July 14, 1861, the U.S.S. Daylight under Commander Samuel Lockwood, initiated the Federal blockade of Wilmington, NC. It was the last major port to be blockaded in the strategy to close Confederate ports.
The South used small, fast ships to try to slip past the Union Navy, and over the course of the war, five out of six blockade runners were successful in evading the blockade. But because of the runners’ small size, drastically less cargo got into and out of the South.
The whole country experienced food shortages, but the blockade made things more severe in the South. Prices soared and people got creative about stretching foodstuffs. According to Life in Civil War America, some butchers even sold dressed rats. But in case you’re eating this over lunch, these examples from the book of making do are easier to digest:
When salt was unavailable to use as a seasoning, things with a salty flavor could be used, such as a pinch of wood ashes or a wild plant called coltsfoot, and soldiers sometimes used a dash of gunpowder.
Chicory, acorns, beans, beets, bran, corn, cornmeal, cotton seeds, dandelion root, okra seeds, peanuts, peas, sugarcane seeds and wheat berries were variously parched, dried, browned or roasted and used to make ersatz coffee. Other versions used tubers like carrots or yams, which were cut into small pieces, dried, toasted ad then ground up.