On Corn Bread and Christmas Dinners in 1861 Kentucky

In the course of doing Civil War research, I have often come across letters or accounts that provide a fascinating little window into regular life in the 1860s. Recently I came across these two stories while transcribing the letters of Captain James Stinchcomb of Co. B, 17th Ohio Volunteer Infantry. While neither story changes our larger view of the war, they are a delicious little slice of "real life" that all of us can relate to.

Capt. Stinchcomb's regiment was stationed in Kentucky during the winter of 1861-62 and one of the things that he noticed was the Kentucky preference for cornbread versus wheat bread- wheat bread being a far more popular article in his home state of Ohio. He wrote his wife on January 4, 1862 as follows: "The dark and bloody ground is not very good although it produces pretty good corn crops, but little wheat comparatively speaking. The inhabitants all love corn bread. They use wheat bread about as often as we use corn bread in Ohio. There is something very remarkable to an Ohioan about the Kentucky corn bread; it has a uniform taste wherever I have had the opportunity to taste it. For a long time after my entrance into Kentucky, this feature in their corn bread was a curiosity and a mystery to me. To gratify this curiosity and to solve the mystery, I asked a lady from whom our boys were buying bread why it was that their corn bread tasted so funny. She informed me that they put no salt in it. I told her I thought that putting salt in would make the bread much better; she replied that salt would spoil it." One wonders if the Kentuckians didn't put salt in the bread because they couldn't obtain it, or if they truly believed that it tasted better without it.


The second story that struck me as interesting was Capt. Stinchomb's account of the Christmas dinner that his company put on for the regiment while they were encamped at Somerset, Kentucky. Overall, it sounds like the men enjoyed themselves capitally during their first Christmas away from home. "Christmas is over and we had quite a fine time at Company B’s quarters as we had a fine turkey and chicken dinner. We had 29 turkeys and 28 chickens. We invited all the field officers and captains and nearly all the lieutenants and any number of the boys. There were about 300 at dinner and we had plenty although at 10 o’clock we were informed that we had neither bread nor meal to bake bread of, but as soon as we learned this fact, Lt. Ashbrook, Sgt. Ruffner, Corp. McNaughton, and myself and several others started out on a foraging expedition to the country to buy bread and meal. We soon found two and a half bushels of corn meal and by half past 12 o’clock we had as much good corn bread as 300 men could eat. Enos Shumaker baked three pones off the stove. I got a flat or Dutch oven and baked five Virginia corn cakes- which were pronounced by good judges to be excellent. The balance we hired the Negroes in Somerset to bake for us."

"After dinner, Lt. Col. More, Capt. Phillips of the 1st Tennessee, Lt. Graten of the 38th Ohio, Capt. Jackson and Capt. Free of the 31st Ohio and Capt. Fullerton each made short appropriate speeches, filling the boys with enthusiasm. We then sung songs and adjourned with three cheers. I never saw a Christmas pass over with so little drunkenness as there was in the 17th Regiment. I saw none drunk, although I learned there were three who got ‘how come you so.’ The boys were allowed to have as much liquor as they wanted, under a promise from all that none would get drunk, and I am proud to say that so far as the 17th is concerned, with the exception above, their promise was strictly and faithfully kept."

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