Hardtack, Artificial Oysters, and Goober Peas: Making Do on the March and in a Civil War Kitchen

By Jane Kosa

Food was abundant at the beginning of the war, but it soon became scarce for Southern soldiers as well as for the civilians. Behind the Blue and Gray: The Soldier's Life in the Civil War, by Delia Ray, provides graphic descriptions of the rations that the soldiers received:

"With the lack of fresh food, the Federals resorted to satisfying their hunger on flour-and-water crackers called 'hardtack.' These biscuits were a half-inch thick and so hard they earned names such as teeth dullers' and 'sheet-iron' crackers.' Even worse, the hardtack was frequently infested with worms and weevils. One soldier counted thirty-two worms in a single cracker."
(p. 31)

Times were hard for civilians, too. In addition to family recipes, The Robert E. Lee Family Cooking & Housekeeping Book describes some of the conditions during the war and how the Lee family coped. For Home and Country: A Civil War Scrapbook, by Norman Bolotin and Angela Herb, provides a graphic account of situations both on the battlefield and at home.

Civil War cooking potThe price of what foodstuffs could be found in Southern markets grew outrageously as the war dragged on. When This Cruel War Is Over, by Duane Damon, states that flour prices rose from $40 a barrel in August 1863 to $700 a barrel in January 1865 in Richmond. Read more about food scarcities and exorbitant prices in the article, "The Richmond Bread Riot of 1863", which appeared in Virginia Cavalcade, vol. 18, no. 1, pp. 41-47. 

Check our resource list, CRRL History: Civil War Food for descriptions and recipes of foodways during the Civil War.


Image credits: Union and Confederate artifacts featured in an exhibit entitled "The Daily Life of the Civil War Soldier" on the first floor of the Headquarters Library. These Civil War artifacts were on loan from the White Oak Museum in Stafford, Virginia.