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Starving the South: How the North Won the Civil War Hardcover – April 12, 2011

4.7 out of 5 stars 10 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

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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From Booklist

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

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 295 pages
  • Publisher: St. Martin's Press; 1St Edition edition (April 12, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0312601816
  • ISBN-13: 978-0312601812
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.1 x 9.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 15.2 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #714,698 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Hardcover
I am a civil war reenactor who specializes in period cooking and the history of commissary and supply. Starving the South reads like a breezy magazine article (that's a compliment btw), but don't let that fool you. It is chock full of good information for both reenactors and casual students of the Civil War. Understanding commissary, supply, and logistics is an overlooked but absolutely critical part of understanding the Civil War, and this book does a great job of laying it all out for you. It will also give the casual reader insight into some of the ways the Civil War influenced the logistical infrastructure of the U.S. today. Clocking in at just over 200 pages, you can knock this out in a couple days and be much more knowledgable for your minimal investment in time. The End Notes and Bibliography are extensive for those that want to carry their research further.

A couple of minor criticisms...

- Although the book does touch on the supply advantages of the Union side, I would have liked to have had more detail about that. Perhaps that will be a topic for a sequel, Eating to Yankee Victory.

- There isn't much on the day-to-day meal preparation of the common Confederate or Union soldier, i.e. what they cooked, how they cooked it, the equipment they used. However, that is a minor nit given since that topic has been explored in numerous texts and memoirs.

One final word of praise, the author does an excellent job of maintaining his objectivity. If he favors north or south, you won't be able to tell it from his writing. While he clearly sees the material advantages of the North as being a decisive factor in the conflict, you will find no "Lost Cause" mythology here.

All in all, bravo Andrew Smith for a job well done!
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Format: Hardcover
Who says you can't write anything new on the Civil War? Now, you may have heard of many of the things the author talks about in this book already, but I'm not familiar with any other book that ties them all together - and makes such a good argument that, taken together, they had a MAJOR impact on the conduct and result of that war.

Smith covers all of the major topics - the effectiveness of the blockade, Sherman's scorched earth policy - but also some fascinating minor ones - bread riots, the lack of salt for preserving, how prisoner exchange factored in, the effect of shortages on desertion, planters' favoring cash crops over staples, the role of speculators, the South's inability (and sometimes unwillingness) to sell cotton for specie, the takeoff of canning in the North.

My favorite chapter was the one on Thanksgiving. The North went all out. That effort had an immense effect on morale for both the soldiers and the home front. It really bought the whole section together. The South's effort, on the other hand, was a total disaster. The huge gap between the hopes and the final result just underscored how strapped the South was by food shortages and lack of coordination on the national level.

That last bit, though not the emphasis of Smith's book, really came through for me. There is a central irony in that the South fought for states' rights, but states' rights are an incredibly poor way to fight a war. This had a special significance when it came to feeding your country.

It's a shame this book typically goes under culinary history. It's a lot more than that, and deserves its place with some of the best books on the Civil War overall. If you didn't guess already, I REALLY liked this one.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
I've read a lot of fascinating books about the Civil War but this is one of the most interesting of them all, as the author looks at the role of food during the Civil War. I expected to read about the Northern blockade of the South (and blockade runners) and also about armies pillaging the countryside for food but it was much, much more than that.

Acquiring food and/or withholding food from the enemy was a key element of military strategy, including whether an army had long supply trains or just "lived off the land."

What I didn't expect: The Civil War transformed local markets into national food suppliers and also led to the development of the Northern canning industry. The author talks about Borden and Van Camp, for instance.

As a morale booster, Northern businesses and individuals raised money for and prepared and delivered huge dinners for Yankee soldiers on Thanksgiving, 1864.

My only gripe with the book is that the author didn't go into much detail at all on what all the pillaging and other devastation inflicted on Southern farms/families meant. No doubt people starved but, beyond some discussion of Confederate bread riots, there wasn't much coverage.

Nonetheless, an absolutely fascinating book, one that I'd highly recommend!!
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Format: Hardcover
A summary of the review on StrategyPage.Com:

'Starving the South is not a cheery work, for it portrays the hard choices people, South and North, had to make, and puts to bed the notion of a happy Confederate citizenry. The war fell hardest on the common Confederate soldiers, subject to the draft. As they were mostly food farmers, production fell, and they starved in the army, as did their families at home. As for the North, Smith poses the question: Is it more moral to reduce a people to hunger rather than death to subdue them? Both William T. Sherman and Philip Sheridan answered "Yes" to this question. However Smith fails to consider that in this, Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee also bore responsibility. By the fall of 1864 it was clear the Confederacy was going to lose, in part because of hunger and mass desertion, yet Davis and Lee were undeterred in their quest for victory. In the end, Lee surrendered because he had few troops left and no way to obtain food supplies, as every route had been closed off around him. Smith covers a myriad of other topics: how cotton cultivation affected food production, the effects of the naval blockade, railroads, inflation, bread riots, "starvation parties," the "first" Thanksgiving in 1864, labor shortages, and malnutrition among horses. His discussion of Sherman's march is a bit shaky as he states Sherman's orders were legal, but gives the impression of pure plunder. Smith has made a very important contribution to Civil War literature by demonstrating that the issue of food and the Confederacy was not just one of how hungry the Southern troops were.'

For the full review, see StrategyPage.Com
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