Wednesday, December 3, 2014
Christmas in Union, South Carolina during the Civil War
Christmas During the Civil War in South Carolina
American Life Histories: Manuscripts from the Federal Writers' Project, 1936-1940.
Mrs. Ida Baker, E. Main St., Union, S.C.
Interviewer: Caldwell Sims, Union, S.C. (11/10/37)
"At Christmas times during the Civil War, people in Union did not have luxuries, at all. Union was only a village, & the stores did not carry much at best. Charleston was blockaded & 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 & other native herb teas both daily & 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 & parched them in the coffee parcher. This coffee needed no sugar, but for other things we used sorghum for sugar & 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 & wheat flakes were unknown.
"We had plenty of food during the war. The woods were dense & they were full of wild animal life, & the streams were full of fish. On Christmas the dinner tables were weighted down with turkey & other wild fowls & many delicacies from the garden, field or stream. No one ever thought of not enjoying the coffee & tea. If sugar was missed it was never mentioned. Even the darkies boasted of the fine coffee & tea brewed from the herbs & wheat.
"Beautiful clothes were rare during the war. Most folks had to go back to the loom & spinning wheel of Revolutionary times. Of course the age of 1800 ushered in a new era in dress, & by the time the Confederate war came along, women wore gorgeous silks & satins, & in those days it took many yards of cloth for a dress.
"However, during the war we -- my sister & I -- did not have to resort to coarse homespun cloth for our clothes. A man, Mr. William Keenan, who built the house where Mrs. T.C. Duncan now lives, was a merchant. He went out of business & my mother bought four trunks full of silks, satins, brocades & linens from him about this time, which was at the outbreak of the war. Mother had these trunks stored in our attic in the house where Mrs. J. Clough Wallace now lives. That is the Meng house. Little girls could sew at the age of twelve in those days. They thought nothing of doing a tedious piece of needle work or hand embrodiery at that age. However, Union had a dress maker at that time, a Mrs. Frasier.
"Mother, my sister & I made our clothes from the things in those trunks. We only made now clothes at Christmas time during the war, & the materials in the trunk lasted."