of the truly decisive battles of the Civil War took place in Texas,
but in other ways the bloody conflict between the North and South had a major
impact on the state.
Looking back on his childhood experiences in Texas
during the war, J.D. Cooley remembered in the mid-1930s how the rebellion affected
the supply of food and beverage on the home front.
“With father gone,”
he recalled, “mother couldn’t do much at raising vegetables, so we lived mostly
on bread, wild meat, and potatoes.”
Not only were tens of thousands of
able-bodied Texas men off fighting for the South,
the North had blockaded all Confederate ports. Blockade runners willing to risk
being fired on by Union warships managed to get some supplies in to the Southern
states, but the South experienced wartime shortages worse than anything later
seen in the two world wars.
Cooley’s family had a wood-burning stove and
his mother had to make do with only a frying pan, an iron pot and a coffee pot.
“And what do you suppose they used for coffee?” he asked.
answer is parched wheat, bran, okra and corn.
Cooley said corn made the best coffee. Unfortunately for any Civil War-era Texan
with a caffeine habit, none of those coffee substitutes contained the chemical
that gives coffee its meaning for most people.
Ready-made clothing and
even cloth for sewing became as scarce as real coffee. The only reliable way to
get cloth was to spin it yourself, Cooley said.
Women took cotton
or wool that had been carded into bats and spun them into thread that would be
wound onto a broach.
“Mother used to ‘spin a broach’ nearly every night
after supper before she went to bed,” Cooley remembered. “This thread was fed
into a loom, where it was woven into cloth. The loom was worked by the hands and
feet. After the cloth was made, the garmets were cut out and sewed by hand.”
only other issue was how to color the cloth. Bark from oak trees or walnut hulls
could be boiled to dye things dark, with various berries used to produce brighter
“In spite of our difficulties at dressing up,” Cooley concluded,
“when we stepped out in our rough shoes, I in my new jeans and my sisters in their
bright linsey dresses, our mother thought it would be hard to improve on us.
Texas mothers resorted to even greater extremes in
providing for their families.
When federal forces fought their way through
Louisiana with the goal of invading Texas, Confederate
officials tried to get as much cotton as they could out of Arkansas, Louisiana
and East Texas to keep it from falling
into Union hands. Long wagon trains wagons moved the important crop – which essentially
amounted to the basis of the South’s economic system – to some place safe.
According to Cooley, much of the cotton ended
up in Dallas. Teamsters unloaded the
cotton outside of town about where Fair Park is now located.
By this point
in the war, 1863, many Texans had gone from being merely inconvenienced by the
war to a state of pure desperation. Some had been reduced to wearing only rags,
including Cooley’s family. That’s when Cooley’s mother decided to take bold action.
“My mother headed a group of women that stopped one of the teamsters in the train
of cotton wagons,” he said. “Pretending to have guns, they told him to put up
The teamster opted to give the women the benefit of the doubt
and put up his hands.
women rolled off a bale of cotton, tore it
open right there and divided it up amongst themselves,” Cooley continued. “Mother
soon had some homespun going on the loom, and before long mother and my sisters
had new dresses.”
Mixing what remained of the new cotton
with wool, Cooley’s mother also made him a new pair of jeans.
once again suitably clothed, Mrs. Cooley gave up her short-lived career as an
Cox - March 7, 2013 column
Related Topics: Columns
| People |
List | Texas