What Did Civil War Soldiers Eat?
Hardtack Union Fare Hard “crackers” made with flour, salt, and water. More on this subject later! Salted pork, bacon, or beef soaked with potassium nitrate (saltpeter) Cornmeal Confederate Fare For Johnnie Cakes and Cush: beef and cornmeal fried with bacon grease Salted beef or bacon soaked with potassium nitrate (saltpeter)
Flour Cornmeal In lesser amounts: Molasses Salt and pepper
In lesser amounts: Molasses Hardtack Not frequent due to flour shortages Union blockades meant no coffee beans, so they used peanuts, chicory, okra, wheat, corn, bran, acorns, rye, peas, sweet potatoes, and dried apples to make something similar.
Coffee or tea
Coffee or tea
Sugar Rice or hominy Corn that has been soaked and washed to remove the hulls
Dried beans or peas Desiccated vegetables Dehydrated, shredded vegetables packed in cakes Gail Borden’s condensed milk – a new invention!
Peanuts Fresh vegetables
“goober peas” When available
Cooking for the Cause: Confederate Recipes, Documented Quatations and Commemorative Recipes. Patricia B. Mitchell, 1988. Union Army Cooking:: 1861-1865. Patricia B. Michell, 1990. C I V I L WA R P R E S E RVAT I O N T R U S T 181
Hungry? How about worm castles and desecrated vegetables?
The daily ration of Civil War soldiers was pretty simple. This is primarily because they couldn’t preserve food like we do today. Canned foods had been available after 1809; however, it was difficult to transport to troops on the march (Cooking for the Cause, 5). Hardtack was the Union soldiers’ main source of food because it was cheap to make, easy to transport, and lasted a long time. Today, we still have hardtack that was made during the Civil War! It was extremely hard because it was baked in northern factories and stored in warehouses before it was finally shipped to soldiers on the battlefields. It was so hard many soldiers broke their teeth trying to eat it! Some of the nicknames soldiers had for hardtack were teeth-dullers, sheet-iron crackers, flour tile, ship’s biscuit and hard bread. They also called it worm castles because there were often weevils and maggots in the crackers. To eat this hard bread, soldiers often broke it up with a rock or rifle butt and softened it by putting it in their coffee or heating it in grease. They had a favorite dish called Skillygallee, which was fried pork fat with crumbled hardtack. While before Petersburg, doing siege work in the summer of 1864, our men had wormy ‘hardtack,’ or ship’s biscuit served out to them for a time. It was a severe trial, and it tested the temper of the men. Breaking open the biscuit and finding live worms in them, they would throw the pieces in the trenches where they were doing duty day by day, although the orders were to keep the trenches clean, for sanitary reasons. A brigade officer of the day, seeing some of the scraps along our front, called out sharply to our men: “Throw that hardtack out of the trenches.” Then, as the men promptly gathered it up as directed, he added, ‘Don’t you know that you’ve no business to throw hardtack in the trenches? Haven’t you been told that often enough?’ Out from the injured soldier heart there came the reasonable explanation: “We’ve thrown it out two or three times, sir, but it crawls back” (Union Army Camp Cooking: 1861-1865, 18). What are “desecrated vegetables”? According to Abner Small of the 16th Maine, the government asked someone to come up with a vegetable compound in portable form, and it came – tons of it – in sheets like pressed hops. I suppose it was healthful, for there was variety enough in its composition to satisfy any condition of stomach and bowels. What in Heaven’s name it was composed of, none of us ever discovered. It was called simply ‘desiccated vegetables.’ Ben once brought in just before dinner a piece with a big horn button on it, and wanted to know “if dat ‘ere was...