Coffee had key role in Battle of Smithfield’s 160th anniversary

Published 4:53 pm Wednesday, February 7, 2024

Feb. 1 marked the 160th anniversary of the Battle of Smithfield, a Civil War skirmish fought on the Pagan River and on Main Street.

On that date in 1864, Confederate troops destroyed the U.S. Army gunboat Smith Briggs, but not before locals unloaded the ship’s considerable supplies of coffee and tea, which had been in scarce supply since the Union had blockaded southern ports.

The Isle of Wight County Museum commemorated the anniversary on Feb. 4 with events at multiple locations.

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Living historians dressed in replica Civil War-era uniforms were stationed in and outside the museum. At the 1750 courthouse, Harry Johnson, an engineer by day with Huntington Ingalls Industries, dressed as Randall Booth, an enslaved man who in 1862 saved Isle of Wight County’s court records.

At the museum, visitors could sample various coffee substitutes made from dandelions, peanuts and acorns, that residents of the town would have consumed prior to taking the Smith Briggs’ supplies.