Civil War Army Rations
By definition, a ration is the amount of food authorized for one soldier (or animal) for one day. The Confederate government adopted the official US Army ration at the start of the war, although by the spring of 1862 they had the reduce it. According to army regulations for camp rations, a Union soldier was entitled to receive daily 12 oz of pork or bacon or 1 lb. 4 oz of fresh or salt beef; 1 lb. 6 oz of soft bread or flour, 1 lb. of hard bread, or 1 lb. 4 oz of cornmeal. Per every 100 rations there was issued 1 peck of beans or peas; 10 lb. of rice or hominy; 10 lb. of green coffee, 8 lb. of roasted and ground coffee, or 1 lb. 8 oz of tea; 15 lb. of sugar; 1 lb. 4 oz of candles, 4 lb. of soap; 1 qt of molasses. In addition to or as substitutes for other items, desiccated vegetables, dried fruit, pickles, or pickled cabbage might be issued. The marching ration consisted of 1 lb. of hard bread, 3/4 lb. of salt pork or 1 1/4 lb. of fresh meat, plus the sugar, coffee, and salt. The ration lacked variety but in general the complaints about starvation by the older soldiers was largely exaggerated. Generally the Confederate ration, though smaller in quantity after the spring of 1862 and tending to substitute cornmeal for wheat flour, was little different. But the Confederate commissary system had problems keeping rations flowing to the troops at a steady rate, thus alternating between abundance and scarcity in its issuances. Soldiers of both armies relied to a great extent on food sent from home and on the ubiquitous Sutler.
Source: "The Civil War Dictionary" by Mark M. Boatner III This Page last updated 07/12/04 Civil War Rations: "Food"? The Civil War rations that soldiers received as their daily allowance of food were often unappealing and unhealthy. As is the case with major food manufacturers today, the government on both sides focused on filling the men rather than giving them energy to travel and fight. Even that often failed due to challenges with food distribution. Food Distribution The Commissary Department purchased, stored, and supplied the food to soldiers. Transportation and distribution networks were already established in the North, so the Union Army fared better than the Confederates. Sometimes herds of cattle were driven along with the troops and slaughtered as needed, but they mainly received salted beef or pork, sometimes so spoiled that it made the men sick. The Civil War rations were given out uncooked and then soldiers could prepare their food individually or gather into a small group called a mess to cook and share their rations. If soldiers knew a march was coming up, they cooked everything and stored it in their haversack, a canvas bag. Union Daily Civil War Rations • 12 oz. pork or bacon or 1lb. fresh or salt beef • 1 lb. 6 oz. soft bread or flour or 1 lb hardtack or 1 lb. 4 oz. cornmeal For every 100 men: • 15 lb. beans or peas • 10 lb. rice or hominy • 10 lb. green coffee or 8 lb. roasted coffee • 1 lb. 8oz tea • 15 lb. sugar • 4 quarts vinegar • 1 quart molasses
Notice the hardtack, beans, and rice. The beans were dried white navy beans that had to be soaked overnight then cooked several hours. These starches all had little flavor, but they added bulk and were cheap for the army to supply. The sugar caused nutritional deficits, as described in the book Sugar Blues. The coffee beans were usually green and raw, so the men had to roast them in the fire. The Union Army supplied good coffee regularly since they were able to trade, so Union soldiers often bartered coffee for tobacco from Southerners. Confederate Daily Civil War Rations The Confederate Army started out issuing the same ration as the Union, but the rations were gradually reduced as the war continued. Shortages due to poor food distribution were common. Southerners were more likely to have bacon and cornmeal, and they often did not have coffee due to the shipping blockade. It had become popular as a beverage shortly before the war broke out. Some bartered tobacco for coffee from Northerners, or they tried making substitutes out of acorns or chicory. Additional Food The armies also supplied fresh vegetables (sometimes fresh carrots, onions, turnips and potatoes), dried fruit, and dried vegetables as part of the ration when they were available. Men also foraged and scavenged the countryside for fresh food at times. Many also received supplements mailed from their family, or they could buy from sulters who followed the troops selling pickles, cheese, sardines, cakes, candies, beer, and whisky, even though the troops forbidden to drink alcohol. Soldiers likely prepared their Civil War rations similar to they way they ate at home and used cooking techniques modified for an open fire and limited supplies. Hardtack Recipe A dried biscuit called hardtack, also affectionately known as hardbread, ship's biscuit, tooth dullers, sheet iron crackers, and worm castles, formed a major part of the rations because it had a long shelf life. They were baked dough cut into