Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Journal of Sgt. John Clark Ely: Prison brew and Lincoln's 2nd inauguration

Confederates buying beer at prison Point Lookout (Library of Congress)

Those Andersonville prisoners industrious enough to scrape up a little money or some form of barter could avail themselves of all kinds of goods and services inside the stockade – from green corn to a haircut.

They also could imbibe on beer, although, understandably, it was not premium stuff. Some referred to it as sour. Prisoner Robert Knox Sneden wrote of the crowds on busy and noisy Market Street.

“Hundreds are yelling all day, ‘Here’s your fine cold beer; coldest in the stockade for only 5 cents a cup,’ or, ‘Who’ll swap beans for soup?’ or ‘Who’ll give a chew of tobacco for half a raw ration?’ ” he wrote.

Ohio Sgt. John Clark Ely, 150 years ago this month, made a reference in his journal to beer at Andersonville.

Sale of the suds wasn’t just about Union POW entrepreneurship. Capt. Henry Wirz, camp commandant, began the brewing of "corn beer" at the urging of his medical staff.

The concoction was given to those suffering from scurvy. The beer was made from cornmeal and whole corn scalded in hot water until it turned to mash. Some yeast was added to promote fermentation, and in a few days a sharp acid beverage was produced, according to the National Park Service.

Pvt. W.F Lyon, of the 96th Regular Massachusetts Volunteers, 40 years later wrote a book about his Andersonville experiences.

“We had a great many breweries in the prison — in fact, there were a whole lot of breweries and saloon combined, for each one sold his own product,” he wrote, according to a 2013 Washington Post article about the prison. As soon as the mixture of cornmeal and sassafras root fermented, “the proprietor would go out on the street, find a stand, seat himself behind the tub of beer and cry, ‘Who wants a glass of this nice sassafras beer; only 10 cents a glass?’ ”

Here is this week’s installment of the journal of Sgt. Ely of Company C, 115th Ohio Infantry. Entries are courtesy of Andersonville National Historic Site.

March 4, 1865 (Saturday)
Big rain early this morning, feeling pretty bad today.  Old Abe Lincoln inaugeration at Washington, maybe in a few months see the end of this war.

March 5, 1865 (Sunday)
Fine day, feeling quite sick, good news relative to exchange.  Received note from Eadie.  Three months 1 day since our capture.

March 6, 1865 (Monday)
cloudy, hazy day.  Wrote note to Eadie.

March 7, 1865 (Tuesday)
Beautiful day, feeling some better.

March 8, 1865 (Wednesday)
Rainy morning, had a sick night, pleasant p.m., all division sergeants out at headquarters receiving instructions about beer for camp.

March 9, 1865 (Thursday)
Cloudy morning, some rain a.m., very heavy p.m.

March 10, 1865 (Friday).
Clear cool morning, felt no better.

No comments:

Post a Comment