Civil War Food – What Union and Confederate Soldiers Ate

Civil War soldier food was typically very simple fare – often consisting ofimages meat, coffee, sugar and hardtack – a type of dried biscuit. The meat was often salted or dried so it would last a bit longer and fruits and vegetables were rarities on the battlefield. Because the soldiers were often in the field, they needed to carry rations with them. They had a special bag – called a haversack – which was made of canvas with an inner cloth bag that could be washed to get food debris cleaned out once in a while. But even with this design, the bags
were often quite contaminated and foul smelling. Cleanliness was typically not high on the Civil War soliders priority list.

Union soldiers and Confederate

Soldiers typically had a different mix of rations. A Union soldier might have salt pork, fresh or salted beef, coffee, sugar, salt, vinegar, dried fruit and vegetables. And if it was in season, they might have fresh carrots, onions, turnips and potatos. A Confederate soldier typically had bacon, corn meal, tea, sugar, molasses and the very occasional fresh vegetable.

The other difference in Civil War food between the Union and Confederate armies was the type of bread product they had available to them. Confederate soldiers had something called “Johnnie Cake” that they made in the field from cornmeal, milk and a few other ingredients. The Union soldiers had hardtack, also refered to as “tooth dullers” or “sheet iron crackers”. Hardtack was manufactured in large factories in the North and was a staple food for the Union soldiers. Hardtack got its name because it was often not used until months after it was made and during that time, it hardened rock solid which is how it got its nicknames.

As you can see, food has come a long way due to the advent of technologies that allow for better preservation of a wide variety of foods. Gone are the days of weevil infested hardtack. They have been replaced with modern vacuum seal technologies that allow foods to stay fresh and tasty years after they have been packages. And since they say an army is run by its stomach, it is no surprise that the modern soldier is the best the world has ever seen.

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Metropolitan exhibit: How landscapes captured Civil War’s impact on American psyche

The Civil War rages on at Metropolitan Museum of Art, where two shows “Photography and the American Civil War” and “The Civil War and American Art” occupy a dozen galleries this summer, the 150th since the Battle of Gettysburg (July 1-3). The war photographs, small and miraculously sharp, are unmistakable. But the art is often the opposite: Veiled, ambiguous, metaphorical.

80468297On the surface, landscape painter Martin Johnson Heade’s “Approaching Thunder Storm” (1859) looks like a simple atmospheric tour-de-force, a perfect simulation of a summer tempest gathering force over picturesque Point Judith, R.I. But in its day the incoming storm was the war between the states, inevitable and frightening.

The following year, when Hudson River School painter Frederick Edwin Church painted his similarly dark and portentous “Meteor of 1860,” a spurt of light shooting across a night sky, onlookers thought it was weaponry being tested for use in the war.

At that time, Church was the painter of the moment. His “The Icebergs” (1861), a huge and dazzling picture (loaned for the occasion by the Dallas Museum of Art), was conscripted as a war metaphor. Much more obviously, his “Our Banner in the Sky” literally waved a tattered flag-like arrangement of clouds, stars and streaking red light, over a typical American landscape.

When the war finally arrived, photo-journalist photographers like Matthew Brady, Andrew Gardiner and Timothy O’Sullivan shot encampments and battle fields, but not battles. Cameras couldn’t stop motion yet.

Brady (1822-1896) and O’Sullivan (1840-1882) had ties to Staten Island. Brady became a photo-mogul during the war and lived for a time on Grymes Hill. The Irish-born O’Sullivan, who worked for Brady at one point, had family on the Island. His parents lived on the North Shore and he was named as a resident in the 1880 census.

When he died two years later, he was buried in St. Peter’s Cemetery. 
Artists reported to the battlefield, too. The best known today is Winslow Homer, the source of some of the era’s most powerful paintings, including “The Sharpshooter.” Originally trained as a draftsman and illustrator, Homer seems to have known exactly what he was doing as a painter even before he had much experience.

Some of the war paintings are sensitively shaped accounts. “Prisoners from the Front” (1866), which belongs to the Metropolitan, reproduces a moment encounter in which a proud rebel faces his Union victor. His “Veteran in a New Field” painted the previous year would have been understood in its day as an hopeful vision of the future.

The anonymous veteran (his stooped back is all we can see), with scythe in hand, is cutting a rich stand of golden wheat in strong light under a blue sky. We get the picture: There’s work to do and the future holds out some hope.

