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Pound Loaf

Quarter-plate tintype by an anonymous photographer. Art O’Leary Collection.
Quarter-plate tintype by an anonymous photographer. Art O’Leary Collection.

Though the phrase “an army marches on its stomach” is credited to Napoleon or Frederick the Great, it might easily have been uttered by Ulysses S. Grant or Robert E. Lee. Bread was most certainly a staple in the diet of all soldiers, as evidenced here by Pvt. Stephen W. Thompson of the 5th Michigan Cavalry. He sticks a knife into what appears a pound-sized loaf of soft bread. A tin plate slid below sits ready to catch every precious crumb.

In early 1863, Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker introduced the idea of standard soft bead rations to the Army of the Potomac in the form of a pound loaf every other day. Thompson and his fellow Michiganders joined the Army of the Potomac in June 1863. Two months later in the vicinity of Falmouth, Va., Thompson was captured in one of the many small-scale skirmishes between opposing cavalry. He spent the next two months as a prisoner of war, during which time his Southern captors likely did not feed him anything near the bread ration he enjoyed in this portrait.

Thompson returned to his regiment and finished out his service. He lived until 1921.


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