'Tis the song that is uttered in camp by night and day,
     'Tis the wail that is mingled with each snore;

'Tis the sighing of the soul for spring chickens far away,
     'Oh hard crackers, come again no more!'

'Tis the song of the soldier, weary, hungry and faint,
     Hard crackers, hard crackers, come again no more;

Many days have I chewed you and uttered no complaint,
     Hard crackers, hard crackers, come again no more!"

-from a soldiers' parable called "Hard Times"

HARDTACK - What Is It?

Hardtack is a hard cracker-like biscuit made of flour, salt and water, was one of the most typical rations issued to soldiers and sailors by the U. S. government because it was fairly nutritious and unlikely to spoil. Hardtack’s use as a military ration can theoretically be traced back to Roman times, but the first widespread usage by American soldiers was during the Civil War...

After the Civil War, this hard bread continued to be a staple of the soldier’s diet and was made in government bakeries located in eastern cities. Shipped in barrels to the troops in the west, Hardtack had to be tough. This toughness made Hardtack ideal for campaigns and patrols away from the post or fort.Normal breads were too delicate to survive the long trips west and would spoil very quickly.  Hardtack was extremely hard and was called "teeth-dullers," "digestible leather&,quot; "angel cakes,” and “ammo reserves" by those who ate the hard bread. Some Hardtack was so hard it had to be broken with a rifle butt or a "blow of the fist" to prepare for eating. Soldiers normally softened the pieces by soaking them in coffee, frying them in bacon grease or salt pork fat, or crumbling them in soup.

The methods used to eat Hardtack included:

The soldier’s adage of Improvise, Adapt, and Overcome comes to mind and there were many other methods used to prepare this ration.

Hardtack was commonly held in government storehouses and usually become infested with insects while in storage or during the soldier’s travels. One source claimed a disappointed soldier said "All the fresh meat we had came in the hard bread!" It was said by those who served on many merchant ships during the early 20th Century one could pound the Hardtack on the table and watch the insects crawl away. It was also said one was glad for the poorly lit, sailor’s mess because "the darker the corner, the better you ate." Even with the problems of insect infestation and mold, the longevity of these rations was such that some Hardtack produced during the Civil War was still being issued as late as during the Spanish-American War. Few, if any, modern rations will last as long as the original "Soldier’s Bread."

What were the Government specifications for Hardtack or Hard Bread?


Assistant Commissary General of Subsistence - [Lt. Col. C.L. Kilburn "Notes on Preparing Stores for the United States Army and on the Care of the Same, etc, with a few rules for Detecting Adulterations" Printed 1863], under Hard Bread:

"Should be made of best quality of superfine, or what is usually known as extra superfine flour; or better, of extra and extrasuperfine, (half and half.) Hard bread should be white, crisp, light and exhibit a flaky appearance when broken. If tough, solid and compact, is evident the fault is either in the stock, manufacture or baking; it should not present the appearance of dried paste. If tough and pasty, it is probably manufacture from grown wheat, or Spring wheat of an inferior kind. In all cases it should be thoroughly cooled and dried before packing. Kiln drying, where practicable, for long voyages, is particularly desirable; but if really and thoroughly dried in the oven, hard bread will keep just as well and its flavor is not destroyed. To make good hard bread, it is essential to employ steam; hand work will not do.  The dough should be mixed as dry as possible; this is, in fact, very essential, and too much stress can not be placed on it. Good stock, dry mixed, and thoroughly baked, (not dried or scalded) will necessarily give good hard bread. If salt is to be used, it should be mixed with the water used to mix the dough. Both salt and water should be clean. Bread put up with the preceding requirements should keep a year; but as a usual thing, our best bread as now made for army use, will keep only about three months. Good, bread, packed closely and compactly should not weigh, net, per barrel, more than 70 or 80 pounds; should it be heavier than 80 indicates too much moisture.

The thickness of the biscuit is important; it should not be so thick as to prevent proper drying, or so thin as to crumble in transportation. The quality of stock used for hard bread can be partially told by rules mentioned in the article 'Flour,' as far as they apply. The term 'sprung' is frequently used by bakers, by which is meant raised or flaky bread, indicating strong flour and sound stock. The cupidity of the contracting baker induces him to pack his bread as soon as it comes out of the oven, and before the moisture has been completely expelled by drying.

Bread of this kind hangs on breaking; it will also be soft to the pressure of the fingernail when broken, whereas it should be crisp and brittle.

The packages should be thoroughly seasoned, (of wood imparting no taste or odor to the bread,) and reasonably tight. The usual method now adopted is to pack 50 pounds net, in basswood boxes, (sides, top and bottom ½ inch, ends 5/8 of an inch,) and of dimensions corresponding with the cutters used, and strapped at each end with light iron or wood. The bread should be packed on its edge compactly, so as not to shake.

Bread thoroughly baked, kiln dried, and packed in spirit casks, will keep a long time but it is an expensive method.

If bread contains weevils, or is moldy, expose to the sun on paulins, and before re-packing it, rinse the barrel with whiskey."

Want to try making Hardtack?

There are many recipes for Hardtack available today. Some are original to the 1800s and other are more modern with “added” ingredients to help improve the taste and minimize the hard bread’s tendency to increase one’s trip to the dentist’s office.  Hardtack is a ration best eaten the way soldiers in the 1800s did; soften or soak in some liquid before eating.

Here are some recipes for Hardtack, divided into Traditional and Non-Traditional recipe categories. Have fun and Bon Apetit.


From: http://www.7thkentucky.org/hardtack.htm

The Question arises constantly as to the correct recipe for hardtack. Here it is: Flour - Water - and a little salt. Mix together to obtain an elastic, but not sticky dough, Roll to inch thickness, bake in 400 degree oven until slightly brown.Allow to cool (may still be somewhat soft). Put in 200 degree oven until hard. Prick with nail or sharp instrument.


From: http://www.price.gv2.net/Reenact/Recipes/hardtack.htm

Preheat oven to 400° F. For each cup of flour (unbleached wheat), add 1 tsp. of salt. Mix salt and flour with just enough water to bind ingredients. Roll the dough about 1/4 inch thick, and cut into squares 3 inches by 3 inches. Pierce each square with 16 holes about ½ inch apart. Place hardtack squares on cookie sheet and bake in oven until edges are brown or dough is hard (20-25 minutes), making sure all moisture is removed from mixture before taking out of oven.

Note: The longer you bake the hardtack, the more authentic it will appear. If you want to make it softer for eating, bake only about 15 minutes.

Other Miscellaneous Simple Recipes:


From: http://www.nps.gov/gett/gettkidz/hardtack.htm

A Southern Equivalent

Are your tastes more southern? Then try a "johnnie cake" Confederate soldiers enjoyed with their meals.  The recipe is also very simple:

Another Non-Traditional recipe:

Here’s a good variation:

Swedish Hardtack

Here’s another……Less Traditional Recipe:

For Those Who Only Want To Try A Little Taste:

      (Small Batch, Just for a taste.)

Darn Near Dessert!!!:

Anyone Ready For Breakfast?:

Are We Eatin’ At “The Ritz”?

Yet another recipe from:  http://www.fortlaramie.com/ftg_hardtack_project.htm

(This one is from a school field trip program.)

Not wanting to cook? As late as 1997, Nabisco™ continued to make a Hardtack-type cracker for limited markets on the East Coast. Northeastern states appear to be the market they targeted for this product. With the increase in the numbers of people getting involved in Civil War and other reenacting hobbies, other small companies have sprung up to provide Hardtack and other rations common to the time period.

Here’s where you can buy some: http://www.bentscookiefactory.com/hardtack.htm