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Civil War and Reconstruction
The South During the Civil War
At Christmas People Did Not Have Luxuries

Mrs. Ida Baker of Union, South Carolina, describes some of the hardships she and her family experienced during the Civil War. The following excerpt is from an oral history interview contained in American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940. What kinds of hardships did Mrs. Baker and her family encounter during the war?

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"At Christmas times during the Civil War , people in Union did not have luxuries, at all. Union was only a village, and the stores did not carry much at best. Charleston was blockaded, and even Spartanburg which was not much larger than Union at that time did not carry luxuries in her stores, either in food or wearing apparel.

"Those who had money could not buy, for [it?] was not to be had. Everybody had to use parched wheat, parched okra seed or parched raw sweet potato chips for coffee. Not even tea came in. We used sassafras and other native herb teas both daily and at parties when the herb teas were in season. Some were good, but the substitute coffee was not. The darkies cut the potatoes up into small squares and parched them in the coffee parcher. This coffee needed no sugar, but for other things we used sorghum for sugar and it was a poor substitute. I liked the okra seed better than any of the coffee substitutes.

"Women of the South think that the cereal companies got their idea from them for making the many cereals which are on the market. Before the war, cereals like grapenuts and wheat flakes were unknown.

"We had plenty of food during the war. The woods were dense and they were full of wild animal life, and the streams were full of fish. On Christmas the dinner tables were weighted down with turkey and other wild fowls and many delicacies from the garden, field or stream. No one ever thought of not enjoying the coffee and tea. If sugar was missed it was never mentioned. Even the darkies boasted of the fine coffee and tea [brewed?] from the herbs and wheat.

"Beautiful clothes were rare during the war. Most folks had to go back to the loom and spinning wheel of Revolutionary times. Of course the age of 1800 ushered in a new era in dress, and by the time the Confederate war came along, women wore gorgeous silks and satins, and in those days it took many yards of cloth for a dress."
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View the entire interview with Mrs. Baker found in American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940 . Use your browser's Back Button to return to this point.