In the last letter that we read from Pvt. Erasmus Anderson, he talked about the rations alloteed to the Union soldiers in the Civil War. Here is what he said to his wife in that November letter.
Today we’re going to focus on four of those items–beans, sugar, pork and molasses.
(When Erasmus mentions “crackers”, we can assume he is talking about hardtack, which was the rock hard biscuit distributed to the soldiers. We’ll get back to that in a later entry.)
There were five ways that the soldiers obtained food during the Civil War.
- Rations, drawn from the company quarter-master by individuals, or issued to the company as a whole.
- Food given to them by friendly strangers (as those that Erasmus liked so much in Cincinnati).
- Food they buy from the suttlers–licensed peddlers who sold things, generally at inflated prices, or from stores in the region, when there are any still standing, or local farmers–as when Erasmus mentions buying apples.
- Treats sent from home, which Erasmus seems determined not to ask for.
- Crops, eggs, livestock that is foraged/pillaged–a definitely discouraged activity which nevertheless helps sustain the soldiers when they are on the march and in battle.
An online article provided some information about the Army and its beans. In this first excerpt, Bruce Catton, a preeminent writer on the Civil War, answers my question, “How did they deal with all those beans when they were marching?”. They didn’t.
From the same web article:
From another website, we find these instructions on Baked Beans from an 1860 cookbook.
I have to admit that I neither dug a pit as the Civil War soldiers would, nor did I discard the soaking water from the beans. I used my oven–thank you Mr. Edison for electricity–and I retained the soaking water because we know now that our great-great-grandmothers were throwing out a lot of nutrition with that soaking water.
I am struck when looking at these old recipes how little seasoning and sweetening they used, so you will see that I increased both. I was happy to learn that Erasmus received some molasses, because I like to flavor things with molasses–like the molasses apples I cooked earlier. And the sugar he gets in his ration probably came in a cone and was like the light brown sugar that we use today.
I did not add catsup and/or mustard to the baked beans, which are part of most recipes you see today. If you have a tin cup full of my beans, you might want to add your own catsup and mustard to taste, however, I must say that these turned out quite tasty with just sugar, molasses and a pinch of pepper.
Finally, since salt pork–the soldier’s meat mainstay–is harder to come by these days, and fattier than we prefer, I substituted a ham hock from my butcher. The one I got this time happened to be much leaner than usual, so my baked beans with molasses will definitely be meatier and less greasy than Erasmus’ beans. But if Erasmus and his friends had a Dutch Oven and since they did have a few days in their camp at Charleston, and they had all the necessary ingredients–this is about as authentic as any Civil War recipes we’ll cook.
Notes: The Civil War picture and the dried beans picture come from Flickr and are used under a Creative Commons License. You can click on the pictures to learn more. The two pictures of cooked beans are mine.
I have cited sources above in the text for websites I consulted.