squares or rectangles with holes like soda crackers to speed the baking time. Soldiers received six to eight crackers for a three-day Civil War ration. The hardtack became even harder as it aged over the months, so the men had to soften it with coffee, water, or soup, or fry it in bacon grease. It was often infested with weevils, a small insect, sometimes the only source of protein during shortages! • 1 tablespoon of butter or lard • 2 cups of flour (cornmeal in the South) • 1/4 teaspoon of salt • 1/2 to 3/4 cup water Use a pastry cutter to mix the butter, flour, and salt. Add enough water to make a stiff batter, knead several times, then use your fingers to spread the dough out flat to a thickness of 1/2 inch on a non-greased cookie sheet. Bake for 30 minutes at 400° F. Remove from oven and turn the dough over. Cut the sheet of dough into 3 inch squares, and use a fork to punch four rows of holes, four holes per row into each square. Return them to the oven and bake for another 30 minutes. Turn the oven off and keep the door closed, leaving the hardtack inside until cool. Let it age at least 2 weeks before eating it. For an authentic flavor, wait a few months and for some weevils to take up residence! Union soldiers had a favorite dish called "skillygallee" which was salted pork fried with hardtack crumbled into the mixture. The Confederate version, called "coosh", was bacon cooked in a frying pan with some water and corn meal or crushed hardtack added to make a thick, brown gravy similar in consistency to oatmeal. Cornbread mush and leftover fried mush would have been similar favorite dishes at home for Southerners. Trial by fire. Without cookbooks or supervision, the men slowly learned to boil and fry for themselves. "It was a case of learning by doing. They had a mortal fear of eating something undercooked. They were terrified of eating raw meat," says Davis. Given the state of preserved meat, they were right to be afraid. Salted pork and beef often had to be scraped free of "rust"--mold--and maggots, then soaked overnight or boiled to unrecognizability. The typical Union soldier's diet consisted of dried vegetable cakes ("desecrated vegetables," in soldier's parlance), dried or salted meat, beans, and 3-inch square baked bricks of flour and water called hardtack. Conspicuously lacking: fruit, fresh vegetables, and dairy products like milk and butter. The imbalance caused a host of maladies including scurvy, a vitamin C deficiency, and "night blindness," caused by a lack of vitamin A. But many a soldier did receive care packages from home, and those packages often included canned goods like vegetables or condensed milk. Though too heavy to ever become a regular part of Army rations, canning became popular because of the war. From a prewar production level of 5 million cans a year, the industry boomed to 30 million cans a year by war's end. But men on the march still had to supplement their rations with whatever they could buy from local communities. "Foraging" was also common: "Our officers told us to take what we could get to eat and not pay for it unless the owner proved themselves to be loyal to the government," wrote one Union soldier. But ultimately soldiers' diets depended on which side they fought for. The pre-war South was an agricultural society--80 percent of southerners worked on the land, compared with 40 percent in the North--but "the South wasn't exporting food, just tobacco and cotton," says Baylor University historian Rebecca Sharpless. Indeed, it was already importing food from the North and England at the beginning of the war. By the end, most southern soldiers were on near-starvation diets. Yet they fought on. "The Confederacy never lost a battle from want of rations or weapons," Davis writes in A Taste of War: A Culinary History of the Blue and Gray. "It simply never had enough men." American Civil War Recipes Union Hardtack and Confederate Johnnie Cakes Feeding the troops was the responsibility of the Commissary Department, and both the Union and Confederacy had one. The job of this organization was to purchase food for the armies, store it until it could be used, and then supply the soldiers. It was difficult to supply so many men in so many places and the North had a greater advantage in their commissary system was already established at the outbreak of the war, while the Confederacy struggled for many years to obtain food and then get it to their armies. Choices of what to give the troops was limited as they did not have the conveniences to preserve food like we have today. Meats were salted or smoked while other items such as fruits and vegetables were dried or canned. They did not understand proper nutrition so often there was a lack of certain foods necessary for good health. Each side did what they could to provide the basics for the soldiers to survive. Because it was so difficult to store for any length of time, the food soldiers received during the Civil War was not very fancy and they did not get a great variety of items.
