HIS 269 - Civil War and Reconstruction
Feeding the Armies [Click here for PowerPoint Presentation] © 2006 David C. Hanson, Virginia Western Community College
Napoleon famously remarked that "an army marches on its stomach." Adequate food surely is essential to the deployment and combat readiness of soldiers because a well fed army is stronger, healthier, and has better morale than a poorly fed one. Both sides in the Civil War faced immense challenges in the procurement and distribution of food for their massive armies. Certainly one of the most important advantages of the North--probably a significant factor in the ultimate destruction of the Confederacy--was the fact that Union soldiers were rarely hungry while their enemies often suffered from severe food shortages.
John Billings, who served in the 10th Massachusetts, remarked, "I have been asked a great many times whether I always got enough to eat in the army and have surprised inquirers by answering in the affirmative." He added, "I think the government did well, under the circumstances, to furnish the soldiers with so good a quality of food as they averaged to receive." Why did Union soldiers rarely go hungry while their Confederate counterparts starved? It is a common notion, often overstated, that the South was mainly agricultural whereas the North was more industrial. But two important realities are often overlooked: first, corn was the number-one crop of Old Dixie, but cotton was the mainstay of the Southern economy, and an army cannot survive on cotton; second, the North had more productive farmland than the South. New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana and Illinois all had more farming than any Southern state in the 1860s [see chart]. General Lee did not invade Pennsylvania in June 1863 for shoes; he wanted food for his hungry army.
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