The Caffeinated Corps

Some of my favourite history books on the war are the ones dealing with daily life for soldiers or on the homefront. Here’s a fun article that would fit right in there, about the coffee addiction that fuelled the Union army.

Jon Grinspan, a curator at the Smithsonian Institute’s National Museum of American History, notes that coffee fueled the war between North and South. “Soldiers drank it before marches, after marches, on patrol and during combat.” Grinspan quotes a Union cavalryman who wrote that in the final month of the war, “We are reduced to quarter rations and no coffee, and nobody can ‘soldier’ without coffee.”

Reading through diaries and journals of Union soldiers, Grinspan found the word coffee was more prevalent than the words war, bullet, cannon, slavery, mother or Lincoln.

I particularly enjoyed this early version of the “troops on speed” practices such as were employed by the Nazis.

Grinspan states that Union General Benjamin Butler was aware of the effect caffeine had on soldiers and ordered his men to carry coffee in their canteens. He planned his attacks, in part, when his men were most caffeinated. Butler told a senior officer prior to a battle in October 1864 that “if your men get their coffee early in the morning, you can hold.”

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