During the Civil War, soldiers loved to eat and to sing. One of their favorite songs was about food they hated: “Hardtack, Come Again No More!” It was a parody of composer Stephen Foster’s popular 1854 tune “Hard Times Come Again No More.”
Hardtack was a thick cracker that formed the men's basic ration. Nearly every soldier received nine or ten every day. Hardtack lived up to the “hard” part of its name. Soldiers often had trouble crunching the rock-like crackers and gave them nicknames such as “teeth dullers,” “sheet-iron crackers,” “jawbreakers,” and so on.
According to a popular joke, a soldier bit into a piece of hardtack.
“I found something soft!” he told his comrades.
“What is it?” they asked.
“A nail!” he replied.
To make hardtack easier to eat, soldiers often bashed the crackers with the butt end of their rifles. They scooped up the crumbs and mixed them with bacon grease and salt pork to make a kind of mush called skillygalee.
Hardtack had another nickname: “worm castles.” Worms frequently burrowed into the crackers. To get rid of those little wrigglers, soldiers dunked the crackers in hot coffee. The hardtack fell apart and the worms floated to the surface. Sometimes the men had contests to see whose hardtack had the most worms. Reportedly, the record was 32!
Not everyone threw the little creatures away, though. One soldier explained that “They eat better than they look, and are so much clear gain in the way of fresh meat.”
If hardtack had all these problems, why was it such an important part of the soldiers’ daily diet? First, it was easy and inexpensive to make. Every day 3 or 4 million crackers popped out of bakers’ ovens and were shipped to the armies in the field.
Second, hardtack hardly ever spoiled. In 1898, U.S. Navy sailors in the Spanish-American War chowed down on hardtack baked more than 30 years earlier during the Civil War.
Third, the crackers didn’t weigh very much. Soldiers could carry enough hardtack in their backpacks to eat for several days.
Soldiers joked that they could stitch together crackers to make a bulletproof vest, though it’s doubtful that anyone actually did. Maybe they should have. In 2010, college students performed an experiment by firing pistol shots into chunks of hardtack. They were astonished to find that the crackers stopped the bullets!
© Jim Whiting, 2014
Jim Whiting has written 250 nonfiction books. He's known as Washington State's most prolific children's book author.
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "Hard Crackers in Hard Times." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 12 Sept. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/hard-crackers-in-hard-times.
nonfiction is the new black
Accompanied by her husband, Prince Philip, the 25-year-old Princess Elizabeth embarked on a tour of the then-British colony of Kenya in early February, 1952. Her father, King George VI, had been too ill with lung cancer to join them.
The royal couple stayed at Treetops, a three-room hotel built into the top of a large tree overlooking a water hole and salt lick. Just getting there could be dangerous. Angry elephants could unexpectedly charge arriving guests as they walked the considerable distance from the parking lot. Then guests endured a twisting 30-foot climb up a rickety ladder. At night leopards often prowled in the trees just outside the rooms.
The place was so perilous for guests that the hotel actually hired an experienced hunter named Jim Corbett. He had made a reputation for hunting men-eating tigers in India. Corbett remained on high alert through the night of the royal visit, his high-powered hunting rifle at the ready. Nothing happened.
Something very important happened in London, however. At some point during the night, the king died. Under the communication systems operating at the time, there was no way of contacting Treetops to inform Princess Elizabeth of her father’s death.
Unaware of what had happened, Elizabeth rose at dawn, added more photos to go along with those she had taken the previous day, then had a breakfast of scrambled eggs and bacon. She and Philip drove to Sagana Lodge, a wedding gift to her from the Kenyan people. Officials there had received word of the king’s death and notified Philip. He took Elizabeth for a walk in the garden in mid-afternoon and broke the news to her. She was now the queen, and in fact had become Elizabeth II while she was still asleep at Treetops the night before.
She immediately made arrangements to return home and boarded an airplane that evening. When the plane was airborne, she excused herself and went to the restroom. Returning several minutes later she said nothing, but it was apparent to everyone on the flight that she had been crying.
Elizabeth has been queen ever since. If she is still reigning on September 15, 2015, she would surpass Queen Victoria and become the longest-reigning British monarch in history.
Jim Whiting has written on many subjects. Check out his page on Amazon.com
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "The Princess Who Went up a Tree and Came down a Queen." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 24 Oct. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/the-princess-who-went-up-a-tree-and-came-down-a-queen.
nonfiction is the new black
The word “mania” refers to feelings of frenzy, increased physical activity, and an especially good mood. So when four mop-haired musicians from Liverpool, England were taking the world by storm in 1963, Canadian music writer Sandy Gardiner thought it was the perfect term to describe the effect they had on audiences: “A new disease is sweeping through Britain, Europe and the Far East...and doctors are powerless to stop it. Its name is—BEATLEMANIA!”
The following year, Beatlemania came to the United States when George Harrison, John Lennon, Paul McCartney, and Ringo Starr performed on the Ed Sullivan Show, a popular television program. During the show and the live concerts that followed, members of the audience—largely teenage girls—screamed and shrieked.
The Beatles weren’t the first musicians to inspire a mania. That honor belongs to 19th century Hungarian pianist Franz Liszt, whom many music historians call the world’s first rock star for his scintillating performances in solo recitals. The frenzy he induced in his audiences prompted the German poet Heinrich Heine to coin the term “Lisztomania” in 1844. Liszt enjoyed many of the same perks as the Beatles: hero worship, adoring groupies, hobnobbing with royalty, widespread media coverage, and more.
Liszt was very handsome and fully aware of his good looks. Everything he did on stage was calculated to produce the maximum dramatic effect. As his fingers rippled over the piano keys, he flung his head from side to side as his shoulder-length hair cascaded around his face. He was so energetic that globs of sweat sometimes sprayed the front rows.
