American Civil War for Kids and Teachers - Soldiers Food and Foraging Illustration

Civil War Food and Foraging

Union Soldiers: Union soldiers received a variety of food including salted and fresh meat and bread. Meat was boiled, broiled or fried over open campfires. The bread was a flour biscuit called hardtack. This bread was nicknamed "worm castles" and "sheet iron crackers". Most men toasted their ration of bread to kill anything living in it. They were also given rice, beans, peas, dried fruit, potatoes, molasses, vinegar, and salt. Baked beans were a favorite food when they had time to make them. When they were on the march, each soldier carried a 3-day ration of food for himself. The Union had a surplus of coffee and sugar, so those were two items available in quantity to every man. Some soldiers grouped themselves into what they called "a mess" and shared both the cooking and distribution of their individual food supply. 

Confederate Soldiers: The diet for the Confederate soldiers was different and usually in much less quantity than their Northern counterpart. They had bacon, cornmeal, molasses, peas, rice, and tobacco. It was the tobacco that saved them. Although it was illegal to fraternize with the enemy, but it was relatively common during the Civil War for trades to be set up between Southern and Northern soldiers. The Union had excess coffee and sugar. But the Rebs had excess tobacco. They soon found they could trade tobacco for just about anything. They even traded tobacco for newspapers, curious to see how the North was presenting the war.

Trading with the Enemy, Legend says:  It was a point of honor that once a truce was established, neither side would shoot. Union and Confederate soldiers would sometimes move down the river a short ways from their respective main army. Each side made little sailboats that they floated across the river, trading goods.

Foraging: Besides distributed camp rations and trades with the enemy, both sides foraged for food. They hunted along the river banks for greens, eggs, wild ducks and other water animals, they picked berries, they stripped fruit trees and stole food from nearby farms. They raided gardens and orchards. As time went on, and troops had less and less to eat, sometimes they took so much food foraging that there was nothing left for the farmers and their families to eat. Later in the war, the North took foraging one step further. Troops were sent to take food and supplies from farms and villages for the Union army. Any crops not needed, or if time was tight, the troops burned the crops remaining to the ground. They also burned farms and mills and killed any farm animals they did not take with them. Their goal was to starve the South, and it worked.  

The Civil War for Kids, Index

Civil War Interactive Games & Activities for Kids 

For Teachers

Free American Civil War Lesson Plans, Classroom Activities, Simulations, Debates, Role Play, Projects, Maps