December 28, 2011

'The Sauer-kraut of Patriotism'

Location: Lancaster, PA, USA
Through reading the information on this blog and other diaries and letters of 79th Pennsylvania soldiers, it’s clear that significant amounts of information, food, and material goods very frequently went from Lancaster to Kentucky. One of the more interesting of these transmissions was the shipment of a barrel of Lancaster County sauerkraut for Christmas 1861.

From Hardtack and Coffee

The Lancaster Daily Evening Express reported on December 18, 1861, that “a number of volunteers in Col. Hambright’s regiment [have] written to their friends here that nothing would be more acceptable to them for their Christmas dinner, than a good mess of sauer-kraut, to boil and eat with their pork.” The article continued to say that “a number of wives, mothers, and sisters sent in their contributions of cabbage and a barrel of fine krout was prepared, nicely packed, and hooped and headed.”

All that remained was to pay for the freight, which the soldiers themselves had offered to do. However, the Adams Express Company, a major freight transportation company of Civil War era which played a huge (and oft-maligned) role in battlefield / home front connections, refused to ship without prepayment, so the Express appealed for contributions to the Patriot Daughters for the purpose of sending the sauerkraut. The necessary amount, $9.375, was collected within two days and the barrel handed over to Adams Express, although not without further difficulty mentioned in the December 24, 1861, Express:
When the barrel of Sauer-kraut , recently prepared by the ladies of the city, for volunteers in the Lancaster County Regiment,” was first taken to the depot, and its transportation denied until the freight was pre-paid—although the soldiers wrote to have it forwarded at their expense—the charged demanded were $9.37. A statement of the case was made in the Express and the money collected; but when one of the editors, in company with Mr. Haldy, went to pay the money, they were told that the patriotic managers of the Adams Express Company had, in the meantime, advanced the rate of freight on soldiers’ Sauer-kraut, and that $13.50 must now be paid instead of $9.37! The balance was speedily contributed by gentlemen around the depot to whom the facts were made known, and a receipt taken for the transportation, which is now in our possession, and which we have some notion of getting framed and preserving as a memorial of the patriotism and liberality of the Adams Express Company in the War of 1861. In that event, it may be appropriate labelled
“The Sauer-kraut of Patriotism.”
Playing such games with an editor of the Express, presumably J. M. W. Geist, was not a good idea for the Adams Express, and the newspaper returned the favor by publishing a flood of complaints against the company for price gouging and double-charging soldiers. [DEE 12/30 & 12/31/1861, 1/6/1862, 1/8/1862]

The sauerkraut arrived at Camp Wood on December 27, 1861, and, the Express reported (based on a letter it received) that “its arrival caused quite a sensation in camp.” Furthermore, “the letter states that among the many good things sent from home none were more generally welcome among the Lancaster boys than the sauer-kraut.” [DEE 1/6/1862]


  1. Excellent post with an interesting angle. Thanks for shedding light on the Adams Express Co., which I mentioned in a post the other day. I had no idea they engaged in such shameful practices!

  2. Thanks, Ron. The Adams Express would definitely be an interesting case for a business history study.