Friday, March 22, 2013

The Civil War - a Battle for Salt?

 By Marilyn Turk
Union raid of Confederate Salt Works in Florida

Did you know the Civil War was fought over salt? Well, maybe not exactly, but there were quite a few battles because of salt.

Salt is so commonplace these days that we take it for granted. In fact, we can find it in almost every processed food, every grocery store, restaurant and most homes, leading health professionals to tell us we consume too much of it.

 Yet, what we use for seasoning had a much more important role during the Civil War. First of all, it was the only way to preserve meat and fish before the days of refrigeration. And for an army on the move, food preservation was vital to keep the soldiers fed and reduce the chance of disease.

 In addition to its function in food, salt was used in leather tanning and setting the dyes in uniforms. The manufacturing of shoes was almost impossible without salt, leading some southern shoe manufacturers to resort to making wooden shoes when salt was unavailable.

Nearly every state in the Confederacy had some form of salt production. It was either mined by removing rock salt from the earth or by extracting dirt and salt in the ground by boiling it. Near the seashore, salt was made by distilling saltwater. When the Union forces succeeded in cutting off supply lines by railroad or by blockading ports, salt shortages threatened provisions for the Confederate Army. As a result, rationing for household use was ordered in some southern states.
Confederate salt kettle which could make 150 bushels of salt a day.

Besides cutting off the supply lines, the Union Army was ordered to find and destroy all salt-making operations. Perhaps the largest salt works in the confederacy was at Saltville, Virginia. The Union Army launched five major battles to capture and destroy the town and its salt manufacturing, before it finally succeeded in late 1864. However, two months later, the salt works were back in business, but their distribution was hampered by the damaged railroad system.

The state of Florida became a key salt-producing state, leading some scholars to declare that salt was the state’s largest contribution to the war. The Florida government gave those employed in the enterprise the status of soldiers, exempting them from military service. It is estimated that some 5,000 workers were employed in the industry, which worked 24 hours a day boiling salt from seawater.

The biggest areas of production were between Saint Andrews Bay, near present day Panama City, and St. Marks, Florida. By 1863, the main Florida salt works produced more than 7,500 bushels per day. However, the location of these facilities near the water and the visibility of smoke emitting from their boilers made them vulnerable to raids from Union ships which sat just offshore. Also, slaves seeking refuge rowed out to the ships and disclosed the locations of salt works.

As General Sherman wrote, “Salt is eminently contraband… without which armies cannot be subsisted.”

So next time you reach for that salt shaker, ask yourself, “Would I fight for this?”

Don’t forget to leave a comment to be in our daily giveaways!

Grand PrizeKindle, drawn on April 1st

2nd Place Prize - $25 Amazon gift card

For each day you comment on CFHS, you’ll receive one entry in the Kindle and one in the $25 Amazon gift card giveaway. Comment on every post in the month of March and earn 31 entries!

***ALSO,  if you comment on this post, I am giving away a copy of Chicken Soup for the Soul, Devotional Stories for Tough Times.

Thanks for stopping by.  May many blessings come your way.


  1. wow that is interesting. Who would have thought salt was so important but I can see why it was.
    I remember how when mum and dad were first married they were on a farm where dad was a worker and the owner decided to harvest the salt from a dried lake bed. It was the last straw for dad as they had done the other harvest and it wasn't needed for the money etc and Dad quit and they moved to a new farm to work. (it was hard work to harvest and it wasn't that dad was afraid of hard work it was just the final straw).

    1. Jenny, that's so interesting. Thanks for sharing!

  2. This is quite interesting. I never thought about it being a commodity to fight over. I believe Syracuse NY has a nickname of Salt City due to its salt mines. Now I'm going to have to look into that a bit more.

    Thank you Marilyn. Have a lovely weekend everyone!

    1. Debra, I didn't know about that. You have a nice weekend too!

  3. I enjoyed reading your post!Learned a lot.I didn't realize how important salt was during the Civil War.

    Katie N.


  4. How interesting! This has been so much fun!


  5. I did not realize salt played such a part in the war and I am a Civil War buff so it was neat to learn something new. Thank you

    griperang at embarqmail dot com

    1. Glad to add to your Civil War history, Angela!

  6. What a great post! I fancy myself a Civil War buff, but I never knew about this angle of history. Thanks, Marilyn. Great pictures, too. That salt kettle is HUGE!

  7. Very interesting post, Marilyn. Much of this was new information.

  8. I've never heard of salt being such an important part of the war. Thanks for the information, Marilyn. Very interesting!

