Monday, July 17, 2017

David Parker and food's connection to morale in the Army of Northern Virginia.

I've been reading a lot of Confederate letter collections the past few weeks, and I have discovered something interesting in the letters of David Parker. Parker, from Yancey County and a member of the 54th North Carolina Troops, writes home about food (many soldiers did that), but ties in the morale of the army. We know that morale was tied to food, but it does not get mentioned very often.

In November 1862, Parker writes that all they are getting to eat is "dry crackers and beaf meat." He then confesses that he has lost weight in the past few months, and
David Parker
concludes: " I don't think I can stand the scarcities much longer." (45) Parker became lucky in January 1863. He was detailed to cook for the officers in his company. "I get plenty to eat. Thank god that is one good consolation and that is more than any of the rest of the Privates can say," he wrote home in February. (62)

It is unclear just how long these arrangements lasted, but by late summer 1864, Parker appears to be back in the ranks. His command was in the Shenandoah Valley and while rations were scarce, there were opportunities to supplement with apples and other fruits just coming ripe. In December of 1864, things were not so good. Writing from the trenches around Petersburg, Parker believed that "It is the hardest time in this army that I have saw since I have been out in the service and if it does not get better the soldiers will not stand it long. They are all threatening to run away if they don't give them more to eat." A few days later he wrote that the rations were a little better. We are faring very well at this time though I do not know how long it will last. What we get now we can live on very well. If it will only continue. I have not thought to run away yet though when I wrote last I was very much tempted. If they had not given me more to eat I do not know what I should of done though I do not expect to run away while I can help it for it never was my notion to run away. You know that I all ways was opposed to it but hunger will make men do that they do not want to do. So long as Jefferson Davis does feed me as he is at this time I will stay with him." (136)

Of course, we know that the North cut off supplies coming from the Deep South, and from the Shenandoah Valley, and that thousands did run away. David Parker held out until the end. He was wounded, probably on April 2, 1865, and admitted to a hospital in Richmond the next day. Parker succumbed to his wounds on April 14, 1865; he is buried in Richmond, a long way from his home in the mountains of western North Carolina.

If you want to learn more of David Parker's story, check out Pen in Hand: David Parker Civil War Letters, edited by Riley Henry. 


Rea Andrew Redd said...

Nice Work Mike!!

Michael Banks said...

Thanks for the article many members of my family liced in eastern NC ( Onslow,Duplin and Jones counties. I love to find information on what they experienced during those days when they fought for the confederacy.