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Army Bread: 1863

Army Bread: 1863

February 1863. "Captain J.W. Forsyth, provost marshal, Aquia Creek, Virginia." An army marches on its stomach, and the stomach's boots are made of dough. Or something like that. Wet plate glass negative. View full size.


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Hard enough to break teeth

I'm a civil war (southern) Reenactor and I can honestly say that Hard Tack was EVIL. This stuff was like a cracker, baked two or three times and hard enough to crack your teeth if you weren't careful. It never spoiled, and could last decades before you needed to replace it. Seriously cheap to produce, both the South and North used it in their packs.

Veteran soldiers knew that to make the hard tack palatable, you would take the "bread" and break it over a rock before putting it in your bacon grease after cooking breakfast. Letting the tack soak up the grease and fry some would soften it up enough to make it edible.

Buttoned Jacket = corset

Those jackets looked very sharp when fully buttoned, but you couldn't bend, move freely, or slouch without risking popped buttons. Undoing a few in the middle meant you could button-up quickly when needed, but still work in relative comfort. Also, it made a convenient pouch to store things.

Tough for a reason

When you consider that the Union Army had to feed a million men in the field and transport all the food on horse drawn wagons, nothing else would do.

Button Up

I'm sensing a pattern here. In a previous Civil War era photo here an officer on his (lean) horse had buttons undone in the middle, but his jacket was buttoned at the top and waist. I had thought that perhaps his jacket was too tight in the middle or some buttons or buttonholes were damaged, but here it is again. Was this a military fashion trend at the time?

"Digestible leather"

What they used to call this Civil War staple. Probably provided a high percentage of their caloric intake while in the field.

Re: Taste and Compare

Kind of like modern army MRE crackers. Softer than hardtack but about as tasteless as the cardboard box they come in. Some things never change, I guess.

Umm, Hardtack

I believe that it was commonly referred to as tooth dullers. I have a recipe for it somewhere, and you bake it to rock hardness. Supposed to last forever.

It was hard alright

About 20 or so years ago, divers found a sunken Union supply ship in the Savannah River. Amongst the stuff recovered were some easily recognizable hardtack biscuits. To have survived and remain recognizable after being submerged for 135+ years means it was tough stuff made to last!

A phrase I never thought I'd hear

Private - "Go out back and bring in a box of bread!"
Brings a whole new meaning to the question "Is it bigger than a bread box?"

Taste and compare!

Which is fresher--the bread, or the crate it came in?

Hardtack Boxes

Reproduction Union Mechanical crates made of pine (photo below) are sold as hardtack boxes for use in Civil War reenactments. These show the city as Baltimore, but a New York Times account (in the "Marine Intelligence" digest of December 15, 1862) gives the address as being in New York City, where there is indeed a 45 Leonard Street.

Hard times and hardtack

Odds are the hardtack in those boxes was tougher than the packing crates.

Sung to the tune of "Hard Times Come Again No More," the soldiers said it best:

'Tis the song and lament of the hungry
Hard crackers, hard crackers, come again no more!
Many days you have lingered upon our stomachs sore,
Oh hard crackers, hard crackers come again no more!


The photos from the 1800's never seize to amaze me-- the older the better! This was 147 years ago! Dave, do you know which is the oldest image on here?

Also, what is the difference between Army Bread and regular bread?

"Bigger than a breadbox"

In this case would be pretty big!


With iron? Wonder what the other duties of the Union Mechanical Baking Company were, and if this is all hardtack.

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