Civil War Soldier’s Were Desperate for a Good Cup of Joe: The Weird Tale of Civil War Coffee
US Standard Coffee Ad from 1862
Coffee has long been a popular drink for soldiers in the field, and this was no different during the American Civil War. Coffee was so popular in the 19th century because it was a needed jolt of energy, and it did not make the soldiers sick. Germ theory was still over a decade away, but people realized that coffee did not carry diseases as regular water did, the brewing of the water killed that bacteria. Soldiers during the Civil War were issued nearly 40 pounds of coffee per year (per New York Times), and this underscored the love for the drink that most soldiers had.
Unfortunately for the southern soldiers, their country was struggling to feed their citizens and coffee became a luxury item for the soldiers. These men were desperate for anything that even remotely resembled coffee; they took drastic steps to get their dark liquid fix. Southern soldiers used chickory, peanuts, sassafras, cottonseed, dandelions and countless other natural items that sound like a horrific brewed coffee. This desperation showed just how far soldiers would go for that refreshing cup of joe.
During the war, it was not uncommon for soldiers from both sides to meet informally and trade items. Things like pipe tobacco, local newspapers and other such items were popular, but, without fail, southern soldiers would always beg for Union coffee. Union soldiers would often bring back quite the ransom for just the smallest amounts of coffee traded to the Rebels.