A friend recently asked the question: “did Southern troops ever live off of Hardtack like Federal soldiers?” That’s a great question! And the simple answer is: sometimes. (PS: this article is based on my research for my upcoming book, Feeding the Army of Northern Virginia.)
Hardtack is made from flour, water, and sometimes salt. This mixture is rolled out and cut into pieces that are baked until, well, hard. They have been around for a long time and are also known as sea biscuits, or ship’s biscuits, or many other names. A standard issued of hardtack for Federal soldiers, for a day, was one pound, or about ten pieces. Hardtack is not a term frequently used in letters and diaries written during the war by Confederate soldiers in the East. It does appear more frequently in post-war writings. And, when the term hardtack is used, it usually denotes captured foodstuffs. For example, a member of the 13th Virginia Infantry, writing after the war, noted that at Second Manassas, he drew from his haversack “a piece of fat pickled pork and some hardtack—the rations I had selected from the varied assortment at Manassas.” While at Frederick, Maryland, in September 1862, one member of the 15th Georgia complained that all of their hardtack was marked “’Cincinnati.’ It is a common remark that Banks is Jackson’s Quartermaster and Commissary.”
More often, Confederates referred to their hardtack as crackers. A member of the 5th Alabama Infantry, writing from a camp near Fairfax Court House on July 16, 1861, noted that he was stationed as a guard at the commissary tent, presumably just for his regiment. He reported that he was guarding twenty-five barrels of crackers. A few days later, this same soldier reported that there was no flour locally, and they had to make use of crackers instead, and that “they are hard almost as a rock.” Many soldiers found their crackers almost inedible. A member of the 44th North Carolina complained in October 1862 that the “Crackers you cannot brake them hardly with your hands. Yesterday Mr. Sykes had some Crackers beatting them up with a... hammer and said to me it is hard bread to have to take a hammer to brake it."
Soldiers were likely to be issued flour than hardtack. Earlier in the war, the Confederate government had purchased a bakery in Richmond to bake loaves of bread to be shipped to the men in the field. This really did not work, as the “light bread” as the soldiers called it, went moldy before it could arrive in the camps. Instead, the commissary department switched to grinding flour and shipping it to the front ranks. Ideally, flour would be issued to troops in camp, while crackers would be issued to men on the march. Most of the crackers which the men mention eating while on campaign seem to have been captured by the Federals. Instead, the men had to make do with flour, and usually no cooking utensils. From Manassas in July 1861, a member of the 10th Alabama complained that they had to bake their dough on planks and boards. At Beverly Ford on August 22, a member of the 12th Georgia wrote of baking their dough on flat boards and stones before the fire. On the way to Gettysburg in June 1862, a member of the 26th North Carolina wrote home that they were drawing flour. They stopped at 4:00 pm and commenced cooking.
That’s not to say that the flour also did not come from the Federals. There are mentions of barrels of flour captured at Ball’s Bluff, during the Rominey Campaign, Seven Pines, Manassas Junction, and Williamsport, and taken from civilians during the Gettysburg campaign and Early’s Washington campaign in 1864.
Not everyone was in favor of the flour. A member of the 53rd Georgia wrote from near Hagerstown on July 13 that he had eaten so much flour bread that he preferred corn bread. Corn meal was a third option. A member of the 1st Maryland wrote from Fairfax Court House in early August that they were able to make first-rate cornbread. Yet even this wore on some. South Carolinian Barry Benson wrote after the war that they were issued so much corn meal in the winter of 1863 that “our teeth staid on edge; even freshly cooked, the bread would taste sour.” While cornbread might seem like a Southern staple, the corn meal ground during the war, epically, late in the war, was full of husk and kernels. “Often the corn meal issued to us… [was] so bad that hardtack… was hailed with delight,” wrote a member of the 17th Virginia in 1864. From camp near Orange Court House in March 1864, one Tar Heel told the people at home that they were drawing “tolerable good rations,” including corn meal. However, he wished he could draw flour. “We are tired of meal."
As the war grinned on, there was never enough, whether it be crackers, wheat flour, or corn meal. Most of it really depended on the environment. (But that’s another post.) A soldier simply had to draw “his waist belt a little tighter… and waited with bated breath the order to clear our works and charge the enemy.” If the charge was successful, then the “enemey’s camps furnished the rations we failed to get in the morning…”
 Swank, Raw Pork and Hartack, 34.
 Ivy W. Duggan Diary, UGA, 95-96.
 Hubbs, Voices from Company D, 18, 25-26.
 Wright, The Confederate Letters of Benjamin H. Freeman, 14.
 Rourke, "I saw the Elephant, 15
 Ivy W. Duggan Diary, UGA, 87-88.
 Smith and Price, “Your Affectionate Husband Until Death" Company Front, 55.
 Ronald, ed. The Stilwell Letters, 188.
 McKim, A Soldier’s Recollections, 46.
 Benson, Berry Benson's Civil War Book, 55.
 Toalson, No Soap, No Pay, 94-95
 Hancock, Four Brothers in Gray, 253.
 Herbert, “The Seventeenth Virginia Infantry,” SHSP, 12:294.