A Civil War Survival Story
By Homesteader
20 May 2004

The following is an extract from a Diary of one of my relatives; it tells a story of survival in the South during the period of the War between the States. How prepared will you be if hard times happen to come again???


. . . Meanwhile back home in the Mount Bethel Community, families were struggling just as they were all across the South.

Most families had farms to maintain and with no men folk around to help.

The women and small children had to take on the responsibilities of running the farm, tending to the farm animals and equipment, working the fields to prepare for crops, and preserving food.

As you can see feeding the family became a daily struggle.

Also, soon after the war had began all the seaports of the Southern States were blockaded.

Everything went up enormously in price and what little dry goods and groceries that were available soon sold.

There was a great scarcity in cloth and sewing notions, like needles and buttons, grain, sugar, coffee, tea, salt, soda, castor oil, paper and envelopes.

Then commenced the lesson of thrift, make shift and invention that developed so wonderfully during the struggle.

Most families wore the same cloths for four years, thread bare and patched many times also they used thorns from the wild lemon bush for pins and buttons had to be made out of persimmon seeds.

Grain had to be raised and ground into flour.

People substituted parched wheat and rye for coffee.

Sweet potatoes, cut into tiny squares and dried in the sun were used for sugar.

Dried leaves of blackberry, sassafras roots, spice wood, and other herbs were used for tea.

To have salt, Lucinda like all of her neighbors would dig up the ground in the smokehouse, where the salt had dripped from the meat, which hung above.

The dirt was put into a hopper and dipped down into a vessel then boiled, getting the sediment, which was a brown salt.

Soda, too, was scarce.

It had to be made by burning cloth using one-half pint of castor oil.

Castor Oil also was scarce and was kept in a secret hiding place.

Letters were written on any kind of paper they were able to get and envelopes were made out of wall paper or any paper blank on one side.

Ink was made of oak balls or walnut juice.

..Then came a time when few things could be bought with Confederate money and every one bartered with everyone else.

It is said that one woman swapped 30 yards of home spun cloth for one-half-pint of castor oil.

..News from the army was precious and when anyone in the community received a letter from a soldier it would be sent around to all the neighbors and read so that every one might keep up with the operation of the army.

...Mount Bethel Baptist Church was a source of hope and faith for the small community during the struggles, the adversity, and the sorrow that invaded the life of it members during these difficult times that were consequences brought about from this war.

...Lucinda, like all the other wives, lit their homes with tallow, wax candles and even pine knots during the late evening, as the family read from their Bible and prayed to God to bring their loved ones home safely.

...Lucinda’s children were just babies and she had to depend on her sisters, Millie Ashley Murdock, Lize Ashley, and Sarah Jane Ashley Mitchell to help out and occasionally they would give her food.

William’s family lived nearby also, and they helped as they could.

Just providing for the needs of your own family was almost all anyone could do during these difficult times.

...The War ended on April 9, 1865.

William was released from prison about two months later and he walked home with two of his friends.

William also had a Springfield rifle he was bringing home.

When the three were a little way north of Anderson, William announced he would have to sit down and rest a while.

The other two men were younger and eager to get home being so close and they left William sitting.

In a little while William caught up with them, before they got home.

William’s family was worried that he might have been killed, since there was little word about the people who had been captured and the people from Lee’s and Johnston’s Armies had already surrendered and most were home.

The family saw William coming down the road and ran to welcome him home.

But he stopped them and yelled that he had lice.

He told them to put out a wash pot and some clean clothes by the barn for him to use.

After he washed and dressed, they burned his uniform that Lucinda had made before the war, because it was infested with lice.

...While William was in the war he developed a childhood disease called the Mumps.

For children the disease is uncomplicated with about a week of recovery.

However, for an adult male the Mumps can be a serious illness, leaving the adult male sterile, unable to father children.

William and Lucinda only had the three children even though they tried to have more children after he returned from the war.


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