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What Exactly Did Civil War Soldiers Eat?

Civil War rations were based around recipes that were common at the time, with some very major differences. While times of scarcity were more common in the 19th century, the soldiers who served during the Civil War had to endure repetitive ingredients kept long beyond their ideal freshness, served by cooks who didn’t always have a plan or help or enough ingredients. Or many times they were simply handed their rations and expected to prepare them with few cooking utensils. Read on to find out what the Civil War soldiers ate and how they made their meals.


Like the settlers, pioneers, and cowboys, Army meals centered around portable staples that kept for a long time. Apples and salt pork were key ingredients. One of the most ubiquitous foods on the front was hard tack. Pioneers often didn’t have access to wheat flour and so were often dependent on cornmeal to make baked goods. But, for the Union soldiers, the dry and long-lasting hardtack was crucial. However bland and tasteless, it kept many a soldier from starving to death.

What Did Civil War Soldiers Eat?

Union soldier surrounded by boxes of hardtack. Via/ Library of Congress

Flour, water, and maybe salt were the only ingredients in hardtack. The hardtack were “docked” with holes, much like our modern crackers, so that they could completely dry out in the baking process. Baked twice, the resulting cracker was so hard as to need liquid to make them fit for chewing. So they were frequently dunked or crushed into hot coffee or doused with water and then fried in grease, or sometimes put into a bowl of stew. The soldiers were desperate to give these chunks of serviceable “bread” any kind of flavor at all.

Union soldiers were issued 9 squares per day, with conflicting reports as to whether this left a man still hungry. Sometimes infested with bugs, this was still the most reliable food source that the troops had from day to day and it kept in all but moist conditions. Get the recipe and find out even more about this military staple here.

Confederate troops had no such thing as wheat flour because of the blockade, so instead relied on a white cornbread known as Confederate shortbread. These dodgers or corncakes would have been a staple for the Confederate troops, sometimes made crudely on their bayonets over the fire. See the recipe here.

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