Cooking during the American Civil War

Cooking during the American Civil War was an interesting process to say the least. Keeping an army supplied with food, for the most part, was a separate war in itself.

Canned food had been around since 1809 but getting that to an army on the move was not all that simple. Beef was considered a rare delicacy, and when it did arrive on the supply trains, north and south of the Mason and Dixon, it was either so pumped full of preservatives or too rotten to eat. When it was consumed in camp, it was also extremely tough, and new ways to “prepare” such a meal were being invented every day.

Men in the north were much better off, of course, as they did not to have to deal with a blockade strangling their supply lines. A Yank’s coffee was made with real coffee beans unlike a southern soldier’s coffee, which was usually made from chicory, acorns, sweet potatoes, okra and the such. During the siege of Petersburg, Union soldiers were dealt out hardtack for a length of time while constructing breastworks. The rank and file would crack open their “Ships Biscuits” to find it infested with worms, and would toss it down into their trenches. The men had orders to keep the siege works clean, of course, and when a commanding officer would reprimand them, the reply of “We keep throwing it out of here sir but it always seems to crawl back home,” was often heard.

Raiding the farms of citizens was not allowed for the most part, but officers would usually look the other way. Confederates in Gettysburg would leave behind worthless Confederate script or whatever they could in trade when such activities would take place. The Rebs were also known to fight more ferociously if they saw a fat Union supply train just over the hill. Getting something decent to eat was a war in itself.

Being that this is our first newsletter, I will not go into length of the numerous cooking techniques and period utensils used to concoct the daily meals in a soldier’s life, but I will leave you with a few famous recipes to experiment with in camp. I look forward to adding to this list in the near future and I will see you all at mess!


Pvt. S. Creswell

Navy Bean Soup

  • 1 cup dried Navy Beans
  • 5 Cups Water
  • ½ lb of Salt Pork or Slab Bacon
  • 2 large carrots or 1 cup chopped
  • 1 lg potato cut into ½ in. pieces
  • 1 large onion or ¾ cup chopped
  • Salt and Pepper to taste

Place beans in a medium sized Dutch oven, cover with water and soak overnight. Before cooking the next morning, drain the beans and add 5 cups of water, salt pork, carrots and onions to the beans. Bring the contents to a boil, cover and reduce to a simmer. Simmer the beans until tender then add chopped potatoes, salt and pepper. Bring back to a boil until potatoes are tender. Remove from heat and serve.