Lesson Plan

Civil War Rations

Civil War Meals

National Archives

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Grade Level:
Fifth Grade-Eighth Grade
Civil War, Nutrition
1 hour
Group Size:
Up to 60
in the park
National/State Standards:
SOL’s VUS.1, VUS.7, AII.15, AII.13, USI9,


This program introduces students to how Civil War Soldiers received their food and how difficult it was to feed more than 3.5 million soldiers. At the end, students will be able to: Explore Civil War diseases, their causes, and treatment. Understand the human body is affected by eating habits and personal hygiene. Compare 19th century food preservation methods to 21st century. Recognize food borne disease is prevalent today and ways to prevent its spread. Correctly multiply and divide.


At the end of the program the students will be aware of the hardships facing civil war soldiers during the Siege of Peterburg and understand the issues related to lack of food or types of foods during the Civil War.


During the American Civil War more than 3.5 million soldiers served in the Union and Confederate armies. In order to feed so many troops, both governments established a Commissary Department, in charge of coordinating food procurement, storage, and distribution. Consequently, food rationing became a necessity. According to army regulations for daily camp rations, a Union soldier was entitled to receive 12 oz of pork or bacon or 1 lb. 4 oz of salt or fresh beef; 1 lb. 6 oz of soft bread or flour or 1 lb. of hard bread (hardtack), or 4 oz of cornmeal. Salting, drying and pickling were common methods of preserving food in the 19th century.



1. How would eating the same food items day after day affect you? Describe how food rations might have affected soldier morale.

2. What types of social problems could food rationing cause among soldiers?

3. What is scurvy? What causes the disease and how is it treated? Do we still have scurvy outbreaks today?

4. Many people around the world today survive on little food. What kinds of health problems occur from an insufficient diet? How does the daily ration of a Civil War soldier compare with food portions today?

5. When did the health benefits of adequate sanitation and hygiene become common place?

6. What food borne diseases are common in the 21st century?

7. Have there been any outbreaks of food borne diseases recently that you recall?

8. What kinds of procedures does the U.S. government have in place today to prevent the spread of food borne disease?

9. Have you or anyone you know ever had a food borne illness? What were the symptoms? How long did it take to recuperate?

Provide the teachers and students report cards to evaluate their likes and dislikes of the activities. Suggestions?


Park Connections

Nine and a half months, 70,000 casualties, the suffering of civilians, thousands of U. S. Colored Troops fighting for the freedom of their race, and the decline of Gen. Robert E. Lee's Army of No. Virginia all describe the Siege of Petersburg. It was here Gen. Ulysses S. Grant cut off all of Petersburg's supply lines ensuring the fall of Richmond on April 3, 1865. Six days later, Lee surrendered.

Additional Resources

For a complete listing of Park Programs see the Peterbsurg Battlefield Educators Guide.

Last updated: February 26, 2015