American Civil War Recipes and Cooking (2024)

Feeding the troops was the responsibility of the Commissary Department, and both the Union and Confederacy had one. The job of this organization was to purchase food for the armies, store it until it could be used, and then supply the soldiers. It was difficult to supply so many men in so many places and the North had a greater advantage in their commissary system was already established at the outbreak of the war, while the Confederacy struggled for many years to obtain food and then get it to their armies. Choices of what to give the troops was limited as they did not have the conveniences to preserve food like we have today. Meats were salted or smoked while other items such as fruits and vegetables were dried or canned. They did not understand proper nutrition so often there was a lack of certain foods necessary for good health. Each side did what they could to provide the basics for the soldiers to survive. Because it was so difficult to store for any length of time, the food soldiers received during the Civil War was not very fancy and they did not get a great variety of items.

American Civil War Recipes and Cooking (1) This photograph shows what a temporary Union commissary depot looked like during the war. Large wooden barrels containing salted meat, coffee beans, and sugar are stacked next to crates of hardtack. It took a lot of food to feed the army even for one day!
(photo Library of Congress)

American Civil War Recipes and Cooking (2)
The Confederate Cookbook: Family Favorites from the Sons of Confederate Veterans
340 of Dixie's finest recipes courtesy of contemporary Confederate kitchens from Florida to Alaska. Here you'll find the delicious, traditional dishes that evoke the flavour of the Old South, as well as savoury regional favourites from all over the country. Fascinating historic anecdotes and previously unpublished, nostalgic sepia-toned images of identified Confederate soldiers are here for maximum visual appeal, along with easy-to-use instructions for making memorable dishes

The daily allowance of food issued to soldiers was called rations . Everything was given out uncooked so the soldiers were left up to their own ingenuity to prepare their meals. Small groups would often gather together to cook and share their rations and they called the group a "mess" , referring to each other as "messmates" . Others prided themselves in their individual taste and prepared their meals alone. If a march was imminent, the men would cook everything at once and store it in their haversack , a canvas bag made with a sling to hang over the shoulder. Haversacks had a inner cloth bag that could be removed and washed, though it did not prevent the bag from becoming a greasy, foul-smelling container after several weeks of use. The soldier's diet was very simple- meat, coffee, sugar, and a dried biscuit called hardtack . Of all the items soldiers received, it was this hard bread that they remembered and joked about the most.

Union Hardtack

Hardtack was a biscuit made of flour with other simple ingredients, and issued to Union soldiers throughout the war. Hardtack crackers made up a large portion of a soldier's daily ration. It was square or sometimes rectangular in shape with small holes baked into it, similar to a large soda cracker. Large factories in the north baked hundreds of hardtack crackers every day, packed them in wooden crates and shipped them out by wagon or rail. If the hardtack was received soon after leaving the factory, they were quite tasty and satisfying. Usually, the hardtack did not get to the soldiers until months after it had been made. By that time, they were very hard, so hard that soldiers called them "tooth dullers" and "sheet iron crackers" . Sometimes they were infested with small bugs the soldiers called weevils, so they referred to the hardtack as "worm castles" because of the many holes bored through the crackers by these pests. The wooden crates were stacked outside of tents and warehouses until it was time to issue them. Soldiers were usually allowed six to eight crackers for a three-day ration. There were a number of ways to eat them- plain or prepared with other ration items. Soldiers would crumble them into coffee or soften them in water and fry the hardtack with some bacon grease. One favorite soldier dish was salted pork fried with hardtack crumbled into the mixture. Soldiers called this "skillygallee" , and it was a common and easily prepared meal.
American Civil War Recipes and Cooking (3)

Union Hardtack Recipe

2 cups of flour
1/2 to 3/4 cup water
1 tablespoon of Crisco or vegetable fat
6 pinches of salt

Mix the ingredients together into a stiff batter, knead several times, and spread the dough out flat to a thickness of 1/2 inch on a non-greased cookie sheet. Bake for one-half an hour at 400 degrees. Remove from oven, cut dough into 3-inch squares, and punch four rows of holes, four holes per row into the dough. Turn dough over, return to the oven and bake another one-half hour. Turn oven off and leave the door closed. Leave the hardtack in the oven until cool. Remove and enjoy! Supplies
Unbleached Flour
Cookie Sheet

Confederate Johnnie Cake Recipe

two cups of cornmeal
2/3 cup of milk
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon of salt

Mix ingredients into a stiff batter and form eight biscuit-sized "dodgers". Bake on a lightly greased sheet at 350 degrees for twenty to twenty five minutes or until brown. Or, spoon the batter into hot cooking oil in a frying pan over a low flame. Remove the corn dodgers and let cool on a paper towel, spread with a little butter or molasses, and you have a real southern treat! Supplies
Corn Meal
Condensed Milk
Iron Frying Pan
Unbleached Flour
Cookie Sheet
American Civil War Recipes and Cooking (4)
Food and Recipes of the Civil War
Describes some of the foods eaten in the North and South before and after the Civil War and the impact of the war on what foods were available and how they were prepared. Includes recipes.