This photograph shows what a temporary Union commissary depot looked like during the war. Large wooden barrels containing salted meat, coffee beans, and sugar are stacked next to crates of hardtack. It took a lot of food to feed the army even for one day!
(photo Library of Congress)
The Confederate Housewife Receipts & Remedies, Together with Sundry Suggestions for Garden, Farm, & Plantation This receipt book provides for the first time a comprehensive, grass roots picture of what many Confederate housewives faced during those tumultuous years. Substitutes abound, as do ways to preserve food, care for crops and animals, make straw hats and squirrel-skin shoes, and cure everything from cancer to small pox to ingrown toenails The daily allowance of food issued to soldiers was called rations . Everything was given out uncooked so the soldiers were left up to their own ingenuity to prepare their meals. Small groups would often gather together to cook and share their rations and they called the group a "mess" , referring to each other as "messmates" . Others prided themselves in their individual taste and prepared their meals alone. If a march was imminent, the men would cook everything at once and store it in their haversack , a canvas bag made with a sling to hang over the shoulder. Haversacks had a inner cloth bag that could be removed and washed, though it did not prevent the bag from becoming a greasy, foul-smelling container after several weeks of use. The soldier's diet was very simple- meat, coffee, sugar, and a dried biscuit called hardtack . Of all the items soldiers received, it was this hard bread that they remembered and joked about the most. Union Hardtack Hardtack was a biscuit made of flour with other simple ingredients, and issued to Union soldiers throughout the war. Hardtack crackers made up a large portion of a soldier's daily ration. It was square or sometimes rectangular in shape with small holes baked into it, similar to a large soda cracker. Large factories in the north baked hundreds of hardtack crackers every day, packed them in wooden crates and shipped them out by wagon or rail. If the hardtack was received soon after leaving the factory, they were quite tasty and satisfying. Usually, the hardtack did not get to the soldiers until months after it had been made. By that time, they were very hard, so hard that soldiers called them "tooth dullers" and "sheet iron crackers" . Sometimes they were infested with small bugs the soldiers called weevils, so they referred to the hardtack as "worm castles" because of the many holes bored through the crackers by these pests. The wooden crates were stacked outside of tents and warehouses until it was time to issue them. Soldiers were usually allowed six to eight crackers for a three-day ration. There were a number of ways to eat them- plain or prepared with other ration items. Soldiers would crumble them into coffee or soften them in water and fry the hardtack with some bacon grease. One favorite soldier dish was salted pork fried with hardtack crumbled into the mixture. Soldiers called this "skillygallee" , and it was a common and easily prepared meal.
Lodge Camp Dutch Oven The legs are for ease of use in campfires. Flanged lid to place coals on top of oven. Great for stews, chilli, roasts complete recipes for everything including old-fashioned bread. A must for reenactors villages. Some of the other items that soldiers received were salt pork, fresh or salted beef, coffee, sugar, salt, vinegar, dried fruit and dried vegetables. If the meat was poorly preserved, the soldiers would refer to it as "salt horse". Sometimes they would receive fresh vegetables such as carrots, onions, turnips and potatoes. Confederate soldiers did not have as much variety in their rations as Union soldiers did. They usually received bacon and corn meal, tea, sugar or molasses, and fresh vegetables when they were available. While Union soldiers had their "skillygallee", Confederates had their own version of a quick dish on the march. Bacon was cooked in a frying pan with some water and corn meal added to make a thick, brown gravy similar in consistency to oatmeal. The soldiers called it "coosh" and though it does not sound too appetizing, it was a filling meal and easy to fix.
15 Inch Cast-Iron Skillet Large Skillet 2.25 inches in depth. Not for standard home stove. Perfect for use on the Grill or over campfires when you are cooking for the "troops". Opposite handle for easy use of this heavy skillet.