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Soldier Staples

Inside every Civil War soldier’s haversack and backpack could be found a supply of hardtack and coffee. These ubiquitous dietary staples inspired poetry, songs —and a memorable book. Here’s a few first-hand experiences printed in wartime newspapers:

Sixth plate tintype by an unidentified photographer. C. Paul Loane Collection.
Sixth plate tintype by an unidentified photographer. C. Paul Loane Collection.

“Here is another group enjoying that feast which a soldier’s appetite alone can appreciate, ‘hard-tack’ and coffee. (O, ye epicures, if ye but knew the luxury of this dish, with its seasoning of bugs, mud, and a hard day’s travel!)”
Chicago Tribune correspondent with the Union army near Morrisville, Va., Nov. 23, 1862.

“We are fast getting used to ‘hard-tack’ and ‘mule beef.’ I often feel grieved when opening a cracker, after scalding it in hot coffee, to find a poor maggot, a victim to misplaced confidence.”
— Soldier in the 15th Vermont Infantry in camp near Fairfax Court House, Va., Dec. 27, 1862.

“My officers will have it that I must be in line-of-battle every morning from four to five o’clock, to see the sun rise. This, with hard-tack, sow-belly, and milkless coffee for breakfast, I consider the very climax of ill-usage and hard fare.”
— Union soldier in Brentwood, Tenn., April 23, 1863.

“The routine of daily life here is not characterized by excessive variety. Hard-tack, coffee and meat for breakfast. Pork, coffee and hard-tack for dinner; and for supper a pleasing change in the shape of coffee, hard-tack and sow-belly.”
— Union soldier in Chattanooga, Tenn., Feb. 9, 1864.

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