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File:Civil War rations.jpg

recreation of a ration storage room at Fort Macon State Park, NC

During the American Civil War, both the Union and Confederate armies struggled to keep their soldiers adequately fed. Logistical support varied from area to area, which lead to great variations in the quality and quantity of rations provided.

Northern Rations[]

According to "Hardee's Rifle and Light Infantry Tactics" printed by Pioneer Press:

One soldier's ration would include:

  • 20 oz. of salted pork or fresh or salted Beef[1]
  • 12 oz. of Hard Bread[1] in camp or garrison or 16 oz. of Hard Bread at sea, on campaign, or on the march.
  • 1 oz. compressed cube of desiccated mixed vegetables[1] or a 1.5 oz. compressed cube of desiccated potatoes if supplemental foods were unavailable.

This would be supplemented by (per 100 rations):

  • 8 qts. of Beans or Peas.
  • 10 lbs. of Rice or Hominy.
  • 10 lbs. of green Coffee beans or 8 lbs. of roasted Coffee beans.
  • 10 lbs. of Sugar.
  • 2 qts. of Salt.
  • 1 gallon of Vinegar.
  • 3.75 lbs. of Candles.
  • 4 lbs. of Soap.

The most common field ration issued to individual soldiers was salt pork and hardtack, both which were designed to withstand field conditions without deteriorating. Excess salt could be scraped off the meat to supplement the salt ration.

These rations required cooking to make them palatable, but less experienced soldiers were unlikely to have their own cooking equipment and the large company-level kettles were sometimes left behind during a rapid advance.


Food often became infested with insects, especially rice or grain weevils. Infestation along with scarcity and unpalatability of rations made it necessary for soldiers to supplement their diets. A soldier could often gain a larger variety of foods either by foraging/raiding, by receiving food boxes from their families, or by purchasing items from sutlers. Families throughout the country were affected by the war and often had little to give. Those supporting the side currently in control of the area might be able to provide food, but in most cases, the food had to be acquired by theft.

The Coffee and Sugar Ration[]

Coffee was less scarce in the North than in the South, but was nonetheless difficult for many soldiers to obtain. Both Union and Confederate soldiers supplemented meagre coffee rations with burnt wheat and roasted chicory root.

The coffee ration was usually issued in unroasted "green" beans; the coffee beans had to be pre-roasted and then ground before it could be used. Sometimes Union soldiers lacked the means to do so and were unable to use their coffee ration.

Condensed Milk[]

Gail Borden's invention of condensed milk also greatly aided the Union army.[2]

Southern Rations[]

The Confederate States of America followed almost the exact same guidelines as shown above in Hardee's, as the book was written by a U.S. Army officer from the south, before the war broke out. Although Northern quartermasters took the ration guidelines as their standard, the South found themselves lacking most of the items listed. While the government attempted to provide adequate rations for their troops, they were frequently unable to do so, due to blockades, monocultural farming, and lack of transportation.

Confederate soldiers had more access to tobacco than Union troops. While opposing troops were on picket duty, it was common for Union soldiers to trade their coffee for tobacco from the Confederate soldiers. When they could not do so due to the presence of their officers, a Southern soldier could use roasted chicory root as a coffee substitute. Peanuts, due to their wide range throughout southern North America, were an important source of food for Confederate soldiers.

Footnotes[]

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Ken Burns, The Civil War, documentary movie series
  2. New York Milk Condensery "Web site". Southeast Museum. http://www.southeastmuseum.org/SE_Tour99/SE_Tour/html/borden_s_milk.htm New York Milk Condensery. Retrieved 2009-03-26. 

References[]

  • Billings, John D. 1887. Hard Tack and Coffee or the Unwritten Story of Army Life. C.J. Peters & Son, Boston. ISBN 0809442086
  • Garrison, Webb, and Cheryl Garrison. 2001. The Encyclopedia of Civil War Usage. Cumberland House, Nashville, Tenn. ISBN 1581821867

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