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2321 Davis St., Unit C
North Chicago, IL


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Memorial Day, the Civil War and Coffee

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Memorial Day, the Civil War and Coffee

Carrie Masek

This coming Monday, May 28, is Memorial Day. For many, Memorial Day symbolizes the beginning of summer, but despite the picnics, barbecues and parties, Memorial Day has a deeper and more solemn meaning.

Memorial Day commemorates those who lost their lives while serving in this country's armed forces. Most communities hold Memorial Day ceremonies that include solemn flag lowering, speeches by local military leaders or veterans and martial music from the local high school band. Many people also take the day to visit the grave sites of loved ones, especially those lost in war. Often, the graves are decorated with flags and flowers. In fact, the holiday was first called “Decoration Day.”

After the Civil War, a conflict that cost more American lives than any other, communities began setting aside a special day to tend to and decorate the graves of the many men and boys who died during those horrible four years. After the assassination of Abraham Lincoln, the practice became wide spread and continued until 1971 when “Memorial Day” became an official federal holiday.

The Civil War inspired the first Memorial Day, but what does that have to do with coffee?

There are many who claim that coffee is one of the reasons the Union won the Civil War. Seriously. The Union Army issued coffee with its soldiers' rations. According to many letters and journal entries from the period, the coffee was the best part of those rations. Whole bean coffee, often roasted over a campfire, ground fresh (some carbines had built-in grinders), and brewed in small pots called, "muckets," provided a welcome boost to a diet heavy on salt pork and hard tack. Though no one spoke of caffeine back then, the stimulating qualities of coffee were recognized and appreciated. One Union general, General Benjamin Butler, ordered his men to carry coffee in their canteens and planned attacks for when his men would be the most energized.

Meanwhile, coffee lovers in the Confederacy had to do without their morning “nerve tonic.” The blockade of southern ports effectively cut off coffee imports to the South. Though many improvised with beverages brewed from roasted rye or sweet potatoes, southern soldiers were at a definite disadvantage when it came to coffee.

The coffee that Union soldiers enjoyed, and Confederate soldiers longed for, was most likely imported from Central or South America. If you're like us, and wonder what the coffee might have tasted like, our Cowboy Coffee 1870 at a Vienna roast level is pretty close. The beans in the blend are similar to those imported during the mid 19th century, and the roast level mimics the effect of roasting the beans in a pan over a campfire.

Of course, one can take authentic too far.  The soldiers of the Union army often brewed with muddy water taken from ponds and puddles.  While it probably made the water more palatable and safer to drink, we recommend only brewing with clean, fresh water.

Today, anyone in this country can enjoy good coffee. To celebrate Memorial Day, and to remember the brave soldiers who fought on both sides of the Civil War, we're offering a free 1/2 roast of Cowboy Coffee 1870 (Vienna roast level) with any order placed now through Memorial Day.  All you have to do is type Memorial Day in the box for Additional Instructions, and we'll throw in the 1/2 roast at no extra charge. 

We'll be closed Monday for Memorial Day.  Orders we receive after noon (CDT) on Friday, May 25 will be roasted Tuesday, May 29.

Have a great weekend!

~ Carrie, Paul and everyone at Coffee by the Roast

Here are some links for more information about Memorial Day and Coffee during the Civil War: