Tag Archives: hardtack and coffee

Hardtack 2017

One of the primary objectives in my Civil War class is to have the students understand and experience some of the things a typical soldier in the ranks might have experienced during the war. Of course, the kids do not get ticks or lice (thankfully), nor do they contract dysentery (also thankfully), further…no one is shooting at them (I am especially pleased about this one).

But there are a few things we can recreate. For example, I recently tasked them with a research project where the students read a number of soldiers’ letters and journals. From this point they assumed the identity of a soldier (Union or Confederate) and wrote a letter home.  The objective was not only to recreate an authentic look and feel but more importantly, voice the spirit of the times. You can check out the results HERE.

Last week I took a break from the more rigorous classroom work  – we formed ranks and marched to the school kitchen where we made…and then subsequently ate the Civil War delicacy: hardtack. To get them in the mood, I had them read an excerpt from John Billings’s 1887 Hardtack and Coffee – you can read the excerpt yourself HERE. I’ve included a recipe with the document. Trust me, it’s not very complicated.

So, we made it…we ate it…and some kids asked for seconds. Go figure.

As you all most surely know, this stuff – the standard Union soldier ration – was as hard as a rock. So, many would fry up some delightful (perhaps rancid) pork fat to help soften the concrete-hard cracker. Now, we didn’t do that. Those of you who know me will know why and those of you who do not – well…suffice it to say…that would not fly at my school. Instead, we soaked the hardtack in coffee, which is also a perfectly legit recreation of what an actual soldier might have done to ease the blow to his molars.

At any rate – teachers, take a break from the hard stuff (see what I did there) and put together this very hands-on project. You’ll get a lot of mileage out of it and your students will have a nice snack…who knows, they might even learn something 🙂

With compliments,

Keith