From Publishers Weekly
Southern stomachs were even more valuable military targets than Southern armies, according to this absorbing history of the fight for food during the Civil War. Food historian Smith chronicles the devastation wrought by the Union blockade and the cutoff of Northern agricultural trade on the South, whose farm economy was based on cotton and tobacco. (The curtailment of salt imports alone, he notes, made meat preservation almost impossible.) The resulting shortages, abetted by the Confederate government's misguided confiscations from its citizens, hobbled the Southern war effort, Smith contends (surrenders at Vicksburg and Appomattox were dictated by starvation; rioting women chanted "Bread or Blood!" and plaintive letters from hungry families prompted mass desertions). Meanwhile, the North's booming industrialized agricultural system kept Yankees fat, Smith notes. An 1864 civilian campaign to send every bluecoat a Thanksgiving feast succeeded lavishly, while the Southern riposte could muster only a few bites of hardtack and meat. A corrective to blood-and-guts operational histories, Smith's lucid study gives war production, logistics, and home front morale in the Civil War the prominence they deserve. 8 pages of b&w photos. (Apr.)
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Food scholar Smith (Hamburger: A Global History, 2008) considers how food shortages contributed to the demise of the Confederacy. Introducing geographical patterns of American agriculture at the outset of the Civil War, Smith sets up the South�s vulnerabilities in food production and distribution. Before the war, for example, its grain came from the Midwest, and its salt, vital for preserving meat, was imported from Wales. The Confederate government�s various attempts to replace such commodities denied it by Union naval supremacy attract Smith�s astute explanations of their general failure. Rebel officials resorted to printing money, price controls, and confiscations, which may have reflected their resolve to solve supply problems but not an understanding of economics. Inflation, hoarding, and speculation spread widely, as did riots against food shortages. In addition to the way hunger depleted civilian morale, Smith recounts the deleterious effect on Southern armies of the Union�s destruction of farms and railroads; in fact, Lee surrendered when Grant captured his supplies. Smith gives an intriguing and readable response to the ever-popular question of why the South lost. --Gilbert Taylor