United States Army Provisions in the Early 1800s

Although there were standards, army provisions varied greatly in the 1800s.
... Photos.com/Photos.com/Getty Images

Soldiers in the U.S. Army during the early 1800s were provisioned in a few ways. First, the government issued them certain staple foods. Second, garrison soldiers, which were those stationed at a fort, were expected to raise fresh food via post gardens and by raising livestock. In addition, soldiers often hunted, fished and foraged for provisions. Some posts had sutlers who operated stores where soldiers could purchase supplies.

1 Rations

Provisions varied depending on whether they were issued to soldiers on garrison duty, on campaign or in battle. The government and Army established regulations for the types and quantity of food issued to a soldier. However, this could vary depending on the competency of the quartermaster and the supply chain. In the early 1800s, a typical daily provision for a soldier, issued by the government, would consist of roughly a pound or more of salt beef or pork, a pound of flour or cornmeal, a couple ounces of dried peas or beans, four to five ounces of whiskey, salt, vinegar and often coffee. Other foods were supplied on an irregular basis, and the regulations for provisions changed over time.

2 Soldier Gardens

The lack of fresh vegetables in a soldier’s diet often led to scurvy, a deadly disease caused by a lack of vitamin C. For this reason, garrison soldiers were often required to garden in order to supplement their diet with fresh vegetables. In 1818, the War Department made soldier's gardens a requirement for frontier forts. Frontier forts also had the added benefit of being able to trade with local Native Americans for vegetables and other foods. In addition, garrison soldiers would often tend cattle, pigs or other livestock. Soldiers would also plow fields and grow corn or other row crops to feed cattle and pigs.

John Peterson published his first article in 1992. Having written extensively on North American archaeology and material culture, he has contributed to various archaeological journals and publications. Peterson has a Bachelor of Arts from Eastern New Mexico University and a Master of Arts from the University of Nebraska, both in anthropology, as well as a Bachelor of Arts in history from Columbia College.