Food Feed

Hardtack postcard

Hardtack, a soldiers best friend. Wild Bill spoke of many recipes that the troops used during the war. His favorite was to fry it up, crumbled with bacon fat or coffee. By frying it, the heat usually killed the bugs that might be in older hardtack, One industrious soldier even used one as a post card which he mailed home to his sweetheart in NY (bottom photo).

From Wildbillbourroughs on Tumblr


Hardtack: A staple food source for men of both sides of the Civil War. This is a 50 pound box made in Brooklyn. Bill often told the old standard Union tale of how he bit into his hard tack and and found something soft, when he went to see what it was he found it was a nail!!

From Wild Bill Burroughs on Tumblr

Starving the South

“Famine is staring us in the face. There is nothing so heart rending to a Mother as to have her children crying round her for bread and she have none to give them.”

The Union navy blockaded Southern ports to stop ships from bringing in supplies. Agents from the Confederate government requisitioned food and livestock, taking them for the army to use. Union troops came through some areas of North Carolina and stole food and animals.

In early 1863 Mary Williams and fifty-nine other desperate women from the western part of the state asked Governor Zebulon Vance not to draft any more men from their farms into military service. The women noted that without the men they could not plant as many crops. County sheriffs and local governments tried to provide food for soldiers’ families, but many people still went hungry. Sometimes they tried drastic measures to get food.

In the town of Salisbury in March 1863, a group of fifty to seventy-five women armed with axes and hatchets descended on the railroad depot and several stores looking for flour. The women thought that the railroad agent and the storekeepers were hoarding flour, hiding it to sell later at a higher price. When faced with the angry mob, the storekeepers gave “presents” of flour, molasses, and salt to the women. According to the newspaper Carolina Watchman, the agent at the railroad depot insisted he had no flour. The women broke into the depot, took ten barrels of flour, and left the agent “sitting on a log blowing like a March wind.”

From The Civil War Parlor on Tumblr

The Civil War Mess Kit


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The Civil War Mess Kit

Dig In: This nonregulation Civil War mess kit features a fork, knife, spoon, corkscrew, salt and pepper shaker, and cup enclosed in a mahogany carrying case. The typical kit was much less fancy and looked more like photo #2

A typical mess kit, like this one from Don Tolbert’s personal collection, for soldiers on both sides included coffee, hardtack bread and beans. These staples were cheap and easy to preserve and carry.

From The Civil War Parlor on Tumblr

Food And The Civil War

Fresh beef, a staple of the soldier’s diet, wasn’t always available. Borden’s Condensed Milk and other canned foods were introduced during the Civil War.

Food During The War

As the war continued, Southerners began to feel the pinch of food shortages, especially in the cities, where residents did not produce their own food and had large concentrated populations. As the Union established more and more blockades, farmers were less able to transport food into the cities. 

Some popular dishes in the South included fried ham with red-eye gravy and biscuits, Hopping John (a stew made with bacon, peas or beans, and red pepper). Vegetables included tomatoes (Ruffled Yellow), lettuce (head, leaf, and romaine), beans (Great Northern Yellow Eye, Jacob’s Cattle) and snap beans, sweet corn (Black Aztec), cabbage, potato (Early Rose and Irish potatoes), cucumbers, pumpkins, melons and beets.

Men on the field often ate canned food, as storage was more difficult since soldiers would travel from camp to camp every day. Some of the labels are surprisingly familiar: Underwood Deviled Ham· Lea and Perrins Worcestershire Sauce· Borden’s Condensed Milk· Van Camp’s Pork and Beans· McIlhenny Company’s Tabasco Sauce

Chronic food shortages and outright hunger crippled the South throughout the Civil War, breeding despair among civilians and soldiers alike.

From The Civil War Parlor on Tumblr

Southerners Used Food Substitutions During The Civil War

Southerners Used Food Substitutions During The Civil War

Before secession, a typical Southern family’s grocery bill was $6.65 per month. By 1864, it was $400 per month. In fact. Confederate dollars were so devalued that many families could not afford to buy food staples. As produce became more and more scarce or expensive, people had to find substitutes for common foods. Many residents were quite creative, and although most of the substitutes did not survive until modern times, satisfied southern appetites to some degree. Here are some examples:

Meat (at least $20 for one meal): 
Domestic animals, crows, frogs, locusts, snails, snakes and worms

Okra seeds that were browned, dried sweet potatoes or carrots, roasted acorns, wheat berries

Herbs, sumac berries, sassafras roots, raspberry, blackberry, huckleberry and holly leaves

Water and corn and molasses, fermented in an old barrel

Milk or cream:
Beat an egg white to a froth and add a small lump of butter, mix well.

Molasses, sorghum, dried, ground figs, honey, watermelon syrup
Vinegar (apple): molasses, honey, beets, figs, persimmon, may-apples and sorghum

Rice, rice flour, cornmeal, and rye flour.

Boiled sea water, or taking dirt from the smokehouse, adding water and boiling it. Skim off the scum on the top and drop in cold water, and the salt sinks to the bottom. The impurities could be boiled off. Wood ashes or gunpowder could substitute for salt as a seasoning.

Source: Varhole, Michael J. Everyday Life During the Civil War.

From: The Civil War Parlor on Tumblr

Hard Tack


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Piece of Hardtack With Original Paper Wrapper, Issued By The United States Army During the Civil War.

Hardtack is a biscuit (or cracker) made from flour, water and salt. It was a staple of the Civil War soldier’s diet because it was inexpensive and, when properly stored, lasted for years. Hardtack, while nutritious, could be exceedingly hard and usually had to be soaked before it could be eaten. The wrapper reads “Army / Cracker / or / Hardtack 1864 / John W. Weiser / Ohio Infy”.

It was given to Levi Longfellow, Principal Musician of the 6th Minnesota Regiment, Company B, by John W. Weiser, Ohio Infantry, at the close of the Civil War. Watch the Collections Department’s podcast about hardtack to learn more.-Curator Matt Anderson shows a very old piece of food from the Minnesota Historical Society’s collection: an original piece of hardtack from the Civil War. It’s one of the more bizarre items in the collection, and an edible that was made to last.

From The Civil War Parlor

Sampling the Tastes of the Civil War


Daniel Mowles preparing roasted rabbits for a tasting of Civil War-era food at the Roger Smith hotel on Monday.Photographs by Chester Higgins Jr./The New York Times


Beef Jerky

Prepare the dishes yourself.

Daniel Mowles preparing roasted rabbits for a tasting of Civil War-era food at the Roger Smith Hotel on Monday. The chef, it turned out, was from southwest Virginia and grew up in a household that, he said, had inherited some of Robert E. Lee’s silverware.

Those were just coincidences at a tasting of dishes from the Civil War era, prepared according to recipes adapted from cookbooks published between 1861 and 1865.

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