February 13, 2013

Soldiers’ rations

One of the benefits to joining in the British or American armies was the benefit of receiving regular rations. Although soldiers did not receive the best quality food, it was still better than nothing.

For the British a typical ration in Europe consisted of one pound of bread, or one and a half pounds of flour, a pound of beef or half pound of pork, and smaller quantities of peas, butter, cheese, and rice, issued weekly. Soldiers were also expected to receive a portion of rum daily. As for the American army, each soldier was to receive daily one and a quarter pounds (including bones) of beef, or three quarters of a pound of pork, 18 ounces of bread or flour, and a due portion of salt, soap, vinegar, and candles. As well, soldiers were to receive a daily ration of one gill (four ounces) of whiskey, rum, or brandy.

Map of the Battle of Lundy's Lane from Lossing's
The Pictorial Field-Book of the War of 1812
Naturally, both armies experienced shortages in standard rations at various points during the war. Soldiers were able to purchase more food, typically at high prices. An example of the high prices can be seen at Fort Meigs during the summer of 1813 where the authorized sutler price for bacon was 25 cents, soap and chocolate were 50 cents, coffee was 62 ½ cents, and molasses was $3. As well, for a bottle of whiskey the cost was $1.25 and for brandy or rum the cost was $4.50 per bottle. These prices were very high for a typical American soldier since privates were paid about $8 a month.
Sometimes during the War of 1812 soldiers could receive an unexpected treat. Lieutenant John Le Couteur talks about receiving chocolate after the Battle of Lundy’s Lane. Le Couteur writes, “We had to wait on our slaughterhouse till 11 before we got a mouthful – when a great Camp Kettle full of thick chocolate revived us surprisingly, though we devoured it among dead bodies in all directions.” A truly morbid experience after the devastating Battle of Lundy’s Lane.

This long weekend you can experience some 1812-food items by heading to the Niagara Falls History Museum on Family Day, February 18, from 1 to 4 p.m. They will be having food demonstrations, 1812 dessert items and a scavenger hunt for the kids! Click here to find out more about this event.

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