Camp Food

From Harper's Weekly. Click to enlarge.

Everybody complains about food.  Airline food, college food, summer camp food–they all come under fire, but perhaps none more than Army food.

When Indiana mobilized thousands of her sons in the spring of 1861, she had to figure out how to feed them.  The job fell to a friend and former roommate of the governor named Isaiah Mansur–an honest man and a hard worker.

Mr. Mansur and the governor decided to be generous with food allotments since many of the boys had come from farms where food was plentiful.  The food allowances given to Indiana’s soldiers were greater than the Army’s requirements in every instance:

(amounts are per company)

110 pounds of pork, instead of 75 required

150 pounds of beef, instead of 125

150 pounds of flour, instead of 112 and 2/3

130 pounds of beans, instead of 8 quarts

12 pounds of rice, instead of 10

8 pounds of coffee, instead of 6

16 pounds of sugar, instead of 12

100 pounds of potatoes, 1 pound of peppers, 1 and 1/2 pounds of fruit, and 3 bushels of onions, instead of none

Nevertheless, the Indiana boys found reason to complain.  The meat was too salty, the apples too wormy, the coffee adulterated.  The newspapers were filled with complaints and outrage “that the poor boys should be put off with anything less than the fat of the land afforded!”

In response, food poured in from home:  roast fowl, baked ham, fresh butter and eggs, jellies, and all manner of goodies.

The complaints led the legislature to investigate Mansur, but it found that even though there had been some minor cases of mismanagement or questionable provision, he had been more than upright and even generous.  Mansur took the opportunity to resign.  He was replaced by Asahel Stone.  Mr. Stone continued the tradition of generosity and plentitude.  But the tradition of complaints continued.

In the fall of 1861, the US Government finally took over the feeding of Indiana’s troops-in-training.  Then it became evident how good Indiana’s boys had it under Mansur and Stone.

Even as Isaiah Mansur resigned his position as Commissary General for the state of Indiana on May 29, 1861, the time that L.K. Harris and the rest of the 8th Indiana would spend in Indiana was drawing to a close.  In late May, events were already in motion that would ultimately bring the 8th Indiana to western Virginia.

On Friday, May 24, 1861, Union troops entered Virginia.  That same day, Colonel Elmer Ellsworth of a New York regiment of soldiers known as the First Fire Zouaves (because they were New York firemen) was killed.  He was a friend of Abraham Lincoln and his death shocked the North.

General George McClellan

Two days later, on Sunday, May 26, General George McClellan ordered three Federal columns into western Virginia to protect the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and to support pro-Unionists in the area.

L.K.’s 8th Indiana would soon be sent to aid the effort in western Virginia.  But for now, they watched some of their fellow Hoosiers leave for war.

As they watched others leave, they must have felt disappointment at being left behind and an envy of those who would get to see new places and experience exciting adventures.

No matter what the food tasted like at Camp Morton, the dreams of the glory and adventure that lay ahead must have been much sweeter.

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