The ration issued during the Civil War was a substantial
improvement over earlier rations, particularly from
the standpoint of quantity. Bread, meat, and coffee
were the staples of the diet, with beans, rice,
or dried vegetables added occasionally. During active
campaigning, however, the soldier got little more
than the staples unless he foraged. Hardtack
was the bread issued most frequently. The meat,
called salt horse, was salted or pickled
beef and pork.
Hardtack, a mixture of water and flour formed
into a large cracker, was a staple of the Union
soldiers diet. Often called sheet-iron
crackers or teeth-dullers, hardtack
was virtually unbreakable and usually softened
in water so that it could be eaten.
Coffee was a staple in the army and was nearly
always in good supply. It was issued individually
to the soldiers, thus the bags. The coffee can,
also issued, was used as a general mess tin.
Homespun tobacco, or tobacco twisted
into forms such as this, was preferred by the
soldiers because it could either be chewed or
cut into small pieces and smoked in a pipe.
Division of the History of Technology, Armed Forces
National Museum of American History, Smithsonian
Gifts of John A. Sours, C.F. Ray Sours, and Virginia
Dell Sours (hardtack); F. L. Van Auken (coffee);
W. E. Cooksey (tobacco)