  9. Thank you for sharing this! Very interesting, Marilyn.

  10. Wow, salt is pretty interesting stuff! Thanks for a chance to win Chicken Soup For the Soul, a Devotional for Hard Times.
    worthy2bpraised at gmail dot com

  11. I have seen one of those salt kettles in real life but I had not realized what it was.

  12. What an interesting story on salt - another one of the many things we take for granted!

    Thanks for the opportunity to win "Chicken Soup For the Soul".

  13. Marilyn, I did not know these facts, how interesting. Today we are trying to get rid of salt in our diets, maybe they should not have found so much . huh...
    Paula O(

  14. Very interesting! Thank you for the Civil War history lesson on salt. I learned quite a bit of new information.
    may_dayzee (at) yahoo (dot) com

  15. Great post Marilyn. Salt, for such a humble commodity, really has been an important part of life for quite a long time. It is even mentioned throughout the bible.

  16. I had no idea. Hmm, would I fight for it...I'd like to say no, but if it meant I couldn't have pretty shoes...well...maybe. :)

  17. Thanks to Kathy Maher for posting this on facebook, or I would have missed tis article. You guys are research gurus. Love these posts! I had no idea about the salt...

  18. I love how I am learning something new with each post! :)

  19. Good afternoon, Ms. Turk!

    I never in my life would think that Florida played such an important role in the Civil War! Mostly because, they spent a full year on the subject and NEVER once mentioned 'salt' or anything else that felt remotely interesting to us! I mean, really!? Its always amazing to me when I learnt something of interest that clearly the schools could have touched on if they only had thought of it! Sighs. I'll digress,... that sounded too much like a 'saltbox'!! Laughs madly!

    I think given that everything during the Civil War was being overturned and altered, that what we would consider worth fighting for today and what was gravenly serious to those who lived back then,... I think you have to say yes I would have fought, because not to fight back then, was allowing something you believed in to perish. Whether that was a way of life, a commodity that was rare, or a towne you loved that could be taken over in the blink of an eye! There are many stories of courage and everyday citizens who stood up for less and more than mere salt, and so, I think its up to us to honour their legacies and appreciate their efforts, no matter which side they fought on.

    Thank you for opening up a new sidenote to a war that changed as much as the Revolutionary War! And, thank you for offering one of the Chicken Soup for the Soul books up for grabs! Those are hearty books full of inspirational stories!


  20. I am absolutely loving all the historical information I am learning this month! I don't use salt very often, so I imagine I could get used to going without. Very interesting information, though, I must say.

    1. Hey Betti,
      You won! Please contact me at, to get your copy of Chicken Soup for the Soul! Congratulations!

  21. I love learning new things about the Civil War. I live near Gettysburg and it is so interesting as well as haunting to visit. Salt with iodine is important to our diets but we do consume too much. Frankly, I love pepper. Good research...thanks for the info and the opportunity to win. Linda

  22. Wow, never knew....would I fight for salt? I shouldn't, since my doctor recommends me cutting it from my diet...but, I guess I would miss it if I could NOT have any ever again.
    Great post. Thanks and God bless.

  23. I find the Civil War really interesting. I enjoy reading books about it. But I will have to admit I'm not sure I have read any that discuss fighting for salt. Thanks for having the giveaway.


  24. I didn't realize salt was so important during the Civil War. I'm learning a lot from these blog posts this month!


  25. I will never look at salt the same way again. Thanks for the very informative article.
    Janet E.

  26. I love learning about the Civil War period. I must say, I never knew this about the salt. Love the picture of the salt kettle. I would have thought the salt would have eventually corroded the metal.

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.

    countrybear52 AT yahoo DOT com

  27. I think we would be in just as much trouble today if we did not have salt! We may not need it for shoes or to preserve meat, but I'm pretty sure we would quickly find all the ways that salt is used that we didn't realize if suddenly we were missing it!
    That was a very interesting history lesson - thanks! :)

    jimmynmatthewsmom [at] netzero [dot] com

  28. I don't claim to know much, but I did know that! Thank you for the fun post. :)
    farmygirl at hotmail dot com

  29. Wow, I never knew that - so interesting!

    truckredford at gmail(.) com

  30. Congratulations to Betz for winning the Chicken Soup for the Soul Devotional Stories for Tough Times book!

  31. Interesting post. I did not realize this about the salt either; sugar~coffee~tea rationing. My husband is on a salt-free diet, so I don't salt our food. I sure notice it when we eat out. We eat quite a bit of cheese and imagine we get our salt there without adding any to our food. What a fun history lesson! Thanks for your research. I do remember the little individual salt crystal bowls on tables. Kathleen ~ Lane Hill House