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Marching on the Civil War Stomach

Civil War historian William C. Davis, in A Taste for War: The Culinary History of the Blue and the Gray, 2003, page ix:

“No one completely escaped the rotten meat, the worm-infested bread, the illness from want of fruits and vegetables, or the utter absence of even the basic principles of nutrition and a balanced diet.”

Feeding troops during the Civil War very often resembled medieval European feeding methods. While trains could carry goods, supplies, and equipment, most of what the Civil War Soldier ate had to be hauled by horses, wagons, and himself.

There were company cooks during the Civil War, which is more than the Soldiers of the American Revolution had, but many of them were not trained cooks. Anecdotal reports state that some company cooks could barely cook for themselves, let alone hundreds of men at a time.

In 1861, the Army of Virginia published an Army camp cooking manual entitled, Directions for Cooking by Troops in Camp and Hospital. And it was written by Florence Nightingale based on her experiences with Soldiers nutrition needs during the Crimean War. It includes recipes for coffee for 100 people.

"Directions for Cooking" by Florence Nightengale

Below is a snapshot of what Union and Confederate Soldiers were supposed to be issued, plus the provisions required for animals.

Official Union Ration: 20 oz. of fresh or salt beef or 12 oz. of pork or bacon; 18 oz. of flour or 20 of corn meal (bread in lieu if possible); 1.6 oz. of rice or .64 oz. of beans or 1.5 oz of dried potatoes; 1.6 oz of coffee or .24 oz. of tea; 2.4 oz. of sugar; .54 oz. of salt; .32 gill of vinegar.

Union Marching Ration: 16 oz. of “hardtack”; 12 oz. salt pork or 4 oz. fresh meat; 1 oz. coffee; 3 oz. sugar; and salt.

Confederate Ration: Basically the same but with slightly more sugar and less meat, coffee, vinegar and salt, and seldom issued in full. For the Army of Northern Virginia usually half of meat issued and coffee available only when captured or exchanged through the lines for sugar and tobacco. During the Maryland campaign foraging was disappointing, so Confederate soldiers supplemented the issue ration with corn from the fields and fruit from the orchards.

Forage for Animals: Each horse required 14 lbs. of hay and 12 of grain per day; mules needed the same amount of hay and 9 lbs of grain. No other item was so bulky and difficult to transport.

Confederate Soldier from "Foot Cavalry"

The Confederate government’s goal of mimicking the July 1861 Union rations often disappointed. Many foods – like coffee and sugar – had been imported from the northern states. Confederate units quickly ran short on coffee and many used peanuts, rye, and other substitutes in their place. Chicory coffee, like the kind served in New Orleans with beignets, became popular during this time. But no beignets, though, as the majority of the soft bread issued to Confederate soldiers was made from either cornmeal or rice.

While rations may have been in (what probably seemed like perpetual) short supply for the Confederacy, ingenuity abounded: they made up the difference in actual calories issued and calories promised through stolen Union supplies. In his 1912 manuscript, One of Jackson’s Foot Cavalry, page 107, John H. Worsham wrote

“We captured immense quantities of provisions; nearly all the ‘hard tack’ and pork issued to us was captured.”

To read more about the fare of Civil War soldiers, One of Jackson’s Foot Cavalry is available online, thanks to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  And check back tomorrow to learn all about hardtack!

Posted in Civil War.

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