American Civil War Recipes and Cooking (5)
A Woman of Honor:
Dr. Walker and the Civil War

A picture of Mary Walker that allows us to see the furrows in her brow as she continued to stubbornly stick to her values. This book is eye-opening and brings to the forefront many women's rights issues that we may not even be aware of.
American Civil War Recipes and Cooking (6)
Lodge Camp Dutch Oven
The legs are for ease of use in campfires. Flanged lid to place coals on top of oven. Great for stews, chilli, roasts complete recipes for everything including old-fashioned bread. A must for reenactors villages.
Some of the other items that soldiers received were salt pork, fresh or salted beef, coffee, sugar, salt, vinegar, dried fruit and dried vegetables. If the meat was poorly preserved, the soldiers would refer to it as "salt horse". Sometimes they would receive fresh vegetables such as carrots, onions, turnips and potatoes. Confederate soldiers did not have as much variety in their rations as Union soldiers did. They usually received bacon and corn meal, tea, sugar or molasses, and fresh vegetables when they were available. While Union soldiers had their "skillygallee", Confederates had their own version of a quick dish on the march. Bacon was cooked in a frying pan with some water and corn meal added to make a thick, brown gravy similar in consistency to oatmeal. The soldiers called it "coosh" and though it does not sound too appetizing, it was a filling meal and easy to fix.

American Civil War Recipes and Cooking (7)
15 Inch Cast-Iron Skillet
Large Skillet 2.25 inches in depth. Not for standard home stove. Perfect for use on the Grill or over campfires when you are cooking for the "troops". Opposite handle for easy use of this heavy skillet.

American Civil War Recipes and Cooking (2024)


What kind of food did they eat during the Civil War? ›

These rations allotted just over a pound of meat, likely beef or pork, just under a pound of "hard bread," and a small collection of dried vegetables. The most common form of hard bread, was called hard tack, a basic wheat biscuit that did not easily decay and could survive a rough march.

How many calories did a Civil War soldier eat? ›


How did soldiers cook their food during the Civil War? ›

Many of the soldiers had no cooking skills; women or slaves typically handled home kitchen chores. “As a result, almost every food in the Civil War was fried. It's easy to fry food,” Burke said. Despite the obstacles, military cooking over a campfire in the early 1860s resulted in some pleasing meals.

What biscuit like food did soldiers eat in the Civil War? ›

During the Civil War one of the most common meals for soldiers was a cracker-like food called hardtack. Hardtack is made from flour, water, and salt.

What was the most popular food during the Civil War? ›

The most common food given to soldiers was bread, coffee, and salt pork. The typical ration for every Union soldier was about a pound of meat and a pound of bread or flour. The Confederacy started out following the same rules.

What was the most popular food in the Civil War? ›

Typical fare during the Civil War was very basic. Union soldiers were fed pork or beef, usually salted and boiled to extend the shelf life, coffee, sugar, salt, vinegar, and sometimes dried fruits and vegetables if they were in season.

How often did civil war soldiers bathe? ›

About once every week to ten days, Soldiers would go to the rear for their shower. Upon entering the shower area they turned in their dirty clothing. After showering they received new cloths. They had their choice for size: small, medium, or large.

What did Civil War soldiers eat for breakfast? ›

Both armies issued rations for the men to cook themselves, so they could eat whatever they wanted for breakfast and supper. The union staples were beef and flour hardback while the rebel staples were pork and cornmeal. Both armies became proficient in finding extra food when available.

How much did the average soldier weigh in the Civil War? ›

Two and three quarter million soldiers fought in the American Civil War, nearly 2 million for the United States and 750,000 for the Confederacy. The average soldier was a white, native born, Protestant. He was single, between the ages of 18 and 29, stood 5 foot 8 inches tall and weighed 143 pounds.

How did Confederate soldiers get fresh food? ›

Food preparation and nutrition

It was often necessary for soldiers to supplement their diets on their own. Soldiers could obtain a greater variety of foods by foraging and/or raiding; receiving food packages from their families; or purchasing from sutlers.

What was salt pork in the Civil War? ›

Salting pork allows the meat to last for a considerable time, without spoiling, at a low cost. It resembles uncut bacon, but, as the name suggests, is highly salted — often too highly during the war. Excess salt was usually scraped off and used to flavor other rations.

How did people cook during the Civil War? ›

There are accounts of Civil War soldiers constructing hearts and stoves, usually in their winter camps. However, much of the military's cooking was done over a small, open fire. (Think “campfire.”) Their fire fuel? Well, fence rails burned pretty well or other wood items or trees.

Did Civil War soldiers eat beef jerky? ›

They'd slaughter bison, cattle, elk or deer, strip the meat and hang it out to dry. During the Civil War, an estimated 2 million Union Soldiers ate jerky with relish.

What canned food did they have in the American Civil War? ›

The conflict also popularized other canned goods, such as canned beef from Chicago and Gilbert Van Camp's canned fruits, vegetables, and pork and beans from Indianapolis, both of whom secured lucrative contracts to supply food for the Union Army.

Did Civil War soldiers have canned food? ›

The William Underwood Company of Boston became prominent, supplying canned food to expeditions and Civil War combatants.

What did Americans eat during the war? ›

At first, the meals were stews, and more varieties were added as the war went on, including meat and spaghetti in tomato sauce, chopped ham, eggs and potatoes, meat and noodles, pork and beans; ham and lima beans, and chicken and vegetables.

What food did they eat in 1860? ›

Some common foods eaten were eggs, bacon and bread, mutton, pork, potatoes, and rice. They drank milk and ate sugar and jam.

What foods were from a Civil War campfire? ›

A Union soldier's haversack would have contained salt pork, fresh or salted beef, coffee, sugar, salt, vinegar, dried fruit, and vegetables. And if in season, they might have fresh carrots, onions, turnips and potatoes.

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