By BETHANY BLITZ
For decades, Judy Waring and her husband have been reading old tales of wars and the West and have imagined the hard lifestyle that came with the territory.
Sunday, they got a taste of what that life might be like.
The 1st Michigan Small Artillery Reenactors, a Civil War reenactment group with the Washington Civil War Association, hosted the Taste of Civil War at the Coeur d’Alene Public Library. Reenactors in traditional garb greeted guests and guided them through the buffet line of typical 19th century foods that Civil War soldiers survived on.
“It’s not that good,” Waring said as she bit into a piece of hardtack, a type of cracker so hard it seemed like it should be stale. “But if I were out there, I’m sure it would be [tasty].”
Mike Dolan, the first sergeant reenactor of the group, said the goal wasn’t for people to come try delicious foods, rather get a sense of what Civil War soldiers had to eat.
He said canned foods, jellies, molasses and sugar often helped make the starch and corn based foods more palatable, but toward the end of the war, such items were harder to come by.
“Their diet was so horrible back then, you wouldn’t want to eat it today,” he said. “They fed soldiers anything that would keep.”
Hardtack, parched corn, baked beans, cornbread, bacon and hushpuppies lined the table for people to try. Other Civil War-era items were laid out on tables for guests to read about.
Soldiers often chose to wear taller hats, which were also used to carry food. The larger the hat, the more food a soldier could carry.
Soldiers sometimes received care packages from their families, but the goods would take about three months to get to them. So soldiers were often scraping mold off the cheeses and baked goods sent from their mothers and wives.
Travis Combs, a retired Marine, said he attended the event because he’s interested in joining the group. He said he’s been really interested in the ways of the military men who came before him.
“I’m not very interested in the fighting; I’ve seen enough of that,” he said. “I’m more interested in the everyday kind of things.”
The reenacting group wore their traditional garb — one woman said she was wearing “totally authentic Civil War underwear.” Group members answered any questions people had and were excited to share what life was like in the mid 1800’s.
First Sgt. Dolan said he wanted people to learn about that period in U.S. history.
“I hope people understand that times were tough but people were resilient,” he said.