Saturday, April 16, 2016

Keeping house with 274,000 boarders: Feeding the troops in the Spanish- American War

Photo credit: Pictorial Atlas Illustrating the Spanish-American War: Comprising a History, Le Roy Armstrong, John W. Iliff & Company, 1899, p. 80

Feeding the troops

You remember where you bivouacked in the Dyer Field at the close of the first day's fight after twenty seven hours marching and fighting without a meal- bivouacked without fires when a white frost was settling down and with only a few crackers and scraps of bacon and pork which could not be cooked because the enemy's lines were too close to admit of fires. Well, in the days which tried the souls of the sensational journals in the Spanish War, just back of where you bivouacked the commissary department had a bakery with a capacity of 66,000 eighteen ounce loaves and every soldier and civilian employ in that army got a loaf of it every day if he wanted it, and it was as good bread as I ever care to see on my own table. If they preferred hardtack they got that. 

As to fresh meat seven days out of ten there were issued full rations of as good beef as ever came in refrigerator cars to the cities and towns of the North. Every quarter carried the tag of government inspection. There were 5,100,000 pounds of it issued there without the loss of a pound, except where some of it fell into the hands of regiments whose men did not know how to take care of fresh meat in hot weather, and whose officers did not know how to tell them. And let me say to you here, that in spite of all the sensational charges with which the humane and honest people of the country were driven wild, there never was a pound of embalmed beef issued to a single soldier of the Spanish War- not a pound for the good reason that the government never purchased a pound of beef that had been embalmed. I state this on my personal responsibility to substantiate the truth of what I say against anybody, of any rank.
For the other three days, the troops had bacon. If you suppose it was the "old sides" which we used to receive, sent down in freight cars stacked up like cord wood, you will make a mistake. It was family bacon in sealed tin cans such as you at the first class family groceries. Then there were three vegetable rations, extra potatoes, onions, and canned tomatoes. Each regiment could choose which it would have. It required eighteen car-loads of for each ten days' issue, and for hauling each issue of to the camp required 750 six-mule teams, and every of the ration was better than we ever saw in our soldier days. These are all facts. Yet the country was made to believe its soldiers were given spoiled food, and short rations even that.

As to canned beef and canned roast beef, the brand was same, and from the same firms as was used by the navy throughout the war, and as is being used now both by the army and in all our operations the world around. The English used this beef in Egypt, and is using it in South Africa. Of there were some spoiled cans, but the percentage was too small to express in appreciable figures. I doubt whether there is person here who has not known of spoiled canned goods in own house. It must be remembered that the War Department was keeping house with 274,000 boarders.

(Source: The Spanish-American War, Russell Alexander Alger,Harper & Bros., 1901)

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