And Why Do We Believe They Bring Us Luck?
Think it’s been long, long time since the Civil War in this country? If you do, you might want to think again because the truth is that it really hasn’t been that long ago that American turned on American and people in the South literally nearly starved to death as a direct result of that war.
In fact, given the longevity of my family, I was able to hear a soldier’s stories of those days, from those who heard them firsthand, my grandfather and great-grandmother.
My great-grandmother was born in Alabama during Reconstruction, her mother from a wealthy southern plantation family, a family that absolutely had never even entertained the idea of eating…black eyed peas…of all things! No, those peas were grown as fodder for the stock.
My great-grandmother’s father served with Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia for the entire four-year duration of the war, a war that was fought not only on the battlefield but also in the front yard of southern families who were so often forced to stand and watch as everything they had to sustain themselves was carried away by the hands of soldiers who came calling.
Major General William T. Sherman is often given credit for the fact that we put black eyed peas on our tables today since the express purpose of his infamous March to the Sea was to completely break the backs of the southern families along the way, economically as well as psychologically.
Marching out in November of 1864, Sherman and his men spread havoc among all in their way, until they arrived in the city of Savannah just before Christmas.
Sherman telegraphed President Lincoln, “I beg to present you as a Christmas gift the City of Savannah, with one hundred and fifty guns and plenty of ammunition, also about twenty-five thousand bales of cotton.”
As the story goes, Sherman’s men destroyed all…except for the black eyed peas. The new year of 1865 dawned with some very thankful (some called it lucky) people who were left with the peas to sustain themselves, and the thanks (or the luck) has been celebrated in the South ever since.
While I don’t want to take away from that horrible march, the truth is that it wasn’t only those who lived in the path of Sherman who were forced to eat peas to stay alive.
No, it was all over the South that families found their foodstuff stolen…all except for the “cow feed” of the day, black eyed peas. People believed it was a blessing or just pure luck that soldiers left the peas.
Regardless of the why, they were able to cook them, and I suppose they must have decided that they weren’t half bad since black eyed peas continue to grace tables across the south today.
And that my friends is why (at least according to my own southern roots and heritage) people all accross the South eat black eyed peas every single New Years day, whether they know it or not!