The Food, Arms and Saddles of the Union Army


Civil War Army Rations

By definition, a ration is the amount of food authorized for one soldier (or animal) for one day.  The Confederate government adopted the official US Army ration at the start of the war, although by the spring of 1862 they had the reduce it.   According to army regulations for camp rations, a Union soldier was entitled to receive daily 12 oz of pork or bacon or 1 lb. 4 oz of fresh or salt beef; 1 lb. 6 oz of soft bread or flour, 1 lb. of hard bread, or 1 lb. 4 oz of cornmeal. Per every 100 rations there was issued 1 peck of beans or peas; 10 lb. of rice or hominy; 10 lb. of green coffee, 8 lb. of roasted and ground coffee, or 1 lb. 8 oz of tea; 15 lb. of sugar; 1 lb. 4 oz of candles, 4 lb. of soap; 1 qt of molasses. In addition to or as substitutes for other items, desiccated vegetables, dried fruit, pickles, or pickled cabbage might be issued.

The marching ration consisted of 1 lb. of hard bread, 3/4 lb. of salt pork or 1 1/4 lb. of fresh meat, plus the sugar, coffee, and salt. The ration lacked variety but in general the complaints about starvation by the older soldiers were largely exaggerated.

Generally the Confederate ration, though smaller in quantity after the spring of 1862 and tending to substitute cornmeal for wheat flour, was little different. But the Confederate commissary system had problems keeping rations flowing to the troops at a steady rate, thus alternating between abundance and scarcity in its issuances.

Soldiers of both armies relied to a great extent on food sent from home and on the ubiquitous Sutler.

Source:  "The Civil War Dictionary" by Mark M. Boatner III

One of the most famous songs to come out of the Civil War was “ Eating Goobers Peas”

Union Army Camp Cooking:

by Patricia B. Mitchell

Contains documented quotations, historical background information, authentic recipes of the period, and commemorative recipes, giving the reader “a taste of” life in the Union Army. Published 1991, revised from the 1990 original edition. 31 recipes, 51 research notes, 37 pages. 5.5 x 8.5 inches. Soft cover, saddle-stitched. ISBN 0-925117-41-2.


New, $4.50


See price/description above;

Add shipping and handling, and sales tax if for a Virginia address;

To order with credit card, call toll-free 1-800-967-2867, or mail order with check to Mitchells, P. O. Box 429, Chatham, VA 24531-0429.

About the Book

“It was at Darnestown that we were first made acquainted with an article of food called ‘desiccated’ vegetables. For the convenience of handling, it was made into large, round cakes about 2 inches thick. When cooked it tasted like herb tea.— It became universally known in the army as ‘desecrated’ vegetables, and the aptness of this term would be appreciated by the dullest comprehension after one mouthful of the abominable compound.” — Charles E. Davis, 13th Massachusetts

This description and many other excerpts from diaries, journals, and letters of Union Army soldiers in the American Civil War make Union Army Camp Cooking by Patricia B. Mitchell an especially informative and fascinating-to-read book. In addition to the written accounts of soldiers, Union Army Camp Cooking presents recipes and a text which help the reader to understand what it was like to serve in the Union Army and to eat camp food (and enjoy “care packages” from home).

Commemorative recipes such as “Trench Beans” and “Earthwork Beans” make the stomach sing; “New England Corn Cakes” fill the tummy; and “Clam Chowder” warms the heart. Make, eat, and remember the brave men who fought for the preservation of the nation.

The Saddles

Having horses for many years and been involved in gymkhanas and rodeo type events over that time, on occasions I had the opportunity to look at US Cavalry saddles. Been used to out more modern saddles my first impression on seeing these saddles was, “who came up with this implement of torture?” I realize that the Cavalry troops would spend many hours, even days in these saddles in terrible heat, cold inclement weather, gave me a great respect for what they had to endure.

The McClellan saddle- origin and development

In April 1855, only six years before the start of the Civil War, then-Captain George B. McClellan sailed to Europe as part of a military commission to study the latest developments in European tactics, weaponry, and logistics. McClellans focus was the organization of engineer troops and cavalry. After the one-year tour, during which time McClellan observed several battles of the Crimean War, McClellan brought back almost 100 books and manuals. These he read before writing his report, which concluded with his proposed manual for American cavalry adapted from existing Russian cavalry regulations. He also proposed a cavalry saddle that he claimed was a modification of a Hungarian model used in the Prussian service. The saddle was almost certainly a modification of the Spanish tree saddle in common use in Mexico during this period, and which had become common in some parts of the United States.

