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What's in your haversack?

The 8th Tennessee Volunteer Infantry "The Camargo Guards"

For a Confederate impression you might want to consider cornbread or hoe-cakes instead of hardtack. Biscuits and coarse unsliced bread are also acceptable substitutes. I recommend that bread be baked at home and brought to the field.


For the meat ration, two pounds of either pork or beef will suffice for a weekend. Carrying uncured raw meat in a haversack during hot weather can be risky. An option is to cook the meat at home by boiling, broiling, or frying. Ham or pork loins are great. Thick sliced bacon is a good choice. Any lean cut of beef, such as bone end round steak, will work. Cook the meat on Thursday and place it in the freezer. When you leave for the event on Friday, wrap it in brown paper and put it in the haversack. It should be thawed by Friday night. Once in the field, simply slice and enjoy as is or heat it up in a small frying pan.

Vegetables are the safest and easiest foods to carry in the haversack. Sweet potatoes and the small new potatoes can be either baked or boiled at home and carried to the field pre-cooked. Wait until they are cool before placing them in the haversack. Once in the field they can be eaten cold or heated by placing them in boiling water for a short while. The new potatoes make an excellent breakfast when sliced, fried with onions, and served with bacon. Carrots can be eaten raw or boiled with the potatoes and meat to make a stew.

In the grain category there are several choices. Cornmeal, grits, and rice take only a short time to boil in your cup over a small fire.

Dry beans and peas are another option but take longer to prepare. These require a lengthy soaking, usually overnight, and then an hour or more cooking time. They do produce a good meal, especially when pieces of your meat ration are cooked in with the mixture. Supplement with a hunk of cornbread from your haversack and you've got it made.

Sweets are simple. Plain ginger snaps are very period and available in bakery or dessert sections in the grocery. Dried fruits such as apple and peach slices weigh little and travel in the haversack very well. Try stewing some apple slices and a sprinkle of brown sugar in a cup till it's soft; then add some crumbled ginger snaps and simmer awhile longer. It makes a fine ginger-apple stew.

Other food supplements can consist of any combination of the following items: summer sausage, raw or parched peanuts, fresh or parched corn, brown sugar, salt and pepper, tea, molasses, boiled eggs, cheese, fresh apples, apple butter, etc.

Food preparation utensils are simple. You need a can with a bail wire, billy cup, or mucket for boiling and a small steel (not cast iron) frying pan or canteen half for frying. A frying pan 6 inches in diameter easily fits in the knapsack. A larger 9 inch pan can be shared by members of a mess section and carrying it can be rotated between the members. A small hatchet also comes in handy.  Be sure to wrap your rations in brown paper or place in canvas/cotton poke bags

Meat and bread were the staples for the Civil War soldier. Meat was usually either beef or pork it was issued fresh, cured or, most commonly, pickled in salt. The beef was called "salt horse" and the pork was called "sow belly." Chickens were gotten from time to time and prepared fresh.

The Union bread ration was normally a hard cracker called hardtack. Fresh bread and rations of flour were issued from time to time.

Although Confederates were familiar with hardtack, their bread ration was normally cornbread or coarse cornmeal.
Next to meat and bread, coffee was the most consumed food item. The Federals had ample supplies, but the Confederates had much less and often traded for the coffee. They also came up with substitutes such as parched corn, parched peanuts, dried peas, sweet potatoes, and even roasted acorns. Sassafrass tea became very popular, also.
As for a sweetner, they had raw brown sugar, honey, and molasses.

Sometimes they were issued potatoes, onions, rice and even carrots. Confederates were sometimes issued sweet potatoes