A silent meal
A Civil War-era lavish dinner at a well-to-do household. Most southern Pennsylvanians did not enjoy such luxury, but their dinner spreads were often equally impressive. Confederates often marveled at the “vast oceans” of food that some were fortunate enough to have partaken during the invasion of Pennsylvania. Harper’s Weekly.
Many of you know I am fascinated by the human interest side of the Civil War, having written three books (with a fourth one in the works now) on that aspect of the war. In particular, I enjoy studying the psychology of the interactions between the Confederate soldiers and the Pennsylvania civilians during the Gettysburg Campaign. There is a wealth of great material in the soldiers’ old diaries, letters, and similar reminiscences.
Here’s one interesting anecote of a group of Rebel artillerymen from Virginia as they intercoursed with a pair of Franklin County families. Note how the milk was served, and also the custom of dressing up for company. Also note that the head of the household does not eat with the rest of the family…
“A walk of a mile brought us to the house of a widow with three pretty daughters. They told us they had been feeding many of our soldiers and could give us only some milk, which they served, as seemed to be the custom of the country, in large bowls. They said they did not dislike rebels, and if we would go on to Washington and kill Lincoln, and end the war, they would rejoice.
Proceeding farther, we stopped at a substantial brick house and were silently ushered into a large room, in the far end of which sat the head of the house, in clean white shirt-sleeves but otherwise dressed for company, his hat on and his feet as high as his head against the wall, smoking a cigar. At the other end of the room the rest of the family were at supper, of which we were perfunctorily asked by the mistress to partake. A very aged lady, at a corner of the table, without speaking or raising her eyes, chewed apparently the same mouthful during our stay—one of our party suggested, “perhaps her tongue.”
The table was thickly covered with saucers of preserves, pickles, radishes, onions, cheese, etc. The man of the house did not turn his head nor speak a word during our stay, which was naturally over with the meal.”
The artillerymen thanked their hostess for the meal, departed, and returned to their campsite – their bellies full, and their curiosity raised about the Pennsylvania lifestyle.