Along with hardtack biscuits, “goober peas,” and the flat cornmeal bread known as “journey cake” or Johnny Cake, two simple hot meals in particular are strongly linked with the American Civil War (1861-1865): Skillygallee for the northern Union soldiers, and coosh for the southern Confederates. The two dishes are strikingly similar, with the main difference being that skillygallee is based on wheat and coosh (or kush) uses cornmeal.
Skillygallee was a hot meal that could be prepared quickly by frying salt pork and crumbling dry hardtack biscuits into the mixture. Alternatively, the hardtack would be soaked in water to soften it, first, and then fried in the fat that came from cooking salt pork or bacon.
Coosh was a thick mush, similar in consistency to oatmeal porridge, that was made by cooking bacon in a frying pan, then adding water and cornmeal. Very thick coosh was often cut into squares and fried.
Perhaps not by coincidence, a very similar cornmeal mush — couche-couche — is traditional in Acadian and Cajun cuisine. It is served most often as a hot breakfast cereal with milk and sugar or, in the Acadian communities of eastern Canada, with maple syrup.
Photo: Civil War camp of the 6th N.Y. Artillery at Brandy Station, Virginia, showing Union soldiers in front of log company kitchen; photographed in April 1864, printed later. Civil War Photograph Collection (Library of Congress).