Each army supplied soldiers with daily allotments of food, called rations. George Wunderlich, director of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, said men were organized in dining groups called "messes." The mess would cooperate to make meals from the rations issued to soldiers.
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"They would try whenever possible to get fresh potatoes and fresh onions to the troops," he said. "They issued a lot of dried salted beef, which the soldiers referred to as ‘salt horse,' and hunks of salt pork, and white beans, which had to be soaked, and coffee and sugar. And there was hardtack — the staple starch of both armies."
So what can you do with that?
At the Battle of South Mountain encampment, Jackson said re-enactors try to eat as Civil War soldiers would have. Farmers from the South would have foraged for food from fields and forests.
"They were very good at identifying and knowing what they could eat because they did it at home," she said. "I think the Southern guys, the farm boys, had it a bit easier. If there were farms nearby, they might ask to be supplied. Or they might take it."
Soldiers ate whatever was in season where they were. In spring, soldiers would eat dandelion greens. In fall, root crops ripened and could be harvested. Any wild game that could be shot was added to the pot.
But some supplies were hard to come by, like coffee or sugar. The Union blockaded supplies headed for the South, which reduced certain imports.
"Confederates would use (coffee substitutes) as the years went by," Jackson said. "Chicory root. Dried peas that were roasted. And I believe they would use peanuts. Once it's roasted, it really just gives a drink a dark color and flavor."
They learned to make food
In the mid-19th century, young men generally didn't cook for themselves. Mothers or wives cooked for them. But men learned to make palatable foods from their rations.
Eliot Fielding, of the Fredericksburg, Va., area, is a member of the 27th Virginia Company C. He cooked chicken pieces over the fire after Saturday's re-enactment.
His cooking resume was similar to most Civil War soldiers'.
"My brother-in-law is a hunting guide out in Colorado," Fielding said. "He stayed with my wife and I for two months, and I picked up everything from him. I never cooked before that. Now, I mainly just do the chicken. But, if I have vegetables with me, I'll cook them."
Robbie Benbenek, a 27th Virginia member from Yardley, Pa., said he carries radishes or carrots with him.
"Sometimes a soldier would carry vegetables — radishes or carrots — in the haversack," he said. "Eating radish keeps you cool."
Meat was not scarce, but sometimes soldiers had to find it themselves — foraging a hog from a farm or shooting game in the woods.
"When I cook, I really do try to prepare recipes that would be as close as possible," Jackson said. "I do cook game. I've made squirrel. I've made groundhog. A lot of venison."
"You want to get them at the right time of the year, which is now," Jackson said. "But if you get them in the spring, they've been hibernating and eating dirt, so they taste like dirt. So the late summer or early fall is a great time to get them. They've been putting some fat on. Cook them slowly. They're tough. The best way to do it is to stew it or put it in some sort of barbecue type of sauce."