HW #2: Food and Coffee in the Civil War

Tintype of federal soldiers enjoying coffee and hardtack. Credit: Heritage Auctions.

Tintype of federal soldiers enjoying coffee and hardtack. Credit: Heritage Auctions.

If you had a choice, which would you give up? Food? Or coffee? After looking at photography of the Civil War, we are reminded of the difficulties of producing photographs during war, especially with the wet-plate collodion process. To help better understand the conditions that photographers worked in, this week’s homework explores what Civil War soldiers ate and their dependence on coffee. The typical food ration for a Union soldier included small amounts of meat, coffee, and hardtack (what is hardtack? Look here to find out.) The Union side half-jokingly believed coffee helped fuel their soldiers. Meanwhile, the Confederate South suffered vast food shortages due to strong Union blockades, and resorted to unique recipes (called receipts in the 19th century) to produce coffee substitutes. Read about cooking on the battlefront and the importance of coffee (the word ‘coffee’ appears more frequently than ‘rifle’ or ‘bullet’ in Civil War diaries).

  1. Share what you think is most fascinating about a Civil War soldier’s diet AND post an image of a food item that you cannot live without. You can link to a photo on the web, or take a picture!  2. Then comment on a fellow student’s photo.
    Please make sure you only check off the category #studentHW.

Read about what Union soldiers ate at PBS.org.

Read the NYT’s article “How Coffee Fueled the Civil War”

PLEASE SUBMIT YOUR POSTS BY MONDAY OCTOBER 16, 2017 — the same day Paper #2 is DUE.

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2 Responses to HW #2: Food and Coffee in the Civil War

  1. Nisreen says:

    It is obvious the war was very difficult for the soldiers, especially with what can be provided as food. Food is what brings comfort to people especially those in dire circumstances such as the union soldiers. For those men to not have a well and tasty balanced meal, means they can suffer emotionally as well as physically. I believe the Sanitary did the best they could to provide a reliable supply of food for the soldiers but what Sanderson did made the bigger difference in providing a nutritional meal that also tasted good. I admired his dedication in the changes he bought to the cooking techniques and food supplies. What interested me the most was the coffee the soldiers consumed as if their lives depended on it. They had their coffee with every meal and it was always available weather the meat and bread was. I guess it’s long shelf life played a major role in its importance and availability. Coffee is also known to give a boost in energy so maybe that’s why the soldiers used it as a means to fuel themselves. Most people today can’t start their day without a cup of coffee. Who is to say the soldiers can?

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