The exhibit has a roomful of similar takes on battle scenes, some by Northerner Sanford Robinson Gifford and others by Southerner Conrad Wise Chapman.

Sensitively curated and interpreted by Eleanor Jones Harvey, “The Civil War and American Art” asks viewers to imagine the mindset of the era and interpret imagery accordingly. In that light, painter Eastman Johnson’s “A Ride for Liberty — The Fugitive Slaves” (1862) isn’t a romantic flight, it’s practically revolutionary.

The a whole family, parents and a small child are escaping, on one horse, just as dawn breaks. It was unusual, at the time, to show slaves as the agents of their own fate. A comparable but more complex slave world unfolds in Winslow Homer’s “Dressing for the Carnival,” painted more than 20 years after the war but alluding to slave days.

Workers are getting ready for Jonkonnu, the colorful, lavishly costumed West Indian Mardi Gras festival, a brief moment in which they are free to step out, approach their masters eye to eye and demand presents. A man dressed as a woman is supervising the transformation, which is marked by the arrival of a minuscule white butterfly, a symbol of hope, according to the curator.

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Civil War History is Alive in Stafford County

The War Between the States. The War of Northern Aggression. The Civil War…whatever you wish to call it, there’s no denying that those five years in the mid nineteenth represented one of the darkest times in our nation’s history. More than a century later, the turmoil of brothers pitted against brothers, and a people’s desire for freedom, continues to hold a fascination for some. Books and films about this time remain popular, and vacations are planned around Civil War sightseeing. Nowhere better can one absorb the experience of this bygone era than in Stafford County.

The next time you plan an historical tour for your vacation, consider making a few detours at these Stafford County attractions on the way to Gettysburg or Washington, DC:

Aquia Landing

If you think of the Civil War and sea battles, the Monitor and Merrimac most likely come to mind. However, Union gunboats were also active fighting Rebel forces along the creek beds of Aquia Landing. Here is where the first torpedos of the war were used, too. Aquia Landing is now a popular county park, open from Memorial Day to Labor Day with many landmarks to pinpoint pivotal battles of the war.

Cornstalks and Beanpoles Bridge

Though the original bridge built in 1862 no longer exists, you can still see its stone foundation where Union engineers had to quickly build a connection over Potomac Creek. The bridge gets is name from President Lincoln, who compared the original bridge to “beanpoles and cornstalks,” given the hurriedness with which the bridge was contructed. The bridge is located near some of the Civil War trails found in Stafford.

Hartwood Presbyterian Church

This red brick church is included on the Virginia Landmarks Register and the National Register of Historic Places. At this site the Confederate army enjoyed a victory over Union troops in 1863, capturing over 150 men. The church was utilized as a post by both sides during the war.


This stately home once served as Union headquarters. It was here where Clara Barton tended to wounded soldiers, and Walt Whitman gave his time to the cause. Chatham is purporteded the only private residence to have been visited by George Washington and Abraham Lincoln. Today, this mansion is perfectly preserved to welcome visitors interested in its storied history.

George Washington’s Ferry Farm

While the Ferry Farm is a place rich with Washingtonian history, as the president spent a number of formative years here, there exists some Civil War history that one can learn. Guests can view the wildlife currently in residence and learn more about the nation’s early history and how Washington grew to become an important figure in these times, as well as the conditions of the Civil War as lived in this area.

Mansions, sites of battle, roadside markers. Stafford County offers much to the Civil War enthusiast in terms of history and interest. Why not make Stafford a stop on your next educational tour?

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Falsifying the American Civil War: Doris Kearns Goodwin at Gettysburg

Last week, hundreds of thousands of people gathered in Gettysburg to commemorate a pivotal battle in the American Civil War. In July 1863, fundamental questions of democratic rights and the socio-economic foundations of society were being fought out on the plains of Pennsylvania. At the anniversary ceremonies 150 years later, those in attendance evinced a deep desire to discuss the significance of the Civil War and the essential questions that underlay it.

159716824These questions were entirely ignored in the keynote address given Sunday night by historian Doris Kearns Goodwin. Her primary goal appeared to be to strip the American Civil War of its lasting revolutionary significance.

Goodwin, author of Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln and other books, is a leading figure in the American academic-political establishment. A Democratic Party insider since the Johnson administration, she now plays the role of semi-official state historian.

