November 31, 2001
Welcome to Mason-Dixon Line’s
Civil War Recipes
My personal recommendations for reenactors, clarifications and adjustments for the 20th century cook are noted in bold italics or [brackets]. Please note that during the 1800’s, Americans were still using The Queen’s English, so for the sake of authenticity, though in many instances awkward to today’s reader, I have left some spelling and punctuation unchanged.
What Is Hardtack?
Hardtack is a cracker-like biscuit made of flour, salt and water and was one of the most typical rations issued to soldiers by the U. S. government because it was fairly nutritious and unlikely to spoil. This hard bread was made in government bakeries located in cities and shipped in barrels to the troops. Hardtack had to be tough to withstand the trip. Many Civil War soldiers complained about this ration noting the extreme hardness of the biscuits (sometimes called "teeth-dullers"), which at times had to be broken with a rifle "butt" or a "blow of the fist" to prepare for eating. Soldiers sometimes softened the pieces by soaking them in coffee, frying them in bacon grease, or crumbling them in soup.

Hardtack could become infested with insects in the government storehouses or during the soldier’s travels. One disappointed soldier claimed that "All the fresh meat we had came in the hard bread!"

Courtesy of the Office of Historic Alexandria.

With the exception of the Union Army, it would be unlikely for everyone in the United States to adhere to only one method of preparation, so I included several versions, including one specifically for the South.

The basic ingredients are: flour, salt and water (although quantity differs). General directions are also similar: Disolve salt in water and work into flour with your hands. Dough should be firm and pliable, but not sticky or too dry. Flatten onto a cookie sheet to about 1/4 inch thick, and cut into squares 3 inches by 3 inches. Pierce each square with 16 holes about ½ inch apart. Bake in oven until edges are brown or dough is hard.
  • Preheat oven to 400° F
  • For each cup of flour add 1 tsp. of salt
  • Mix salt and flour with just enough water to bind.
  • Bake 20-25 minutes.
  • The longer you bake the hardtack, the more authentic it will appear.
  • 2 cups of flour
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 tbl spoon of Crisco or vegetable fat (lard)
  • 6 pinches of salt
  • Bake for 30 minutes at 400 degrees.
  • Remove from oven, cut dough into 3-inch squares, and punch four rows of holes into the dough.
  • Turn dough over, return to the oven and bake another 30 minutes.
A Sailor's Diet!

Hardtack was cooked on shore and loaded on board by the barrel. This was the basic food of the sailor.

  • 2 1/2 cups old-fashioned or quick oats.
  • 3 cups unbleached flour.
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt.
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda.
  • In a separate container, mix:
  • 1 1/2 cups buttermilk.
  • 3 tablespoons honey.
  • 1/2 cup melted bacon drippings or shortening.
  • Combine the two sets of ingredients.
  • When the dough is thoroughly mixed, roll it out on a floured board to a thickness of about a quarter inch.
  • Cut out circles of dough with a large drinking glass dipped in flour and put them on a lightly greased cookie sheet.
  • Bake for about 5 1/2 minutes at 450 degrees.
  • Let the hardtack cool on a wire rack before serving with jam or jelly.

Courtesy of the Texas Historical Commission
Or try a Southern johnnie cake...

  • 2 cups of cornmeal
  • 2/3 cup of milk
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil (lard)
  • 2 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon of salt
  • Mix ingredients into a stiff batter and form eight biscuit-sized "dodgers".
  • Bake on a lightly greased sheet at 350 degrees for twenty to twenty five minutes or until brown.
  • Or spoon the batter into hot cooking oil in a frying pan over a low flame.
  • Optional: spread with a little butter or molasses, and you have a real southern treat!
Additional items that Union soldiers received were salt pork, fresh or salted beef, coffee, sugar, salt, vinegar, dried fruit and dried vegetables. If the meat was poorly preserved, the soldiers would refer to it as "salt horse". Sometimes they would receive fresh vegetables such as carrots and potatoes.

Confederate soldiers were not as fortunate. Their rations consisted of bacon and corn meal, tea, sugar or molasses, and fresh vegetables when they were available.

Courtesy of the National Park Service
This photograph is the link to the 19th Century Recipe page, which is packed with culinary delights, many suitable for Living History events. New recipes are frequently added to this page. [James River, Va. Sailors on deck of U.S.S. Monitor; (cookstove at left) taken July 9, 1862.]
Photograph from the LCCW collection
Memoirs of Archibald Atkinson Jr.

Read the detailed excerpts from the memoirs of Archibald Atkinson, Jr, who served as a doctor in the Confederate Army. His interpretation of the war from a surgeon's point of view lends insight to rations that were available to both Northern and Southern troops.

Includes more home remedies and 19th century medicine and health practices!
Home Remedies

Soup for an Invalid

Cut in small pieces one pound of beef or mutton or part of both, boil it gently in two quarts of water; take off the scum and when reduced to a pint, strain it. Season with a little salt and take a teacupful at a time.

[The simplicity of this recipe makes it a nice addition to the Living History campsite.]

Drinks for the Sick

From The Young Housekeeper’s Friend, 1846

Apple Tea:
Roast sour apples and pour boiling water upon them. Drink it when cold.

A Very Refreshing Draught in a Fever:
Put a few sprigs of sage, balm and sorrel into a jug, having first washed and dried them. Take off the yellow part of the rind of a small lemon; remove the white, slice the lemon and put it into the jug with part of the peel; pour in three pints of boiling water, sweeten it and stop it close.

[Balm has long been cultivated in gardens. The stems and leaves, formerly used in medicine as a gentle stimulant and tonic, are still occasionally used as such. Sorrel is a perennial herb with erect stems about 12 in high with arrow-shaped leaves, which are cultivated for use as a salad green and as a potherb.]

Another Drink [untitled]:
Boil an ounce and a half of tamarinds, three ounces of currants, and two of stoned raisins, in three pints of water until near one third is wasted; then strain it.

Another Drink [also untitled]:
Put a teacup of cranberries in a cup of water, and mash them. In the mean time, boil two quarts of water with one large spoonful of Indian or oatmeal, and a piece of lemon peel; add the cranberries and some loaf sugar, but take care to leave a strong flavor of the fruit. Put in a gill of sherry wine, or less if required, and boil it half an hour more. Then strain it. [I think the addition of wine is the key to this drink's success.]

Additional Civil War Resources

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