Civil War soldier food was typically very simple fare – often consisting of meat, coffee, sugar and hardtack – a type of dried biscuit. The meat was often salted or dried so it would last a bit longer and fruits and vegetables were rarities on the battlefield. Because the soldiers were often in the field, they needed to carry rations with them. They had a special bag – called a haversack – which was made of canvas with an inner cloth bag that could be washed to get food debris cleaned out once in a while. But even with this design, the bags were often quite contaminated and foul smelling. Cleanliness was typically not high on the Civil War soliders priority list.
Union and Confederate Soldiers
Soldiers typically had a different mix of rations. A Union soldier might have salt pork, fresh or salted beef, coffee, sugar, salt, vinegar, dried fruit and vegetables. And if it was in season, they might have fresh carrots, onions, turnips and potatos. A Confederate soldier typically had bacon, corn meal, tea, sugar, molasses and the very occasional fresh vegetable.
The other difference in Civil War food between the Union and Confederate armies was the type of bread product they had available to them. Confederate soldiers had something called “Johnnie Cake” that they made in the field from cornmeal, milk and a few other ingredients. The Union soldiers had hardtack, also refered to as “tooth dullers” or “sheet iron crackers”. Hardtack was manufactured in large factories in the North and was a staple food for the Union soldiers. Hardtack got its name because it was often not used until months after it was made and during that time, it hardened rock solid which is how it got its nicknames.
As you can see, food has come a long way due to the advent of technologies that allow for better preservation of a wide variety of foods. Gone are the days of weevil infested hardtack. They have been replaced with modern vacuum seal technologies that allow foods to stay fresh and tasty years after they have been packages. And since they say an army is run by its stomach, it is no surprise that the modern soldier is the best the world has ever seen.