It is first of all notable that her speech paid scant attention to the event itself—the Battle of Gettysburg and the Civil War of which it was a part. This fact was noted by many in the audience. Not a few of those with whom the World Socialist Web Site spoke in the following days expressed puzzlement and even anger that Goodwin seemed more interested in speaking about her own relations with various political officials than in discussing the momentous battle she was called on to commemorate.

This dismissive attitude was bound up with a broader purpose: to defuse the revolutionary significance of the conflict, suggest that it would have been better if it had never happened, and equate the struggle against slavery with the modern-day politics of race, gender and sexual orientation that is the stock in trade, in particular, of the Democratic Party.

Goodwin’s basic attitude toward the Civil War as an event was summed up in remarks she made just prior to the address in an interview with The Gettysburg Times. “Not being able to resolve a political battle between the North and South and the issues of slavery led to the worst war in our history and to hundreds of thousands of people dying and the treasures of the country being devastated,” she said. “It should be a warning lesson to the American political system that created democracy in order for people to come together through politics to solve our problems, as opposed to violence when it failed.”

In other words, for Goodwin, the Civil War was a misfortune that arose from the unfortunate inability of the North and the South to reach a lasting compromise on the question of slavery. Such a position would not have been out of place among pro-slavery Northern “Copperheads.” Through attempts to portray the Union (and Lincoln) as racist on account of the North’s discriminatory laws, Goodwin presents the Civil War not as a struggle to abolish slavery as an institution and form of property ownership, but as a step towards the elimination of racial prejudice.

While neglecting to describe the scourge of slavery in the South, Goodwin said that “[i]n the North, a long standing set of black laws denied all manner of fundamental rights to black Americans. In many northern states, blacks could not vote, hold political office, give testimony against whites, sit on juries, or intermarry.”

Though discrimination certainly did exist in the North, this account presents slavery as a product of racism instead of the other way around. In fact, racial prejudice arose to justify an already existing economic system based on human bondage.

Goodwin separates the Civil War from the movement and relationship of class forces in order to equate the abolition of slavery with modern identity politics. Since Goodwin is forced to draw a straight line through the 20th century to make her connection, the Civil Rights movement becomes another casualty of her presentation. To Goodwin, “the Lyndon Johnson I was fortunate enough to serve” “took up the challenge” to “bring us closer to Abraham Lincoln’s ideal” by passing the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965. Declaring that Johnson was “a consummate politician” who had a “magnificent partnership with Congress,” and who “had Republicans and Democrats over for breakfast, lunch, cocktails and dinner” in order to bypass the filibuster mounted by his own party, Goodwin called for bipartisan unity today to “come together to solve the nation’s problems through politics and not violence.”

It is a gross historical falsification to attribute the reforms of the 1960s to the wheelings and dealings of Lyndon Johnson, who Goodwin referred to, somewhat strangely, as an “aging lion of a man.” The basis of Goodwin’s claim is that the reforms made in the 1960s had nothing to do with the masses of people who demonstrated in the millions against segregation. Instead, it was the enlightened liberals who handed down equality from a pedestal.

In fact, masses of people had to wrench basic civil reforms from the Democratic Party and its southern wing in the 1960s.

Goodwin’s potted portrayal of the Civil War and the Civil Rights movement was aimed at masking the profound social tensions that characterize contemporary America. Goodwin’s attempt to christen the gay rights movement as the inheritor of the egalitarian legacy of the Civil War reveals even more clearly the class interests behind her historical falsification.

In fact, the adoption of identity politics—the politics of race, gender and sexual orientation—as an official policy was inseparably bound-up with the Democratic Party’s abandonment of any commitment to reforms like the Civil Rights Act, Voting Rights Act, and Medicare. It began to use identity as a “left” veneer as it turned to waging a vicious assault on the democratic rights and living standards of all sections of the working class.

In her speech, Goodwin remarks:

“That each generation faces its own chapter in the struggle for man’s unending search for freedom was dramatically illustrated this past week with several stunning decisions on the Supreme Court.

“On the one hand, a critical section of that same 1965 Voting Rights Act, which had stood for fifty years was struck down. On the other hand, the struggle to end discrimination against gay and lesbian Americans took a giant step forward when the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the Defense of Marriage Act… and also nullified California’s ban on same-sex marriages.”

With utter complacency—arguing in essence that “you win some and you lose some” in an otherwise healthy American democracy—Goodwin cannot garner from herself anything more than a dry, one-sentence reference to the effective repeal of the Voting Rights Act.

