“Goober Peas” is such a well known Civil War song because its popularity continued long after the war was over. It even entered the elementary music curriculum when instilling patriotism in school children was still important. “Goober Peas” was still being taught, even in Northern schools, in the 1960s. I know that because I learned it in the 5th grade in New Jersey, and although the lyrics of the song actually say “the Georgia militia,” I remember our song book saying “the Tennessee militia eating goober peas. Peas, peas peas, peas, eating goober peas…” Nobody bothered to tell us they were peanuts.
Here is a delightful performance of the song from youtube, with some introductory information:
According to “Songs of the Civil War” (1995) by Irwin Silber and Jerry Silverman, Georgia soldiers in the Civil War were commonly called “goober grabbers.”
They also say: “In the waning days of the war, Johnny Reb subsisted on increasingly short rations. For long stretches of time, his diet might consist solely of “goobers” — which wasn’t very good for the digestion but helped produce one of the best songs of the Civil War.
“There is no record of the song having been published during the war, the first editions appearing in 1866, crediting the words to “A. Pindar, Esq. and the music to P.Nutt, Esq.” Every Southerner immediately recognized the names as obvious pseudonyms for ‘goobers.'”
By way of peanut history, I found some fascinating information in “Simmon’s Spice Mill” (Sept. 1919 issue):
“It is interesting to note the way the peanut is supposed to have come to North America. The slave dealers, needing a food that was not bulky but still high in food value and cheap in price, loaded up with peanuts to feed to their cargo of slaves on the voyage across the Atlantic. This story is given additional weight by the fact that the Carolina and Virginia peanuts differ considerably, each, it is believed, coming from Africa but from different sections of that continent.
“During the Civil War in the United States the scarcity of rations fixed the nutritious value of this nut upon the minds of individuals of both armies, and although the peanut was known in the United States during the days of colonization it was not until after the war, or about 1870, that it became of commercial importance. The growth of the peanut industry from that time up to 1900 was gradual, but since then it has grown to large proportions and the product is fast becoming an important food.”