Army Cooking In The First Few Months

NH Civil War Gal

Forum Host
Feb 5, 2017
This is from Leander Stillwell, “The Story of a Common Soldier of Army Life in the Civil War“

I retain a vivid recollection of the kind of army cooking we had for the first few months in Tennessee. At Camp Carrollton and Benton Barracks we had company cooks who prepared the food for the entire company. They were mostly enlisted men, detailed for that purpose, and while their cooking was nothing to brag about, it was vastly superior to what now ensued. We divided up into messes, of four, eight, or twelve men, or thereabouts, to the mess, and generally would take turns in the culinary line. Very few of us knew anything whatever about cooking, and our exploits in that regard would have been comical if the effects had not been so pernicious. Flour was issued to us after our arrival at Pittsburg Landing, but we had no utensils in which we could cook biscuits, or loaves. So we would make a batter out of flour, water, grease, and salt, and cook it in a mess pan, the product being the army “flapjack.”

It invariably was tough as a mule’s ear, about as heavy as lead, and very indigestible. Later we learned to construct ovens of wood, daubed with mud, or of stone, and in them, in the course of time, we acquired the knack of baking good bread. But with us in the west the hardtack was generally our standard bread diet, and nothing could beat it.

And for some time our cooking of “Yankee beans,” as we called them, was simply atrocious. As you know, beans should be cooked until they are thoroughly done; otherwise they are decidedly harmful. Well, we would not cook them much more than half enough, the result being a sloppy, slimy mess, its looks alone being well-nigh sufficient to extinguish one’s appetite. and as for the rice—the horrible messes we would make of that defy description. I know that one consequence with me was I contracted such an aversion to rice that for many years afterwards, while in civil life, I just couldn’t eat it in any form, no matter how temptingly it was prepared.