To get the salt they needed to preserve meat, Southerners sometimes dug up the floors of their smokehouses, leached the dirt and boiled the water down until just the salt was left. Smokehouse photo from Interpreting Slave Life blog.

To get the salt they needed to preserve meat, Southerners sometimes dug up the floors of their smokehouses, leached the dirt and boiled the water down until just the salt was left. Smokehouse photo from Interpreting Slave Life blog.

By 1864, families on the Mississippi homefront suffered serious shortages of basic goods and faced other hardships.

No shortage probably hurt the Poore family and their neighbors more than that of salt. Without it they couldn’t preserve the meat from slaughtered hogs and cattle. The Confederacy alone required 300 million pounds of salt each year.

It is no wonder then that the U.S. Navy made it a priority to destroy salt works in coastal areas. In the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Navies you can find many reports of raids on Gulf Coast salt works during the war. Marine Sgt. Dave Ekardt has written an overview of Union raids on salt works on the Navy and Marine Living History Association website.

In some cases in Mississippi, salt shortages occurred because the state seized privately owned sources of salt. In others the state started its own business to produce and sell salt. These steps weakened the profits that motivated private businesses to produce more. At the same time the state decided who could buy salt and at what price. These controls, intended to keep salt affordable, took the profit out of the private sales of salt. So private owners just stopped producing it. Government controls caused the very shortages they sought to avoid. Call it War Socialism.

A. J. Brown wrote in his History of Newton County, Mississippi, From 1834 to 1894.( Jackson, Mississippi: Clarion-Ledger Co, 1894; republished by Melvin Tingle, Decatur, Mississippi, 1964):

“It was soon found that the supply of salt was very short in the country. As fast as possible the salt was brought from the cities having any, and then the people resorted to various places where salt was found by digging wells, some in this State probably near West Point, and also in Alabama; on the Bigbee river. In some instances the floors of the smokehouses were dug up, the dirt leached and the water boiled down, thus obtaining some salt in this way for use in saving pork. By using great energy and economy and by the benefits of running the blockade, the supply of salt was made sufficient.”

Do diaries, memoirs, newspapers or local histories indicate that your Civil War ancestors on the homefront had to cope with a shortage of salt? How did they find the salt they needed?

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