1. Regulation Rations

What did they eat? Soldiers were entitled to rations, and also obtained such food as might be available from the country around them.

A soldier's rations were prescribed by regulation, and the Confederates originally copied the U.S. regulations. The Confederacy reduced the meat content in mid-war, in response to both a shortage of pork caused by an epidemic of hog cholera and to the South's pre-war dependence on the North for meat and wheat. The Confederacy also reduced rations due to supply problems, both national problems (like the shortage of wheat, which led to issue of corn meal) and transportation problems (which led to the Army of Tennessee subsisting on "corn, salt, and apples" during the 1862 Kentucky campaign.)

According to Regulations for the Army of the Confederate States, published January 28th 1863,

Paragraph 1107, the ration is:

3/4ths of a pound of pork or bacon, or one and a fourth pounds of fresh or salt beef. (Reduced to 1 pound of beef or 1/2 pound of pork in January 1863).

18 ounces of bread or flour, or 12 ounces of hard bread, or 20 ounces of corn meal.

[Note that people preferred to eat white corn meal and not yellow. Into living memory, southerners regarded yellow corn as for animals.]

Pictured below is 20 ounces of white corn meal and a pound of fresh beef, on two modern dinner plates, next to a haversack.

That 20 ounces of corn meal measured out to 3 1/2 cups:

That amount of corn meal, plus luxurious milk and eggs, baked up in a skillet to a huge corn pone as shown below: Big as a dinner plate and more than two inches thick!

Now, the Civil War soldier did not often have milk, eggs, or leavening, and that issue will be covered in the recipes section. But this was for the family to eat when I photographed it.

Paragraph 1109: "On campaign, or on marches" the ration of hard bread was one pound. (I presume this increase from 12 ounces was in lieu of other rations which might not be available.)

Paragraph 1102: "fresh beef, when it can be procured, shall be furnished.. at least twice a week"

Note that commissaries tried to slaughter beef as close as possible to the troops and then to issue it as soon as possible. The estimated yield in meat was 45% of the whole cow [paragraph 1145] , so the amount of beef indicated will include small bones and gristle.

The following small rations were also issued to the unit in bulk at the following rates per man:

2.5 fluid ounces of peas or beans, or one tenth of a pound of rice,

0.06 pound of coffee (about .96 ounce)

0.12 pound of sugar (about 1.92 ounce)

1.28 fluid ounces of vinegar

Candles: 1.5 pounds of tallow candles to 100 men

4 pounds of soap to 100 men (about 2/3 ounce of soap per man per day.) [A modern bar of soap varies by brand from about 4 to 5 ounces weight. Note that the issue soap was for washing clothes as well as one's person.]

2 quarts of salt to 100 men, or about 2/3 fluid ounce of salt per man per day. (Translating from bulk measures, where the salt ration is defined as 0.16 gill, that makes 1.28 tablespoons per man.)

Pictured below is the per-day allowance of beans and salt, and about two days' sugar.

The sugar is in a hard cone. That is the way sugar normally came in the mid 1800s. (And for decades afterward: It was sold this way in grocery stores in the 1920s.) The cone shape is from the moulds used in the old extraction process. If a housewife wanted white sugar she would purify it at home! This sugar is now found in the Mexican food or spice section of the grocery store, labeled "piloncillo" sugar (or in the bulk produce section of H.E.B. stores in San Antonio.)

The diet above is lacking in vitamins C and A from fruit and vegetables, and the modern reader will perceive that if it is adhered to strictly it will lead to scurvy and night blindness. Our 19th century predecessors were generally aware of this, so:

Paragraph 1117: "when the officers of the Medical Department find anti-scorbutics necessary for the health of the troops, the commanding officer may order the issue of fresh vegetables, pickled onions, sour krout or molasses, with an extra quantity of rice and vinegar. (Potatoes are usually issued at the rate of one pound per ration, and onions at the rate of three bushels in lieu of one of beans). Occasional issued (extra) of molasses are made - two quarts to one hundred rations, and of dried apples, of from one to one and a half bushels to one hundred rations." [A bushel of dried apples is defined as 22 pounds according to paragraph 1141, which makes from 3.5 to 5 ounces of dried apples per man.]

Note that the salt pork referred to above has very little in common with the "salt pork" sold in the 21st century grocery store for flavoring beans and similar dishes. Paragraph 1141 includes a note, "In purchasing pork for the southern posts, a preference will be given to that which is put up in small pieces, say from four to six pounds each, and not very fat." In other words the entire meat of the pig was included in "salt pork", except for the belly which is bacon. 19th century salt pork was much leaner than the stuff you find in the grocery store now.

Paragraph 1149 specified acceptable substitutions:

Tea in lieu of coffee at 1.5 pounds per hundred rations. (That's one quarter ounce of tea per man. A modern small tea bag weighs about .06 ounce including paper, so this ration is about four or five tea bags worth.)

"dessicated vegetables" in lieu of beans and rice for two issues per week.

Potatoes and onions in lieu of rice and beans. Potatoes at 1 pound per ration and onions at three pecks per hundred rations. [A peck is contained in a box 8 inches by 8.4 inches square according to paragraph 1141.]

"A daily ration of vegetables will be furnished to the troops whenever the same can be provided at reasonable cost and charges to the government."

Rations not issued could be made up later, or commuted to cash which would be paid to the company fund.


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