In Their Own Words
September 25, 1861
Letter Expressed Concern over Civil War Soldiers’ Diet
The Daily Constitutionalist of Augusta published a letter from a man concerned - with good reason - about the diet provided for soldiers in the army.
The Diet of Our Army. Mr. Editor: Allow me a short space in your columns to express a few thoughts in regard to the diet of our army. It is certainly an important subject, and one which demands our immediate attention. It is a well known fact, that health depends greatly upon diet, and every undertaking of life upon health. We should, therefore, make every effort possible to supply our soldiers with that diet which is most wholesome and most conducive of strength and energy. In the face of this plain duty, however, with all of our burning patriotism, with all of our love for those who are fighting out battles, with all of our hopes and anticipations of success against an enemy who would enslave us, we are furnishing our soldiers with a diet which has proven more destructive to their ranks than the sword of the enemy. Our Southern men have been in the habit of eating Indian corn bread with a large proportion of vegetables; but when they enter the army, they are confined almost entirely to superfine flour bread and meat. So great and so sudden a change in diet cannot be made, even at home, under the most favorable circumstances, without serious injury to health. What, then, must be the consequences where the circumstances are so unfavorable as in the army? But the nature of this diet is exceptionable. It is too concentrated for the human digestive powers. It lies heavy upon the stomach, clogs the bowels, produces constipation, excessive thirst, and inward fevers. Indeed, it would be impossible to select a diet more aggravating to the fevers which always accompany camp life, and which are the soldier’s worst enemy. It is high time that we were asking ourselves the question, can we not furnish our soldiers a more wholesome diet? Our first attention should be directed to bread the staff of life. Good bread is essential to good health. The flour furnished our soldiers is objectionable in several respects. 1. It is ground so fine that much of its nutriment is destroyed. 2. It is entirely separated from the bran, and when baked, becomes compact, tough, and difficult of digestion, and invariably produces dyspepsia and constipation. 3. It makes a more costly bread than any other. Now, if, instead of converting our wheat into superfine flour, we grind it into meal, just as we do Indian corn, it will make a bread in every respect superior to the fine flour bread. It is sweeter, lighter, more nutritive, and preferable without grease, as a seasoning. The bran it contains aids digestion, cleans and invigorates the digestive system, and supplies to some extent, the place of vegetables. It is well known as a cure for dyspepsia, and should be better known as a general preserver of health. For humanity’s sake it should take the place of the bread now furnished our soldiers. Will not some of our leading men consider the matter? Every other subject which relates to our welfare is continually before the people. Sept. 1861. J. M. G.