Every soldier knows food is important to an army. Rations, the amount of food authorized for one soldier per day, keep an army moving. The quality of food, as well as the quantity, affects soldiers’ moods.
During the Civil War, the Union Army had two types of rations: “marching rations” and “camp rations.” Marching rations consisted of 16 ounces of hard bread, also known as ‘hardtack;’ 12 ounces of salt pork or 20 ounces of fresh meat, sugar, tea or coffee, and salt. Two or three pieces of hardtack, about 3 inches square each, fulfilled the daily ration for hard bread. Camp rations could substitute soft bread, flour, or cornmeal for hardtack, and included extras such as dried beans or peas, rice, vinegar, and molasses [a type of very sticky sweet substance], along with an amount of soap and candles. The ration was designed to fill a soldier’s stomach, not to provide energy to march or fight.
At the beginning of the war, soldiers had to cook their rations themselves. This took time, and the quality of meals depended on the cooking skills of the individual. Enlisted men would often cook with their friends, sharing the work and the food. As the war progressed company cooks were added that resulted in better food and higher morale [the amount of confidence and cheerfulness that a group of people have]. Officers did not receive rations when they were in camp; they received a money allowance to purchase food and supplies from the commissary [a military store for soldiers only] and could hire a civilian to cook their meals.