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A Professor of History at East Central State College, Ada, Oklahoma, Dr. Boeger is currently working on a book on the federal Commissary Department in the Civil War. Hardtack and Burned Beans PALMER H. BOEGER when federal authorities hurriedly patched together an army of volunteers to fight the Confederacy they expected to feed the citizen soldiers the same regulation ration and in the same manner that the government fed the regulars in peacetime.1 The United States Army ration was nearly twice as large as the French ration and more than a fifth greater than that of the British Army.2 Salt meat, fresh beef, bread, coffee, and army vegetables were substantial food which would enable men to endure long marches and hard fighting. A company fund arrangement offered thrifty volunteers opportunities for variety in their diet which no European soldier ever dreamed of. The Yankee army could become the best provisioned military organization in the world. What the Washington authorities did not understand was the "curious tastes" of the American volunteer, for the untrained citizen soldier was used to quite a different diet at home. Nor did they consider his utter inability to cook what his government had to give him, and his independence and unwillingness to learn to cook. The young men who responded to Lincoln's several calls for volunteers actually were not wholly strangers to a diet of salt meat, potatoes, and bread; but mothers, sisters, and wives at home made coarse raw materials palatable with their experienced cookery. Having a romantic notion as to what army life was like, these green recruits could not easily adjust to "uneatable rations," to sleeping on the floor ten or twelve men to a room, and to falling out and waiting around. Regarding themselves as heroes saving Austin Flint, Contributions Relating to the Causation and Prevention of Disease, and to Camp Diseases (New York: Hurd & Houghton, 1867), p. 73; Regulations for the Army of the United States, 1861 (New York: Harper Sc Bros., 1861), Article 42. The army ration was: 12 oz. of pork or bacon, or 20 oz. of salt or fresh beef; 18 oz. of soft bread or flour, or 12 oz. of hard bread, or 18 oz. of eommeal; and to every 100 rations, 15 lb. of beans or peas, and 10 lb. of rice or hominy; 10 lb. of green coffee, or 8 lb. of roasted coffee, or I'/i lb. of tea; 15 lb. of sugar; 4 qts. of vinegar; 3 lb. 12 oz. of salt; 1 qt. of molasses; and 30 lb. of potatoes, when practicable. The full ration for one soldier weighed about 2l/2 lb. Flint, op. cit., p. 73. 73 74 PALMER H. BOEGER their country, they expected to be treated like heroes. They at least expected to live in good home style. None had dreamed of doing his own cooking, and few had more than a vague idea as to what to do with pots and pans. The confusion of the first weeks of the war permitted most of the volunteers to escape real army cooking for a few days. The first arrivals at the rendezvous camps had to eat at inns and hotel dining rooms under the eyes of the state authorities. The statutes of Congress required the state governments to feed the militia until a federal officer swore the men into the national service. The harassed state officials did what seemed to them the logical thing to do—they asked the local tavern and hotel proprietors to board the recruits. The confusion and lack of home-style comforts soon disillusioned the volunteers. At Columbus, Ohio, the volunteers came in such numbers that hotel managers could not assemble enough food or sufficient help to prepare the meals. Forced to eat in relays, the last men to be served had to wait until noon for their breakfasts. At Hartford a company of the First Connecticut lost their patience and tried to break the guard. "Our miserable fare," screamed a disgusted private of the First Wisconsin, eating at the St. Charles in Milwaukee, "is not actually fit for a drove of hogs."* Soon after the war started, the governors of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1533-6271
Print ISSN
0009-8078
Pages
pp. 73-92
Launched on MUSE
2013-01-02
Open Access
No
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