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The Blue and Grey Almanac - The Civil War in Facts and Figures, Recipes and Slang

Albert Nofi
This is an unusual book. Although about the American Civil War, it often contains information not found in more conventional histories. What other book has the recipe for the regimental punch made by the Charleston Light Dragoons? The recipe starts with some of the alcohol: Rye Whisky, 3 gallons; Rum, 2 quarts; Champagne, 3 gallons. The recipe also includes green tea leaves, red cherries and pineapple pieces. Other regimental punches were equally lethal – that of the Chatham Artillery was a mixture of wine, run, brandy, whisky, gin and champagne with brown sugar, cherries and green tea leaves for additional flavour.

The book is divided into twelve chapters, an epilogue and an appendix. Some of the chapters are relatively conventional – the first two chapters deal with how America became steadily divided over the issue of slavery and how the succession of the South led to the Civil War. Other chapters contain a miscellany of information I’ve not seen in other books on the Civil War. For example, the chapter on the generals starts fairly conventionally with a discussion of their background and where they got their military training or experience from. But then it delves into which generals were teetotal and which were drunks; both armies had plenty of both. Grant, interestingly, doesn’t make the list of drunks. Although he went on spectacular benders from time to time, he wasn’t a habitual drinker.

Other information on the generals includes a list of those who were noticeably skinny or fat. The Confederacy’s William Malone was five feet six and weighed just one hundred pounds; conversely, the Union’s Michael Lawler came in at five feet nine and about three hundred pounds, his bulk not stopping him becoming an effective battlefield general. Other generals were notorious for their language. The Union’s George Meade earned himself the nickname ‘old snapping turtle’ for both the shortness of his temper and the profanity of his language; while the Confederacy’s Jubal Early “habitually spiced his conversation with language that made sailors cringe”.

The twelve chapters in this book are;
  • The House Divided: an explanation of the tensions that divided the North from the South over several decades.
  • From Secession to Civil War: events in the immediate run-up to the Civil War.
  • The Civil War in 11,000 Words: an outline of the main events in the Civil War.
  • Armies Blue and Grey covers the mechanics of forming the two armies
  • Incidents and Anecdotes of War is a chronological collection of strange or unusual incidents.
  • The Naval War covers exactly that.
  • War and Society is a miscellany of people-related facts about the Civil War, ranging from a list of notable society weddings, to a discussion of what the real death toll was.
  • The Generals discusses the senior commanders on both sides.
  • Money, Graft and Corruption discusses how the war was financed and the inevitable criminality associated with the placing of large or small contracts.
  • The Naughty Bits covers the seamier side of the war, ranging from which generals took their mistresses on campaign through to the number of prostitutes working in certain cities – Chicago had 2,000 for example.
  • The Troops is a mass of information about the enlisted men who fought for both sides; American Indians fought on both sides as – surprisingly did African Americans. Although they did not perform combat roles, the Confederate armies contained a substantial number as servants and slaves.
  • Civil War Medicine covers medical treatment in the Civil War, be it treatment for disease or battlefield wounds.
The book also has an epilogue, which has information on how the Civil War subsequently affected American History. A short appendix has some facts about the Civil War and the Presidency; seven men who served in the war would eventually become president for example.
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It’s difficult to categorise this book, for some chapters are conventional and some are not. The chapter on 'The Civil War in 11,000 Words' provides an admirably concise outline of the war. Conversely, Incidents and Anecdotes of War is a collection of odd (and sometimes amusing) stories that happened at different times during the conflict.

On a personal level, I rather enjoyed reading it. It’ll certainly appeal to anyone who wants a rather quirky look at some unusual aspects of the American Civil War.
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