Moreover, Goodwin made no attempt to explain how or why the Supreme Court ruled on consecutive days in favor of gay marriage but against voting rights for the working class. There is no doubt that marriage and equal access to federal benefits are democratic rights. However, the Supreme Court, along with both Republicans and Democrats, gave its stamp of approval to the measure because it does not in any way challenge the foundations of bourgeois rule. To equate the achievements of the Civil War to the court’s ruling on gay marriage is an insult to the intelligence of the American people. The Supreme Court decisions in fact illustrate how the political establishment has officially adopted identity politics as part of a right-wing political framework that involves the assault on social programs and core democratic rights carried out by both big business parties. Goodwin’s remarks were entirely within this framework. Notably, her speech lacked any reference to poverty, social inequality, war or the assault on democratic rights in America.

Underlying the ruling class’ project of historical falsification relating to the Civil War is a nervousness and fear—however consciously understood by figures like Goodwin—that the American and international working class will draw from an understanding of this earlier period far-reaching conclusions about what is required today.

Four months after the Battle of Gettysburg, Lincoln was clear about what was at stake in the war.

“Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal…

“The great task remaining before us,” Lincoln said, was that “we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion—that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain—that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth.”

Yet the American ruling class, represented by both the Democrats and Republicans, is seeking, with deliberation and conscious intent, to defend at all costs not “government of the people, by the people, and for the people,” but “government of the rich, by the rich, and for the rich.” For this reason, it cannot address with any degree of honesty even the bourgeois democratic revolutionary traditions of the United States itself.

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Christmas Traditions with Origins in the Civil War Era

These days we read so many articles detailing the origins of various Christmas traditions – the placement of a ornamental tree inside the home, egg nog and other culinary delights, and the Christian adoption of the season to celebrate the birth of Jesus. Many would be surprised to know, however, that a number of seasonal traditions actually have their origins in the Civil War era.

78033469During this tumultuous time of brother against brother, the holidays were still celebrated (mainly in the South) with the hope of a swift conclusion to the conflicts that divided our nation for many years. It is said, too, that the states were split on the issue of celebrating the holiday as much as they were on subjects that led to the war in the first place. Being that the nation was young, this generation grew from a Puritan time where celebrating Christmas was considered sinful, due to the roots of many traditions being steeped in paganism that the early Christians sought to suppress. It wasn’t until the early nineteenth century when US states finally legalized the holiday – the first three being Alabama, Lousiana, and Arkansas.

These days, we might catch a glimpse of traditions we observe now in the Christmas scenes in Gone With the Wind and other movies depicting the time. They, however, only tell part of a story. Here follows just a short list of Christmas mainstays and traditions that evolved from this time in history.

Santa Claus

While the legend of Santa Claus has its roots in a much earlier time – reaching as far as the origins of Christianity itself – it is the modern depiction of this jolliest of elves that saw its creation in the mid-nineteenth century with Thomas Nast. Nast, a widely-known cartoonist of the day (arguably credited with being the father of the modern-day political cartoon), created the visage of Santa Claus for Harper’s Weekly around 1863. The billowing white beard, nose like a cherry, and wide-girthed figure bearing a sack full of toys soon became synonymous with the secular aspects of the holiday. These days, contemporary depictions of St. Nick do not stray from Nast’s original vision.

Christmas Carols

Did you know that many of the songs we sing during this joyous occasion had originally been written during the darkest time of our nation’s history? Indeed, one could argue that some Christmas carols are actually the forerunners of the modern day protest song, as some carols penned in this time were actually thinly veiled commentary on the war. “It Came Upon a Midnight Clear,” written by minister Edmund Sears, touches upon the desire for peace during this time, while Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “I Heard the Bells on Christmas Day” contains strong anti-war sentiment. Of course, one likely doesn’t sense this because the more blatant verses of Longfellow’s poem are omitted in the traditional carol we sing today. By contrast, Phillips Brooks’ “O Little Town of Bethelem” touches on the hope for peace in the aftermath of conflict.

Care Packages

While the troops were out to war, it was not uncommon for a soldier to receive gifts while at battle. Barrels of food and drink, warm clothing, and trinkets from home were especially prized and brought a modicum of cheer to an otherwise dismal situation. One could easily liken these gestures to traditions we hold today in sending care packages to our men and women overseas.

From the songs we sing to the icons we identify, one would be surprised to know how the Civil War influenced our contemporary observance of the Christmas season.

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