Rational Rations Part 4
by Paul Winslow
Thirty thousand colonists served in Provincial units in what we know of as the French and Indian War. They left thinking of themselves as Englishmen. They came away with military experience, a sense of their own identity and finally a nagging uneasiness that they were not Englishmen. The British army was a professional army populated by the poor of Scotland, Wales, Ireland and England. The young sons of farmers, merchants, and craftsmen in the colonies had little in common with their fellow “englishmen.” Within a decade of the end of the French and Indian War, these veterans were leading the revolt against the empire. In one of the most memorable events of the revolution, they threw the Tea Party heard around the world and dumped tons of it into Boston Harbor. Tea was a symbol of the vast empire they were pulling away from. What would Americans do at 4:00 every day, without tea?
Coffee, java, filled the void, especially when teatotalers (sic) railed against other beverages that were available. It was during the War of the Rebellion that coffee was imbedded into the nation’s culture. The soldiers of the Civil War loved coffee. They drank it hot and sweet, cold from their canteen, and even added it to their cooking. We say “sweet” because they would often mix their coffee and sugar ration together when it was issued. They loved it so much they perfected a technique to meet their need for it on the march. We had once read that they prepared coffee during the ten minutes each hour provided for rest while on the march. Could this be a misprint or an old soldier’s tale? We have seen reenactors take hours to build fires to boil coffee. We could not figure it out until we ran across an illustration of a dipper (big cup) setting on a rock twice its size with tinder in a teepee-shaped fire that directed the flames against the sides of the dipper.
Now that the concept was before us, it needed to be proven. We turned to the Culinary Research Division of the Turner Brigade. The Major General commanding the Culinary Research Division (it is a division and deserves a Major General) agreed to attempt to prove our theory that this was the solution to the mystery of the 10-minute coffee. The commander and his Adjutant (a Brigadier) consumed a face cord of kindling before finding the most effective method.
The Culinary Research Division found that everything had to be at the ready when the halt was ordered. They speculate that messmates acted together at once. One found the rock, another had probably carried the kindling with him, a third filled the cup and added the coffee. They set up the rock and cup, stacked the kindling on the windward side against the cups and lit the fire. Sometimes the blaze needed extra small twigs to keep it burning. A small boil, better than a simmer, could be achieved, and the resulting brew was close enough to coffee to satisfy the weary soldiers. They had to drink on the march but I’m sure they were refreshed and renewed.
Now you’ve had you hardtack, salt pork or bacon, and your sweet coffee. Your hunger sated and tired from the march, you wrap yourself up in your double blanket and feel yourself drifting off to sleep, when you begin wondering; “What is the nutritional value of the Civil War field ration?”. Rest easy, weary soldier, we’ll deal with that in Rational Rations Part V.
This article was originally published in the September 2001 issue of The Shrapnel, the newsletter of the Turner Brigade. For information about The Shrapnel, contact Capt. Randy Baehr, Editor.