [and] guard it well, [for] it is all there is between us and starvation.”[ix] In another instance, a young girl sat on bags of ground meal while soldiers were in the house, spreading out her skirts to hide the corners of the bags.[x]

These few examples illustrate some of the difficulties Southerners faced against hungry, travel weary, and vengeful Union soldiers. Sherman’s March to the Sea and the Carolina Campaigns that followed devastated the South, as cities were pillaged and burned, railroads were destroyed, and families were left starving. The Southern population, already feeling the confines from the lack of food and supplies, grew to resent Sherman and the country he represented. His plan to derail the Confederacy from the inside out worked, fueling a deep hatred from Southerners that continued through the next few generations.

Some families chose to flee rather than face Sherman's troops.

Some families chose to flee rather than face Sherman’s troops.

 

[i] Sarah Ann Tillinghast to Mary Elizabeth Tillinghast, c. 1895, Museum of the Cape Fear Historical Complex.

[ii] Dolly Sumner Lunt, A Woman’s Wartime Journal (New York: The Century Co., 1918), 22-23.

[iii] Eliza Frances Andrews, The War-Time Journal of a Georgia Girl, 1864-1865, (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1908), 259.

[iv] Sarah Ann Tillinghast to Mary Elizabeth Tillinghast, c. 1895, Museum of the Cape Fear Historical Complex.

[v] Noah Andre Trudeau, Southern Storm: Sherman’s March to the Sea, (New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2008),126.

[vi] Sarah Ann Tillinghast to Mary Elizabeth Tillinghast, c. 1895, Museum of the Cape Fear Historical Complex.

[vii] Michael C. Hardy, Watauga County, North Carolina, in the Civil War (Charleston: The History Press, 2013), 58.

[viii] Sarah Eye Burrows, ‘Left to Our Fate’: South Carolina Women During the Civil War and Reconstruction, (Ann Arbor: ProQuest, 2009), 97.

[ix] Sarah Ann Tillinghast to Mary Elizabeth Tillinghast, c. 1895, Museum of the Cape Fear Historical Complex.

[x] Michael C. Hardy, Watauga County, North Carolina, in the Civil War (Charleston: The History Press, 2013), 59.

 

Bibliography

Andrews, Eliza Frances. The War-Time Journal of a Georgia Girl, 1864-1865. New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1908. http://docsouth.unc.edu/fpn/andrews/andrews.html

Burrows, Sarah Eye. ‘Left to Our Fate:’ South Carolina Women During the Civil War and Reconstruction. Ann Arbor: ProQuest, 2009.

Hardy, Michael H. Watauga County, North Carolina, in the Civil War. Charleston: The History Press, 2013.

Lunt, Dolly Sumner. A Woman’s Wartime Journal. New York: The Century Co., 1918. http://docsouth.unc.edu/fpn/burge/lunt.html

Museum of the Cape Fear Historical Complex.

Trudeau, Noah Andre. Southern Storm: Sherman’s March to the Sea. New York: HarperCollins Publishers, 2008.

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2 Responses to The Art of Hiding Personal Effects, Part Three: Food

  1. Tommy Davis says:

    I’ve always been interested in the war’s effect on the civilian population and this series was excellent, as were the articles on coffee and Christmas in the Confederate White House.

    • Ashley Webb says:

      Thank you, Tommy! I have felt that in the U.S.’ most recent wars, the view of the war the homefront is ‘out of sight, out of mind’ unless an individual or a family member is directly involved. During the Civil War, and even WWI and WWII, it directly affected how people led their lives. Little details like the lack of coffee in the South fascinate me, and I look forward to writing more about the social side of the war!

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