Food On The Battlefield

Food For Children During War

Children and wives staying at home had a much better diet than the soldiers. They ate meat fresh or preserved it by smoking it, drying it, sugar curing it, or canning it. They also ate vegetables that included carrots, onions and potatoes. Families has a wide variety of fruit like, pears, plums, cherries and peaches. They had an abundance of flour, rice, milk, butter, eggs and cheese. Cooking techniques were fairly basic and methods had changed only a little since they were brought from Europe to the New World. Meet fried, roasted and most often boiled. Fruit pies were universally popular, such as cherry and apple.

Agriculture In South During War

Agriculture in the South still remained the mainstay of the United States economy during the war. The South supported three-fourths of te total agriculture exports in the United States. Knowing the power of southern agriculture, the north blockaded and uprooted the cotton trade. The North also ruined transportation systems (that carried food). Often southern troops would confiscate meat grain and other produce from local southern farmers while at war.

Buy and Distributing Food

Buying food for the soldiers in the war was the Commissary Department's job. Although often food would just be taken from local farmers by the troops. Prices of food also increased during war. Meat would usually be given to the troops salted but occasionally herds of cattle would be brought along with the army to slaughter to get fresh meat.
A typical Union ration included:

Union Ration:

Every Soldier:
  • 12oz of pork or bacon or 1lb of salted beef
  • 11lb 6oz of soft bread or flour or 1lb of hardtack (see picture below)
  • 1lb 4oz of cornmeal

Every 100 Soldiers:
  • 15lb of beans or peas
  • 10lb of rice
  • 10lb of green coffee or 8lb of roasted coffee
  • 1lb 8oz of tea
  • 15lb of sugar
  • 4 quarts of vinegar
  • 1 quart of molasses

The confederates had the same ration as the union but it was gradually reduced as the war carried on and supplies grew short. Although the South was more likely to have foods like bacon or cornmeal.

Northern Food

A Common Civil War Snack: Hardtack
The North had the advantage of being well fed over the South. While most of the farms were in the South most of the Commissaries (defined in the Commissary section below) were in the North. On the Battlefield the only meat the soldiers would get would be saltedpork. Very rarely the soldiers would be lucky enough to get fresh beef. The pork and beef would be broiled over fires in their military camps. Army bread was a common snack for the North. It was more commonly known as hardtack, and was renamed by the soldiers as "tooth dullers","work castles", or "sheet iron crackers." Hardtack was mostly eaten plain and sometimes toasted over the fire. Other food the norther soldiers ate included rice, peas, beans, dried fruit, potatoes, molasses, vinegar, salt and coffee. Baked Beans was also a northern favorite.

Southern Food

The quantity of food in the South was much less than what it was in the North. A southern soldier's average diet was bacon, cornmeal, molasses, peas, tobacco, vegetables and rice. Also, unlike the North, the South didn't have the luxury of coffee. Southern troops transitioned from high quality food before the war to a situation where they faced starvation day to day. Other food the southern soldiers ate included peached corn, wormy hardtrack "blue" beef and "sowbelly" jerky. Some soldiers were so desperate they even ate rats, dogs, mules, horses, cane roots, and even grass. Instead the southern soldiers drank coffee substitute. Often southerners traded for better food. They would trade tobacco, newspapers, sewing needles, buttons, and currency for food of higher quality.

Commissary Department
A Commissary In the North

The Commissary Department's job was to acquire and distribute food to soldiers during the war. Unfortunately, the department was not organized during the war. A commissary is a restaurant in a movie studio, military base, prison or other institute. The North had several advantages when it came to the Commissary Department. Most of the Commissaries were located in the North gave the North the advantage of better food. Also, the Northern Commissary department was previously set up before war broke out. The South would struggle for many years to organize their department and get good food to their troops. The department would purchase food for the armies, store it until it could be used, and then supply it to the soldiers. Food couldn't be preserved like it can be today so meats were salted and smoked, while vegetables and fruit were canned or dried. The daily allowance of food given to the soldiers was called a ration. Also, many groups would form within the army that would share their ration and cook together. These groups were called messes, and the individuals within each mess were called messmates. Once troops were given their rations the would store it in a canvas bag that would sling over their shoulder called a haversack.


Union Hardtack Recipe:

  • 2 cups of flower
  • 1/2- 3/4 cup of water
  • 1 table spoon of crisco or vegetable oil
  • 6 pinches of salt

Confederate Johnnie Cake Recipe

  • 2 cups of cornmeal
  • 2/3 cup of milk
  • 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil
  • 2 teaspoons of baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
(for more on how to make these snack visit:

American Apple Pie

  • Apples, sour or green
  • Lemon rind, approx. 1/2 tsp.
  • Sugar
  • Cream

Apples should be cut into very thin slices, and are much improved by a little lemon-peel. Sweet apples are not good for pies, as they are very insipid when baked, and seldom get thoroughly done. If green apples are used, they should first be stewed in as little water as possible, and made very sweet. Apples, stewed previous to baking, should not be done till they break, but only till they are tender. They should then be drained in a cullender, and chopped fine with a knife or the edge of a spoon.

In making pies of juicy fruit, it is a good way to set a small tea-cup on the bottom crust, and lay the fruit all round it. The juice will collect under the cup, and not run out at the edges or top of the pie. The fruit should be mixed with a sufficient quantity of sugar, and piled up in the middle, so as to make the pie highest in the centre. The upper crust should be pricked with a fork, or have a slit cut in the middle. The edges should be nicely crimped with a knife. Apple pies are much improved by taking off the lid, and pouring in a little cream, just before they go to table. Replace the lid very carefully.

For more recepies, be sure to follow this informative link


Gallagher, Gary W. "Civil War." In Waugh, Joan, and Gary B. Nash, eds.Encyclopedia of American History: Civil War and Reconstruction, 1856 to 1869, vol. 5. New York: Facts On File, Inc., 2003. American History Online. Facts On File, Inc.

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Heiser, John. "Gett Kidz- Civil War Food." U.S. National Park Service - Experience Your America. July 2006. Web. 29 Apr. 2010. <>.

Chabotte, Steven "Civil War Food - What Union and Confederate Soldiers Ate." Civil War Food - What Union and Confederate Soldiers Ate. 22 Nov. 2006 Apr. 2010 < War- Food- - - What- Union- and- Confederate- Soldiers- Ate&id=366537>.