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How Did Civil War Soldiers Avoid Eating Insect-Infested Foods?

October 31st, 2018

Serving as a soldier in any war seems like a nightmare, and this is especially true for wars fought decades ago when casualty rates were dramatically high on all sides. Avoiding enemy fire in the midst of war seems challenging, but surprisingly, many soldiers from past wars had to worry about their food more than the enemy. For example, during the Civil War, both Union and Confederate soldiers were forced to take special precautions in order to avoid consuming insects like weevils and maggot-contaminated meals and rations.

In order to keep the thousands of individual soldiers alive during the Civil War massive amounts of food had to be supplied at ground zero. As you can imagine, this food became contaminated with insects quickly. Union soldiers were given rations that contained a little more than a pound of meat per day. Sometimes, soldiers kept leftover meat in their rucksacks. If the meat was not already contaminated with bugs, then it surely would become contaminated later on. Various forms of meat were often contaminated with maggots or other insect larvae. In order to decontaminate these meat products, they were stored within pickled brine, but this only made the meat taste terrible.

Wheat crackers were also commonly issued to soldiers, but these crackers may have been even more insect-populated than the meat. These crackers were commonly called “worm castles” by Union soldiers. According to one soldier, the crackers were more heavily infested with weevils than maggots, but both were usually abundant. The crackers were called worm castles as the worm-looking larvae would create intricate designs within the hardened crackers. Another soldier mentioned finding more than 30 “worms” on his crackers, and such findings were typical. The “worms” that the soldiers referred to were likely flour moths and rice weevils. Despite the insect-contaminated food, soldiers were, nevertheless, grateful for the rations as food was in low supply. As far as Civil War soldiers were concerned, maggots and weevils were better fed than they were.

Do you think that you could eat insect-contaminated food if you were in a state of starvation?

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