Palestine Salt Works - Salt in the Civil War
During the Civil War, a salt works located near this historical marker worked to process salt that was needed for the Confederacy. Most of the salt was produced by forcing slaves to enter nearby underground wells that were filled with salt water. The slaves operated hand-pumps that sent the water above the ground where it could be spread out on the hard earth. After the Texas sun did its work, the water evaporated or returned to the ground while the salty deposits were harvested, bagged, and sold to Confederate officials at a fixed price of eight dollars for a hundred-pound sack. Salt was so essential to the war effort, that Union General William Tecumseh Sherman declared that it was "eminently contraband." Sherman and other Union war leaders worked to prevent the South from obtaining salt because it was needed to cure meat and preserve food for man and beast. Without salt, Sherman declared, "armies cannot be subsisted.” As a result, many local residents hoped to sell the salt not to the army, who paid in promissory notes or Confederate currency, but private citizens who could pay in trade or the more stable currency of the United States.
Backstory and Context
During the Civil War the demand for salt, the only known way to preserve meat, increased while supplies for the Southern army became limited. Salt was essential because meat needed to be salted and smoked for preservation. Horses and mules used by the cavalry, artillery, and quartermaster units also required the vital mineral.
Salt also preserved hides for making shoes, harness, and saddles. When the Confederate government levied a "meat tithe" on Southern families, the demand for salt increased even more. Often cattle and cotton were exchanged for salt. In fact, salt itself became a currency in places where it was scarce. Southern women spent many hours digging up smokehouse floors to extract salt from the soil.
Despite the memory of the Confederacy as advocating local control and small government, Texas Governor Pendleton Murrah and many local officials complained that the government in Richmond violated the concept of state's rights when it came to conscription and matters related to the disposition of property. While Murrah did not mention the practice of producing salt specifically, he and others made several attempts to bypass Confederate regulations regarding the sale of cotton. Meanwhile, some planters were so outraged by Confederate regulations that they engaged in contraband trade with Northern smugglers and merchants in Mexico.
"Palestine Salt Works C.S.A. Historical Marker." Palestine Salt Works C.S.A. Historical Marker. June 14, 2010. Accessed August 11, 2016. http://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=31881.
Rick Bear, "The Salt Wars," New York Times, December 13, 2013 (accessed 8/26/16) http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/12/26/the-salt-wars/?_r=0.