Civil War: Union Army Rations


John D. Billings was a Union Army soldier. Billings served as a private in the Tenth Massachusetts Battery for three years. He wrote Hardtack & Coffee, a wonderful book originally published in 1887.

These are the normal rations he received as a private:

Salt pork, fresh beef, salt beef

Ham or bacon were rarely issued

Hard bread, soft bread, flour

Potatoes, occasionally an onion

Beans, rice, split pease (peas)

Dried apples, dried peaches

Desiccated vegetables

Sugar, molasses

Coffee, tea


Salt, pepper

Candles, soap

Soldiers didn’t receive all these rations at the same time. Only one meat was issued at a time and that was usually pork. Soldiers received either hard bread, soft bread, or flour. They drew beans or rice or peas.

Soldiers were entitled to the following as a single day’s rations:

12 oz. pork (or bacon) or 20 oz. salt beef or fresh beef;

22 oz. soft bread (or flour) or 16 oz. hard bread or 20 oz. corn meal

For every hundred rations (soldiers received a share of these):

One peck of pease (peas) or beans;

10 pounds of rice or hominy;

10 pounds of green coffee or 8 pounds of roasted ground coffee or 1 ½ pounds of tea

15 pounds of sugar

20 oz. of candles

4 pounds of soap

2 quarts of salt

4 quarts of vinegar

4 oz. of pepper

Half bushel of potatoes when practicable

1 quart of molasses

In addition, desicatted vegetables were also issued. These were large round cakes of compressed vegetables, about two inches thick. They had to be soaked to be edible and even then, there was some doubt about the wisdom of eating it. Soldiers dubbed them “desecrated vegetables.”

According to Abner Small, 16th Maine, none of his comrades could figure out what was in it. Charles E. Davis, 13th Massachusetts, thought it tasted, when cooked, like herb tea.

Pickled cabbage, dried fruits, vegetables, and pickles were sometimes included in rations to prevent scurvy.

According to Billings, these were the rations given to the rank and file soldiers, as privates were sometimes called.

-Sandra Merville Hart


Billings, John D. Hardtack & Coffee, University of Nebraska Press, 1993.

“Hungry? How about worm castles and desecrated vegetables?”, 2017/02/08