Hard-Tack

Submitted by Elaine Rathmann

Red, White, and Blue

The Fairfield Tribune
Fairfield, Jefferson, Iowa
Thursday, September 13, 1883

Hard-Tack

     As I write, there lies before me on my table and innocent-looking cracker, which I have faithfully preserved for years. It is about the size and has the appearance of an ordinary soda biscuit. If you take it in your hand you will find it somewhat heavier than an ordinary biscuit and if you bite it-but no; I will not let you bite it, for I wish to see how long I can keep it. But if you were to reduce it to a fine powder, you would find that it would absorb a greater quantity of water than an equal weight of ordinary flour. You would also observe that it is hard. You may think it is to be attributed to its great age. But if you imagine that its age is to be measured only by the years which have elapsed since the war, you are greatly mistaken; for there was a common belief among the boys that our hard-tack had been baked long before the commencement of the Christian era! This opinion was based upon the fact that the letters B.C. were stamped on many, if not, indeed, all of the cracker boxes. To be sure, there were some skeptics who shook their heads and maintained that these mysterious letters were the initials of the name of some army contractor or inspector of supplies, but the belief was widespread and deep-seated that they were certainly intended to set forth the ear in which our bread had been baked.

For our hard-tack were very hard. It was difficult to break them with the teeth. Some of them you could not fracture with your fist. Still, there was an immense amount of nourishment in them- when once you had learned how to get at it. It required some experience and no little hunger to enable one to appreciate hard-tack aright and it demanded no small amount of inventive power to understand how to cook hard-tack as they ought to be cooked. If I remember correctly, in our section of the army we hand not less than fifteen different ways of preparing them. In other parts, I understand, they had discovered one or two more ways; but with us, fifteen was the limit of the culinary art when hard-tack was on the board.

On the march they were usually not cooked at all, but eaten in the raw state. In order, however, to make them somewhat more palatable, you simply cut down a slice of nice fat pork on your cracker, put a spoonful of brown sugar on top of the pork and you had a dish fit for a soldier. Of course, the pork had just come out of the pickle, and was consequently quite raw. When we halted for coffee we sometimes had fricasseed hard-tack -- prepared by toasting them before the hot coals. When, as generally was the case on a march our hard-tack had been broken into small pieces in our haversacks, we soaked them in water and fried them in pork fat stirring well, and seasoning with salt and sutler's pepper, thus making what was commonly known as a "hishy-hashy" or a "hot-fired-stew".

Thus you see what vast and unsuspecting possibilities reside in this innocent-looking three-and-a-half inch square of hard-tack lying here on my table before me. Three like this specimen made a meal, and nine were a ration; and this is what fought the battles for the Union.

Transcribed by Cathy Joynt Labath
CC Scott County IAGenWeb Project

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