Wednesday, January 6, 2016

General Sherman Begins a Southern Tradition

On November 15, 1864, Major General William Tecumseh Sherman began the Savannah Campaign, better known as Sherman's March to the Sea. The campaign was conducted in accordance with Sherman's Special Field Orders No. 120.

The army will forage liberally on the country during the march. To this end, each brigade commander will organize a good and sufficient foraging party, under the command of one or more discreet officers, who will gather, near the route traveled, corn or forage of any kind, meat of any kind, vegetables, corn-meal, or whatever is needed by the command, aiming at all times to keep in the wagons at least ten day's provisions for the command and three days' forage. Soldiers must not enter the dwellings of the inhabitants, or commit any trespass, but during a halt or a camp they may be permitted to gather turnips, apples, and other vegetables, and to drive in stock of their camp. To regular foraging parties must be instructed the gathering of provisions and forage at any distance from the road traveled.

This provision directed his troops to strip the land of food for the soldiers and forage for the animals. This stripped the land from Atlanta to Savannah of sustenance for Confederate civilians and soldiers.His forces destroyed military targets as well as industry, infrastructure, and civilian property and disrupted the Confederacy's economy and its transportation networks. 
After the Union troops destroyed the land, the surviving Southerners found that Sherman's men had taken property and supplies of food including livestock. The citizens, many of whom were homeless, faced a slow death from starvation. However, the Union soldiers had left silos full of black eyed peas.

Since Sherman's troops had taken all of the livestock, the supplies of black eyed peas used to feed the animals was useless. The Yankees left it in the silos to rot. Other stories say Sherman's troops also left salted pork. 

However, the black eyed pea had nutritional value that could sustain the starving populace. One cup of peas contained 130 calories, 17% of daily potassium requirement, 28% of daily fiber, 23% of Vitamin A, 18% of calcium, and 18% of magnesium. Sixteen cups of the livestock feed provided over 2,000 calories.  >

Southerners viewed the discovery of supplies as a great stroke of luck. The peas helped them survive the ravages of the Union troops. Their good fortune came as Sherman arrived in Savannah on December 21, 1864 and the year concluded. It was only natural for the peas to be associated with luck, new beginnings, and prayers for an end to the hardships of the Civil War.

Black-eyed peas were also given to slaves, as were most other traditional New Year's foods. One explanation of the superstition says that black-eyed peas were all the southern slaves had to celebrate with on January 1, 1863 when the Emancipation Proclamation went into effect. From then on, peas were always eaten on the first day of January.

Others say that since the south has generally always been the place for farming, black-eyed peas are just a good thing to celebrate with in the winter. Not many crops grow this time of the year, but black-eyed peas hold up well, were cheap and just make sense.

The oldest explanation for this tradition is the tradition dates to ancient Egypt. During the time of the Pharaohs, it was believed that eating a meager food like black-eyed peas showed humility before the gods, and you would be blessed. The Babylonian Talmud instructs the faithful Jews to eat black-eyed peas at Rosh Hashanah. They  believed eating black-eyes demonstrated their humility and saved themselves from the wrath of God.

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