Under the leadership of U.S. Secretary of War, the brilliant, energetic, but erratic Jefferson Davis, the McClellan saddle was adopted by the U.S. War Department in 1859 and remained standard issue, in various models, for the remaining history of the horse cavalry. The original M1859 version was the form used during the Civil War, and the design saw subsequent modifications thereafter. Still, the saddle always remained recognizable as McClellans design, which included cavalry and artillery models. In addition, a model for packers was introduced as the M1913

Confederate variants in the Civil War

During the American Civil War, many Confederate cavalrymen provided their own horses and civilian saddles. In time, the Confederacy issued the Jenifer saddle. But when Southerners horses grew thin because of the inadequate food supply, the Jenifer saddle became painful to the bony withers of the horses.

In 1863, the Confederate army issued the lighter and better-contoured McClellan saddle to its cavalry. Because leather was scarce in the South during the Civil War, many of the McClellan saddles had skirts of painted canvas. The Confederate Army also made use of some quantities of British saddles as well.

McClellan saddle in black leather, post-Civil War period. Fort Kearny State Museum

M1904 McClellan saddle in russet-brown leather, World War I period. Fort Kearny State Museum

Influences on McClellans design

The design was based on the Spanish tree saddles in wide use in the United States at the time, and which had seen U.S. Army use, although McClellan famously claimed that it was based on Hussar saddles hed observed in use in the Crimean War. While McClellan did go overseas and observe the Crimean War for the United States, the saddle does not closely duplicate any pattern in use by the armies in that conflict, but is very close to the widely used Spanish tree saddle, which was originally a saddle in common use in Mexico. The design underwent modifications over time, although in many ways it remained remarkably unchanged. The saddle was simple and less expensive than existing saddles, light enough not to burden the horse, but sturdy enough to give good support to the rider and his gear. It supported a rawhide-covered open seat, a thick leather skirt, wooden stirrups, and a girth strap made of woolen yarn. Added accessories to the saddle sometimes included a nose bag for horse feed, a curry comb to groom the horse, a picket pin and lariat to tether the horse while grazing, saddlebags, and a "thimble" that held the muzzle of the cavalrymans carbine. The McClellan saddle was placed on top of a saddlecloth, shabrack, or saddle blanket.

Service and rivals in the U.S. Army

As noted above, the McClellan saddle served, and continues to serve, for an extraordinarily long time in the U.S. Army. The saddle has had unbroken use since 1859.

Still, the saddle did see some modification over time. The modifications were never so great as to keep an observer from recognizing the saddle as a McClellan saddle, but they did occur. Perhaps the most significant alterations to the saddle occurred in the 20th Century, when the rigging was changed twice. The first time, an adjustable rigging was adopted leading to the M1904 McClellan. That pattern is the most common of all McClellan saddles, and continued in use throughout World War I and World War II.

However, increased emphasis on equitation in the U.S. Army also lead to the M1928, which was a M1904 with English rigging and fenders. This variant, the final one in U.S. service, fit closer than other McClellan saddles, and is still used by the U.S. Army in ceremonial uses.

The saddle, while passing the test of time, was not without its rivals or critics. The first significant challenger was the Whitman saddle, designed by a former U.S. Army officer of that name. The Whitman had many McClellan features and is often mistaken for the McClellan. While not supplanting it, it was approved for use by officers and remained an approved officers saddle throughout World War I. In later years, it incorporated so many McClellan features that it is known as the "Whitman-McClellan."

In the 20th Century, a serious effort was made to replace the McClellan through tests of the U.S. Armys M1912 equipments. The M1912 saddle would prove to be unsuccessful in the Punitive Expedition, but it demonstrated a very great departure from the McClellan design, resembling in some ways the British Universal Pattern saddle. Subsequently, the Army tested the M1917 saddle, which was not adopted.

Enormous quantities of M1904 McClellan’s were purchased by the U.S. Army in World War One, effectively preventing any new saddle from being adopted for general use for decades. The U.S. Army, however, did approve a saddle of the English saddle type prior to WWI for officers, and after the war approved another one with the adoption of the Philips saddle for officers.

Use and service outside the United States

The saddle also saw considerable civilian use, and was made for civilian sales by a variety of manufacturers. It also was widely used in the United States by mounted policemen. It was adopted by Mexico, in a Mexican made version, for their army. At least some were sold to the Dominion forces in the Boer War, and the Northwest Mounted Police in Canada obtained at least a few for test purposes. The saddle was adopted by Rhodesia in the 1970s for use by the Greys Scouts. South Africa used some quantities for mounted game wardens in the 1980s in South West Africa.

Legacy and continued use

While the McClellan saddle was not perfect, and had its critics, it was one of the most enduring military saddles of all time, rivaled only by the British Universal Pattern saddle in its longevity. The saddle was used by every branch of the U.S. Army, as well as by the U.S. Marine Corps, and was very widely used by mounted police units throughout the United States.

The McClellan saddle continues to be made in the United States and was used by endurance riders at one time. It is made for use as a pleasure saddle for those few who like to use it for that purpose, and as a saddle for historical reenactors.