Civil War Rations

by Daniel Russ on April 29, 2011

Post image for Civil War Rations Salt Pork

Salted Pork or Beef.

More often than not, this was not just pork preserved in brine. It was skin, hair and God knows what other parks of a pig one might actually consume. Having grown up in Georgia, I can assure you that there is absolutely no part of the pig that a southerner won’t eat. That said, salted pork was too salty to actually eat. It was also gelatinous goo that did not hold together well in the bag or paper it was wrapped in. It was a source of fat for the soldiers north and south and they often used it just to cook something else in. The daily ration was about a pound, and the Union solider was more likely to get his ration than a southerner. But because it did not last well, or disintegrated inside one’s rucksack, soldiers typically ate their “sowbelly” at once.

Hard Tack


This was basically a hard cracker made of flour water and salt. Often the soldiers called it “worm castle” as it was a home for weevils and larvae and maggots of all kinds. This was a great source of calories for soldiers who desperately needed the energy, and was found on both sides of the battlefield. Southerners often had corn meal, or ground hominy (grits), ground rice or ground peas, all produced as a small loaf that could later be cooked with pork or beans.


Requiring long cooking times, beans were rarely seen except during bivouac. Mostly tasteless, they served as a great source of protein when beef or chicken was not available.

A great army cook could find some pork fat and water and salt make the beans just delicious. Without a great cook, soldiers preferred almost anything else.


Fresh baked bread was a luxury and a delight to soldiers fighting miles from home. It wasn’t around often, and southerners at home were wont to cook it as a scavenging troops would often raid them for their bread as its aroma could fill a neighborhood.


Some Union forces traveled with their own herds of cattle. The Confederate Army foraged and scavenged and begged for food mostly while out maneuvering. Southern citizens would happily share what they could afford to share with a poor soldier but this also meant that when hungry troops were not accommodated, they accommodated themselves.

Meat for civil war soldiers could be beef, or chicken, or fish from numerous rivers and lakes and creeks around the country. It might also be javelina, wild pigs, rabbits, chipmunks, squirrels, birds, snakes, sheep, goats, deer, foxes, coyotes, dogs, or horses. One can imagine that desperate men will kill and eat almost anything.

(I just watched the documentary on the Donner Party, a group of Midwesterners who before the Civil War had to resort to cannibalism. It reminded me of the Peruvian Soccer team that crashed landed in the Andes and had to resort to cannibalism. My theory on that is this: if you eat another passenger, you should at least get the frequent flyer miles. So if you eat an Executive Platinum, you should be an Executive Platinum. If you eat say half of an Executive Platinum, you should be a Gold frequent traveler.).


It was plentiful and easy to make. Just shuck it and boil it, or shuck it and roast it. Fields of corn were often battlefields as well, as five to six foot corn stalks could hide approaching infantry. Whatever was left after a battle became someone’s meal.


Oddly, water was the cause of many a soldier’s death, as often it was close to large troop formations, and well, we know what men do in the water when nature calls. Cholera, dysentery, malaria, typhus, all these things were part and parcel of bad water.

Fruits and Vegetables.

Apples, peaches, potatoes, tomatoes, squash, kale, collared greens, anything that grew out of a garden was consumed. Pity the poor garden that sits in the way of an Army patrol.


Considered by some soldiers as luxuries, coffee was very special and prized and coveted by soldiers on both sides of the conflict. It was so important that soldiers would swap for it even with enemy soldiers.


You bet. When men are at war, they need something to help relieve the stress. Whisky, often corn whisky, or “white Lightnin,” “Mountain Dew” or “Panther Piss” was a highly prized possession.


Reflecting the often high society trappings of officer corps on both sides, tea was important and traded just like coffee. It didn’t quite have the import it did over seas, but it was important nonetheless.

Source: Wikipedia, History Buffs Guide To The Civil War, by Thomas Flagel.


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