Saturday, September 24, 2011

1861 Innovations: "Movable Tent Church" & the Push for Modern Rations


The volunteer soldiers spent much of the early weeks and months of the war in camps training.  Soldiers had to find ways to pass the time away from home.  In late May, a group of New York volunteer soldiers sat in the U.S. Senate chambers to hold a mock Congress. A Washington correspondent for the Providence Journal wrote there was a motion on the floor to send a message to President Abraham Lincoln requesting he send a gallon of his best brandy to the senate chambers.  A disagreement over whether it should be brandy or old rye ensued, and when "disorderly" persons in the gallery tried to interject, they were ordered out of the room for "behaving in a manner not consistent with the dignity of the Senate."

Many local chaplains wrote of the large number of soldiers attending church services while in camp.  Some churches in neighboring Northampton County, PA created "The Union Tabernacle" or "Movable Tent Church," which could be transported to larger encampments and be set up to handle a large number of soldiers. 

The August 16, 1861 issue of The Belvidere Intelligencer reported, "The superintendent of the above [Union Tabernacle] is Reverend Edwin M. Long, who announces that it will be open for religious services at Williamsburg [now Mount Bethel], Northampton County, on Sunday, the 25th of August instant.  The tent, when the sides are extended, will accommodate 3,000 persons.  No charge for admittance - simply taking up collections, and placing boxes at the entrance of the Tent to receive free offerings.  Several speakers will be in attendance."


There was a push to modernize the soldiers' rations.  Attached to an August 1861 U.S. Senate bill aimed at improving the organization of the military establishment was the call for an increase and improvement of the army rations.  The Easton Daily Evening Express stated, "The allowance of bread is increased by 4 ounces; fresh beef is ordered instead of salt [beef]; and potatoes are to be served three times a week, whenever they can be obtained.  This will be good news to soldiers! Our volunteers did not get even a sight at a potato until they got on 'Old Virginia' soil -- and almost forgot how a potato looked.  Their principal dish was 'hardees' and bacon -- 'hardees fired' --'hardees soaked in coffee' and 'hardees plain' -- 'hardees' for breakfast, "hardees" for dinner, and "hardees' for supper, and "hardees" all the time.   Some of the 'hardees' served up to the 9th (Penna.) Regt. had the brand on them of '1845.'  Potatoes and fresh beef are always relished and give the men spirit for any duty that may be required of them.  The people are inclined to look to it sharply that those who go out from among us to fight the battles of the Union shall at least be supplied with wholesome provisions."  [For those who have not eaten them, "hardees" refers to hardtack.] 

Whether the bill passed into law or not, fresh beef was not a dish served up to most soldiers in the field.  It was more practical to serve bacon and salt pork.  Most soldiers refused to eat salted beef.  If hardtack crackers were stored properly, they were a good source of nourishment and easy to carry in the haversacks, but many times the boxes of hardtack were left out in rain and the contents went moldy or were infested with weevils.  Many times, soldiers formed foraging parties to gather what food they could find in southern farms and towns. 

Copyright 1997-2011: Jay C. Richards

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