Friday, May 10, 2013

Food Rations for Union Troops, 1861

By Robert E. Denney
May 1861
Food was another problem. The Regular Army had its own way of doing things and that method was carried over into the volunteer organizations. There were no "company messes" as such, nor were there any "company cooks." The rations were issued to the individual, and he was supposed to be able to fix his own in whatever manner he chose. At this time in the war, the ration consisted of:
Pork or bacon, 12 oz.; fresh or salt beef, 1 lb, 8 oz.; flour, 1 lb. 2 oz., or 12 oz. hard bread, or cornmeal, 1 lb. 4 oz. For each 100 rations there was added beans or rice, 10 lbs., or 9 lbs. 12 oz. desiccated potatoes; mixed vegetables, 6 lbs. 4 oz.; green coffee, 10 lbs.; sugar, 5 lbs.; vinegar, 1 gal.; and 1 lb. of candles.
Not all items were available every day, so the troops saw mostly bacon, hard bread, and beans. The vinegar was to combat scurvy, which disease was a real threat to the men during most seasons of the year. The desiccated vegetables, commonly referred to as "decimated vegetables," weren't a popular item, and fresh vegetables were seldom, if ever, issued. No fruit was available except what could be stolen from orchards or bought from local farmers.
Desiccated vegetables consisted of potatoes, cabbages, turnips, carrots, parsnips, beets, tomatoes, onions, peas, beans, lentils, celery, etc. These vegetables were cleaned, dried, and pressed into a compact "brick" form, sealed in tin boxes, and then packed in wooden crates. A "brick" was one foot square and two inches thick, weighed about seven pounds and contained about 112 rations of one ounce. This mess, when reconstituted, would swell to 16 times its compressed bulk! It was to provide vegetables for 100 men for one meal.
The rice issued wasn't long-grain rice, but was either brown rice, or short- to medium-grain white rice. The salt issued was in a variety of forms, from coarse mined salt, to finely milled salt. This was usually measured by the "handful," which converted to about 1/2 cup of modern measure. Usually too much salt was used in cooking, resulting in dietary problems.
The beef or pork not issued fresh was preserved with salt, and usually packed in barrels. Much spoilage occurred, and not a little of it was from bad meat sold by dishonest contractors. Bread was issued in a 22-ounce loaf per man for the day, or the equivalent made up with 18 ounces of hardtack crackers. A "marching ration" in the Union Army consisted of 16 ounces of meat, 22 ounces of bread, and 4 ounces each of coffee and sugar. Usually some of the meat was cooked and some taken as issued--i.e., salted.
FROM: Civil War Medicine: Care & Comfort of the Wounded


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