Was the diet of the Civil War era more healthy than our diet?

major bill

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
Aug 25, 2012
Today we eat foods with so much sugar and so many additives. So how do we compare with the average diet of the Civil War era? Although we may eat more sugar, foods with saturated fat, and too many foods with additives, the average American also eat less foods with fats. At my house there is no lard for cooking and we have not had any in the house in decades. I can not remember the last time we had real butter
or whole milk in the house. As far as I know we have not had any bacon or pork in the house in years. I can not remember the last time we had beef in the house. Perhaps a month ago my wife bought me a frozen dinner with some kind of beef, but I am not sure of this. I almost never eat pork or beef when we go to a restaurant. I might eat beef once every two weeks. I am not sure the last time I ate any pork. Civil War era people often ate both pork and beef daily.

So although Civil War era people ate fresh vegetables and fresh fruit I am not sure they ate healthier foods. I have a salad most days and vegetables at most meals except breakfast. Often breakfast for me is fruit and low fat yogurt or perhaps low fat yogurt and a dry English muffin. Compare that to the average breakfast of the Civil War. Bacon, bread, perhaps eggs fried in lard or butter. The people of the Civil War might even eat potatoes fried in lard or butter for breakfast. Instead of a dry English muffin they ate jams, jelly, or preserves on bread.

However, I am not sure how most modern Americans eat. I would think most Americans watch the amount of fat and red meat they eat. Some modern Americans probably eat less healthy than others.

Kurt G

Sergeant Major
May 23, 2018
One thing's for certain, the diet of young musicians studying at the Union's music school on Governor's Island, NY wasn't anything to write home about:

Breakfast: a small piece of cold salt pork, a bowl of coffee, and a four ounce piece of bread buttered with pork fat.

Dinner (lunch): a bowl of rice and vegetables or bean soup; boiled salt pork or bacon, bread, and rarely, one or two potatoes.

Supper: a small portion of steamed dried apples, bread, and black coffee.

Try eating that for a week and see what happens!
I remember my maternal grandfather telling about eating lard sandwiches as a child . Lard spread on bread with a bit of pepper . That's what he ate when he went to work on neighboring farms as a child . He only lived to be 65 . He had 12 siblings and I'm sure poverty was a big reason for the poor diet .

Claude Bauer

First Sergeant
Forum Host
Jan 8, 2012
I remember my maternal grandfather telling about eating lard sandwiches as a child. Lard spread on bread with a bit of pepper.
Lard was a staple for a long time as the ad below shows. People apparently used to eat lard sandwiches like we might have a peanut butter sandwich. Sounds gross. Never thought I'd see young, love, and lard in the same sentence.



Apr 4, 2017
Denver, CO
The diet when they were campaigning was fine. It was the lack of cleanliness and diseases carried by insects that killed people. However, in that era, when Civil War generals were not campaigning and plenty to eat, they gained wait and died of various chronic diseases. It was unrestricted access to carbs that killed people.


Apr 12, 2021
Lard is just processed animal fat, the body uses if for fuel if carbs are not present. Animal fat gets a bad rap today, but the problem with animal fat is when it is consumed along with a diet of excess carbs and sugar. The body will store the amimal fat as body fat when carbs are present in the system, this is a significant reason why obesity is an issue today. Sugar molecules are spiky balls and rough up the interior walls of veins, the roughed up surfaces than trap fat and restrict the flow of blood and why hypertension is also an issue today. During the war a soldier's primary source of fuel was animal fat (bacon, smoked/canned meats), and with a lack of sugar and carbs was perfectly healthy.