His audience—mainly women in their 20s, 30s and 40s—totally bought into his act. Like Beatles spectators, they screamed at dramatic spots in the recital. Often they went further. As the last notes of the concert rang out, many rushed the stage in their zeal to obtain a souvenir. Almost anything would do—a piece of his clothing, strands of his hair, broken piano strings, the fabric of the chair he had sat on. They especially wanted the still-damp handkerchiefs Liszt used to wipe his face. Perhaps the ultimate prizes were his discarded cigar butts. Women lucky enough to snatch one would light it and thereby gain quite literally a taste of their hero.
There’s a tangible connection between the two manias. They both inspired movies--A Hard Day’s Night (1964) for the Beatles, and Ken Russell’s Lisztomania eleven years later. In the Russell film, the role of the Pope is played by…Ringo Starr!
Listen to Franz Liszt's music by hitting the arrow above. Can you understand why the ladies had romantic thoughts when they listened to him?
With more than 170 (and counting!) non-fiction books Jim Whiting is Washington State’s most prolific children's author.
For more about Jim, read his biography and background.
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "Musical Mania." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 19 Oct. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/musical-manias.
Top-Notch Teller of Terrific True Tales
Billy Mills was just a face in the crowd of nearly 30 runners at the 10,000-meter run at the 1964 Olympic Games in Tokyo, Japan. His best time was nearly a minute slower than the race favorites.
Part-Lakota Sioux Indian, Mills was a scrawny kid, who had grown up in poverty and racial bias. Whites regarded him as an Indian. Indians sneered that he was part-white and therefore not one of them.
His father had encouraged the boy to envision a better life: “You have to look deeper, way below the anger, the hurt, the hate, the jealousy, the self-pity, way down deeper where the dreams lie, son. Find your dream.”
Mills began finding his dream when he discovered his talent for running. He earned an athletic scholarship to the University of Kansas. Then he qualified for the U.S. Olympic team.
Still, no one expected anything of him. He asked for shoes from the company that outfitted American runners. Sorry, he was told. We only give shoes to potential medalists. You don’t qualify.
Mills kept a diary. Six weeks before the 10,000 meter race, he wrote “I’m in great shape….I’m ready for a 28:25 [twenty-eight minutes, twenty-five seconds].” He had never run that fast. Nor had any American. Nor anyone in any previous Olympics.
The gun sounded. As each of the 25 laps rolled by, more and more runners fell off the pace. At the start of the final lap, Mills was one of three runners still in contention. As they rounded the first turn, Australian Ron Clarke shoved Mills out into the third lane. Mohamed Gammoudi of Tunisia took advantage of the opening and pushed his way between the other two, knocking Mills off balance for a moment. As the runners headed down the final straight, television cameras showed a tight battle between Gammoudi and Clarke. Mills was nowhere to be seen.
Suddenly the television announcer screamed “Look at Mills! Look at Mills!” Mills bounded back into the picture, passing Clarke and then Gammoudi almost as if they were standing still. He maintained his pace to the finish line, five yards ahead of Gammoudi and ten in front of Clarke. His time of 28 minutes, 24.4 seconds was virtually identical to what he had visualized. He remains the only American to win the 10,000 meters at the Olympics.
Mills crossing the finish line in the 1964 Olympics.
Watch Mills run the final lap
Jim Whiting is a walking encyclopedia. He has written more than 180 (count 'em!) books on many subjects. You can learn more about him here.
MLA 8 Citation
Whiting, Jim. "No Shoes for You." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 21 Sept. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/no-shoes-for-you.
Nonfiction is the new black
When Julius Caesar took control of the Roman government, he decided to reform the calendar. Because it was a lunar calendar—based on complete cycles of the moon—it had fluctuated widely for centuries. Some years had as few as 355 days while others nudged 380, often seemingly by whim. After lengthy consultations with the Egyptian astronomer Sosigenes, Caesar established a calendar that is virtually the same one we use today. The lengths of the months alternated between 30 and 31 days, except February which had 29. The new calendar came into effect on January 1, 45 BCE (Before the Common Era). A grateful Roman Senate immediately changed the name of the month of Quintilis—Julius Caesar’s birth month—to July in his honor. As is the case today, it had 31 days. Caesar had only one year to enjoy “his” month, as he was assassinated the following March.
His successor was his grand-nephew Octavian, who took the name of Augustus Caesar when he officially became the first Roman emperor. In 8 BCE the Senate decided that he also deserved a month. Because several noteworthy events during Augustus’s reign had occurred in Sextilis, the month following July, they chose it. Big problem. Sextillis had only 30 days. No way would the Senate allow Augustus to be “inferior” to his great-uncle in any way. So it took a day from February and tacked it on at the end of August. That created another problem. Three consecutive months—July, August, and September—were now 31 days long. The fix was simple: the Senate simply flipped the lengths of the remaining four months. September and November went from 31 days to 30, while October and December bulked up to 31.
The Senate wasn’t finished with its tinkering. Nearly 70 years later, it honored the notorious emperor Nero by changing Aprilis to Neronius. The new name never gained traction. Nero. who had murdered his brother, mother, and wife, committed suicide in 68 CE (Common Era). The Senate—undoubtedly relieved at his demise—hastily returned Neronius to its original name.
Here is Jim's biography of Julius Caesar, who became a very successful military commander who added more than 200,000 square miles to the territories under Rome’s control. But his triumphs created powerful enemies in Rome. Eventually he was assassinated in the Roman Senate.
MLA 8 CItation
Whiting, Jim. "July, August and Neronius." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, 14 Nov. 2017, www.nonfictionminute.org/july-august-and-neronius.
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