Without a Country – We Need Salt!
Salt. It’s on french fries and potato chips. It’s used to season soups, vegetables, meats, and many other things we cook. We use it to melt ice…
During the Civil War, salt was more than a seasoning additive – it played a fundamental role when it came to food preservation. Canning had not yet come to the mountain cabins. Vegetables were typically preserved by drying or pickling. Pigs were butchered and the pork cured. Salt was a key ingredient for pickling and curing pork.
Some may remember the time when green beans were strung up to dry (creating string beans). And most are familiar with pickles and sour kraut. Suzanne, Eveline, Kate and their neighbors pickled all types of vegetables. Each fall, women in the mountain cabins accumulated a considerable quantity of pickled beans, corn, cucumbers, beets, asparagus, onions, cabbage, etc. Fruits were either dried or picked. All of these food supplies – plus the pig they butchered and cured in the fall – fed the family through the winter.
So, basically, salt was critical to the existence of every family in the mountains. They had virtually no money. They were subsistence farmers. The food they raised had to feed them through out the year. The crop from the garden, plus the eggs, the pig… what ever they had… they grew on their farm.
Salt was a scarce commodity during the Civil War and issued through a county distribution system. Watauga County didn’t issue salt to Unionist families that had a family member who deserted from the Confederate army. The “No Salt” policy served to reward loyal Confederate families and starve Unionist families into submission to the Confederate cause.
Conscription had taken Will into Confederate service during October 1862. His heart was not in the Confederate cause and he deserted June 1863 along with a number of other family members and neighbors. His regiment had well over 100 desert within a few months to return home to the mountains.
By the Fall of 1863, Will and Suzanne needed salt. The county wouldn’t give them salt and the Home Guard had a very dim view of deserters… Their survival was at stake. What could they do?
The story continues in my next blog post. Stay tuned…