What Did Civil War Soldiers Eat?

What did soldiers eat in Florida during the Civil War? What did they wear? What kinds of equipment were they assigned? Sometimes when studying history we get so busy discussing “big” issues like political trends and battles and ideas that we lose sight of everyday experiences. Diaries and letters are two kinds of documents that can help us uncover this sort of commonplace detail, but what if you could get even closer to the heart of the matter and see lists of the supplies and equipment received by an individual regiment?

Portrait of Lieutenant Joseph C. Shaw, 99th U.S. Colored Troops (ca. 1864).

Portrait of Lieutenant Joseph C. Shaw, 99th U.S. Colored Troops (ca. 1864).

That’s the great strength of the Joseph C. Shaw Papers, a collection held by the State Archives of Florida at its research facility in Tallahassee. Shaw was an Ohio native who served in the Sixth Michigan Infantry before accepting a commission as a lieutenant in the Fifteenth Regiment of the Corps d’Afrique in Louisiana. This unit was later reorganized as the 99th United States Colored Troops, which served in Florida in 1864 and 1865. The 99th was one of 175 Union regiments consisting mainly of African-American soldiers. The officers in these units were almost always white.

Shaw served as the quartermaster for his regiment, handling much of the paperwork regarding supplies, equipment, foraging for the animals, and rations for the men. His papers contain a variety of reports describing exactly what was issued to and consumed by the 99th U.S. Colored Troops while they were stationed at various points along Florida’s Gulf coast. Here are a few sample pages from the reports – click each image to enlarge:

Abstract of Provisions issued to the 99th U.S. Colored Troops at Punta Rassa, Florida in March 1865. Box 4, folder 8, Joseph C. Shaw Papers (Collection M88-28), State Archives of Florida.

Abstract of Provisions issued to the 99th U.S. Colored Troops at Punta Rassa, Florida in March 1865. Box 4, folder 8, Joseph C. Shaw Papers (Collection M88-28), State Archives of Florida.

List of items belonging to the 99th U.S. Colored Troops lost or destroyed during the Battle of Natural Bridge in March 1865 near St. Marks, Florida. Box 3, Joseph C. Shaw Papers (Collection M88-28), State Archives of Florida.

List of items belonging to the 99th U.S. Colored Troops lost or destroyed during the Battle of Natural Bridge in March 1865 near St. Marks, Florida. Box 3, Joseph C. Shaw Papers (Collection M88-28), State Archives of Florida.

Record of clothing issued to personnel of the 99th U.S. Colored Troops in October 1864. Note that each unit member's signature is indicated by an

Record of clothing issued to personnel of the 99th U.S. Colored Troops in October 1864. Note that each unit member’s signature is indicated by an “X” mark. Even though the 99th USCT was a Union regiment, it was raised in Louisiana, where its members had enjoyed few if any opportunities for formal education. Box 4, Joseph C. Shaw Papers (Collection M88-28), State Archives of Florida.

These records may seem rather mundane, but it’s exactly this sort of information that helps historians piece together the daily experiences of soldiers during the Civil War. They are especially useful when examined alongside diaries and letters from individual soldiers to help parse some of the references the authors make to their living conditions.

Because these records were generally shared between unit quartermasters and the military departments of the Union and Confederate governments, the majority of these reports (where they still exist at all) are accessible only through the National Archives in Washington. In a few cases, such as that of Joseph Shaw, quartermaster officers or generals retained their own copies of the reports, and they eventually made their way to other archives such as the State Archives of Florida by donation.

To learn more about the Civil War era records housed at the State Archives of Florida, check out our research guide on the subject. We also recommend reviewing the Civil War in Florida bibliography from the State Library.

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3 thoughts on “What Did Civil War Soldiers Eat?

  1. To help people more understand the diets of many in the early 1860’s our Museum took on as a project a cook book. We took family recipes from our members and then took what was very close to a recipe out of our 1860’s cook books that our Museum had
    donated over the years. What a wonderful project and it gave us
    a history lesson as to the diets of everyone during the above
    period of time. You have given me more research to do. Thank you.
    Jan Knowles – Historian

  2. Too Cool! This is exceptionally fascinating as Lieut. Joseph Shaw is my Great, Great Grandfather. Thank you for forwarding this Blog to my 13 year old son’s Amazing Civics Teacher at SSAS – Sarasota School of Arts & Sciences. My son really enjoyed the presentation at the Florida Museum recently when he went on an overnight Field Trip there and to the Capitol. It was even more interesting for the other students who learned that my son had a Great, Great, Great Grandfather who fought in the Battle of Natural Bridge just 17 miles from Tallahassee. When my family moved to Florida in 1967, we had no idea that we had a relative that lived here 100 years earlier. Thanks for making this information fun and interesting. We will share this with others! God Bless!

  3. My great-great-grandfather George Robert Hughes was a second lieutenant in the 99th U.S.C.T.

    We have his Diaries his revolver his ladder pin and many photographs and other documents.

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