by Kathy Cannon Wiechman
(Kathy’s A to Z posts are tidbits of fact gleaned from her research for her historical-fiction novel LIKE A RIVER.)
In the early days of Andersonville Prison, rations for the prisoners were meager. At first, cornmeal and meat were doled out, but since cooking utensils and firewood were scarce, many had no way to cook the meat or bake bread from the meal. A cookhouse was set up, but as new prisoners were brought in, some days only half the camp was fed.
Eventually, large slabs of cornbread were baked and brought into the camp once a day. Sometimes bacon was also given out. However, flies that landed in the bread dough were baked into the bread. Many times, cob was ground up with the corn and baked into this daily ration. It caused severe inflammation in the prisoners’ stomachs.
As Union troops invaded the South, destroying crops and burning warehouses, food became scarce for Confederate soldiers and Southern civilians. Prisoners’ daily ration of cornbread became smaller and smaller. Scurvy (caused by malnutrition) was rampant, and many starved to death.
Overall, military rations during the Civil War were lacking. Hardtack was the go-to when other rations grew scarce. Hardtack was a hard, cracker-like biscuit, and it was not uncommon to find it infested with insects. I saw a piece of hardtack (vaguely resembling a Pop-Tart) in a museum in 1996. It had survived since the Civil War.
|two different styles of hardtack|
But military rations have never been something to rave about. My USMC son showed me the MRE’s (Meals-Ready-to-Eat) they eat in the field. Military life still isn’t easy.