The Battlefield Substitutions For Coffee During The Civil War

You've probably heard the saying that distance makes the heart grow fonder, and this was particularly true during the Civil War when coffee-loving troops, primarily from the South, found themselves without their morning caffeine. For those Starbucks and Peet's devotees out there, this may be difficult to imagine, but this particular moment in U.S. history turned coffee into a battlefield luxury. Tea started to fall out of fashion with Americans after the Boston Tea Party and by the time the Revolutionary War concluded, coffee became America's go-to. 

But the lack of this drink for Southerners made for some creative substitutions for this beloved beverage. According to NPR, those in the Confederate military would "roast rye, rice, sweet potatoes or beets until they were dark, chocolaty and caramelized." American Battlefield Trust further explains that soldiers would turn to anything they could roast to make a cup of Joe, which included chicory, peas, dandelions, acorns, and even peanuts.

Sweet potatoes made a good cup

While none of these coffee substitutes gave anyone the traditional caffeine boost that is synonymous with a good cup of joe, these makeshift creations became a warm comfort that troops readily embraced in lieu of the real thing. Still, American Battlefield Trust states that historians discovered in the diaries and letters of soldiers just how much coffee was missed by how widely discussed the issue was. "We are reduced to quarter rations and no coffee. And nobody can soldier without coffee," one read.

According to the Lansingburgh Historical Society and an article in an 1861 edition of the American Agriculturalist for the Farm, Garden, and Household, the method for making coffee out of sweet potatoes was quite popular, and a Mrs. Ann Hoopes may be the OG of How to's for this one. Her instructions included washing and peeling the sweet potatoes, cutting them up, drying them in the oven, and roasting them until they looked brown; however, no grinding is required with this ingredient. Just bring on the hot water and brew.