Union soldier on a box of hardtack, 1863

A Union soldier sitting on a hardtack box

Courtesy Library of Congress, LC-DIG-stereo-1s02737.

In this 1863 photo a Union soldier sits atop a box of army bread (known as hardtack) baked at the Union Mechanical Baking Company in New York City. Nicknamed for its legendary toughness, hardtack was made of flour, water, and sometimes salt and lard. This dietary staple of both the Union and Confederate armies was baked in such a way that it would last for years, making it easier to store, ship, and deploy to the field. But the process also rendered the hardtack nearly inedible, forcing soldiers to fry the cracker or dissolve it into their coffee to eat it. These practices helped soften the bread and also took care of the weevil larvae or maggots that often infested the bread during its long storage.