Gnaw Away

Before I can explain why I chose as my website name, I need to tell you what I understand the terms “hardtack” and “rat” to mean.

Hardtack was simply one of the most common rations for soldiers to eat in the American Civil War. Hard by its very nature, soldiers warmly (please read with sarcasm) called hardtack “jawbreakers” or “teeth-dullers.”  They would often need to smash this cracker-like substance with the butt of their rifles just to make it suitable for eating!


(Photo Credit: Minnesota Historical Society)

Another unfortunate name given to hardtack was “worm castles.”  This was when maggots or weevils got to it before soldiers.  More miss than hit, this dietary staple of military life was even sung about, yielding this chorus in “The Hard Tack Song” of people’s affections for it (more sarcasm!):

‘Tis the song, the sigh of the hungry:

“Hard tack, hard tack, come again no more.”

Many days you have lingered upon our stomachs sore.

O, hard tack, come again no more!

Check out this Atlanta History Center link for full lyrics, audio, and even a hardtack recipe.  There are countless websites with recipes and further information out there.  Please find them if you’re interested.  But, if you’re still confused about what “it” is, watch this short video:

Now onto the easy part…  Rats are one of the many gnawing rodents in the world.  Their teeth can grow up to 5 inches in one year!  In order to keep their constantly growing incisors at bay, they must continually gnaw to wear them down.

I greatly enjoy reading the stories of the Civil War.  I’m fascinated with the thoughts and insights of citizens, soldiers, and even the President during the time.  I can’t help but to ponder on what life and the war was like for the very people who experienced and made record of it.

I chose for these two reasons:  Anyone who reads a little or a lot about the American Civil War more than likely stumbles upon the term “hardtack.”  Since I’m far removed from the 1860s, I feel like a rat, needing to gnaw on what I read in order to fully understand and appreciate it.

Lagniappe:  A group of rats is either referred to as a pack or a mischief.  I AM ALL ABOUT running with people who love the Civil War like I do and can readily succumb to being defined as such.

Until next time Pack, keep soldiering on…

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