Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Salt Peter

As most Civil War enthusiasts know, salt peter is a primary ingredient in gun powder (75% salt peter (potassium nitrate), 10% sulfur and 15% charcoal). Most salt peter came from mining or harvesting operations in caves from bat guano. Salt peter or "nitre" was also collected from animal and human wastes. The human wastes were collected from public outhouses and individuals.

So desperate was the Confederacy for nitrates that they actually solicited contributions from ladies in charge of their households while their husbands were fighting the Yankees. On October 1, 1863, the Nitre and Mining Bureau placed an advertisement in the Selma Sentinel resopectfully requesting the ladies to collect the night's deposits in the household chamber pots to make "nitre." The urine was collected by wagons with barrels operated by the Bureau. The request was signed by John Harrolson.

The request resulted in the following poem:

John Harrolsen! John Harrolsen!
You are a funny creature;
You've given to this cruel war
A new and curious feature;
You'd have us think while ev'ry man
Is bound to be a fighter,
The women, (bless the pretty little dears)
Should be put to making nitre.

John Harrolsen! John Harrolsen!
How could you get the notion
To send your barrels 'round the town
To gather up the lotion.
We think the girls do work enough
In making love and kissing.
But you'll now put the pretty dears
To patriotic pissing!

John Harrolsen! John Harrolsen!
Could you not invent a meter,
Or some less immodest mode
Of making our salt peter?
The thing, it is so queer, you know ---
Gunpowder, like the crankey ---
That when a lady lifts her shift
She shoots a bloody Yankee.

John Harrolsen! John Harrolsen!
What e're was your intention,
You've made another contraband
Of things we hate to mention.
What good will all our fighting do,
If Yanks search Venus' mountains,
And confiscate and carry off
These Southern nitre fountains.

The information is from the Duke University Library Digital Collections.

No comments: