The Montgomery Advertiser has printed the last in a three-part series of John Napier’s article that was printed in the Alabama Review and has been reprinted by permission. It was titled Montgomery During the Civil War. Basically most of us know little of life in Montgomery after the capital was moved to Richmond. This article is informative and will be reprinted in booklet form and sold in our gift shop at the First White House of the Confederacy.
General Napier remind us of the importance of the three railroads, that were directed from its office at the end of North Court Street. The Montgomery and West Point Railroad carried more than 200,00 Confederate soldiers in 1862-1863 and nearly 184,000 in 1864. In the fall of 1863 its trains once operated 20 hours a day for 21 days, moving Bragg’s Army of Tennessee from Tupelo, Miss to Chattanooga.
Alabama River steamboats were important for wartime transportation. Even at the war’s end, when Wilson had captured Montgomery, three steamboats laden with food were found on the Tallapoosa River. He says these boats were brought to Montgomery and burned in full view of the citizenry.
The 1861 Powder Magazine still stands in West End on Eugene street overlooking the river, and other important installations were Janney’s Iron Works, the Alabama Arms Manufacturing Company, the Montgomery Arsenal that repaired weapons, and Leonard and Riddle that made saltpeter for gunpowder.
Shortages caused hardships but improvisation found substitutes. Dried sweet potatoes were mixed with coffee to stretch it’s use. Raspberry leaves or the red shank plant substituted for tea. Hats were made of bleached palmetto strips. Waxed tapers wrapped around bottles were used for lighting. Sorghum was substituted for sugar. The juice from garden poppies was used to make opium for hospital use.
Salt, a critical material before meat could be refrigerated, was scooped up along with dirt from smokehouse floors, boiled down and recovered from past meat curing. The folks of Montgomery were resilient, reminiscent, John says, of the not-yet remote frontier days!