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Hardtack & Coffee or The Unwritten Story of Army Life Paperback – August 1, 1993

4.4 out of 5 stars 151 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

Most histories of the Civil War focus on battles and top brass. Hardtack and Coffee is one of the few to give a vivid, detailed picture of what ordinary soldiers endured every day--in camp, on the march, at the edge of a booming, smoking hell.

About the Author

Contributing an introduction and index to this Bison Books edition is William L. Shea, a professor of history at the University of Arkansas, Monticello. His books include The Virginia Militia in the Seventeenth Century and, with Earl Hess, Pea Ridge: Civil War Campaign in the West.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 413 pages
  • Publisher: Bison Books; Reprint edition (August 1, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 080326111X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0803261112
  • Product Dimensions: 5.3 x 1 x 8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (151 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #352,610 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By David E. Levine on July 15, 2000
Format: CD-ROM
There are numerous histories of the Civil War and some have become classics. Most of these focus on battles and great heroes. Billings, however, a Civil War veteran, writes about the daily life of the average soldier. We learn about the soldier's motivation to fight, camp discipline, diet, housing, medical care, recreation and just about everything else that comprised the life of the Civil War era soldier. Billings' book is serious yet he manages to write in a lighthearted tone, replete with levity. This is a great book to round out a Civil War buff's study of the great conflict.
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Format: Paperback
I teach a university class on the experience of the American Civil War, and I use sections of this book to illustrate camp life and the life of the average soldier.
Billings tells his story as a humanist and has a real eye for detail. His descriptions (and the illustrations) are invaluable.
This book is not for someone with only a passing interest in the American Civil War; one must know something of the era to appreciate it. It is a must-read for a true fanatic.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
This interesting little book, written in the 1880s, was only 99 cents on Kindle. The author was an artilleryman in the Army of the Potomac. This is not an account of battles, strategy and combat, but rather everyday life for the union soldier. It details food, shelter, clothing, animals, hospitals, the different types of men in ranks, and much more of the mundane usually over-looked by historians. I was surprised how much matched my experience in the Marines a hundred years later: shelter halves, wall tents, barracks, making a coffee cup from a can and wire (I had one at Khe Sanh!), the troops' jokes, shirks, etc. I loved the more erudite language of the times: "To enter (a tent) ... of a rainy morning from the outer air, and encounter the night's accumulation of nauseating exhalations from the bodies of 12 men (differing widely in their habits of personal cleanliness) was an experience no old soldier has been known to recall with any great enthusiasm." I think veterans, history buffs and Civil war enthusiasts will all lie this book. My wife, who has been watching the TV series "Mercy Street" about a Civil War hospital, was interested to read that chapter.

Robert A. Hall
Author: The Coming Collapse of the American Republic
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By A Customer on July 11, 1999
Format: Paperback
I would have loved to had this book when I was a child. The non-linearity of the chapters makes it a perfect "browser's book" -- a book which you can pick up and flip open to any page and read interesting, amusing and humorous accounts of day to day life in the Civil War army. This is one of the most fun books I've picked up in a long time.
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Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I'm one of those men with the "Civil War Itch" who can't get enough reading, can't get enough time on the battlefields. This book is hands-down one of my favorites in my extensive collection, re-read several times and dog-eared. It's something I always put in my bag for air-travel reading, because you can pick it up and put it down when you need to...the author and the illustrator both were participants in the Conflict, so you know it's accurate. The content is educational but not stuffy, since it was written to explain to soldiers' families what exactly Union Army life was like...and the humor still carries through to this day. After you've read the historical studies or walked a battlefield, THIS is the book you want to read to put yourself in the shoes of the everyday soldier--and it's easy to do with the author's skills. For me, the best chuckles are the chapters "Jonahs and Beats", and "The Army Mule". A must-read for those wanting more than just a general's biography or an order of battle.
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Format: Paperback
Hardtack and Coffee provides an excellent picture of Army life in the mid-nineteenth century. The sketches illustrate the text superbly. This is a useful handbook for students and teachers as well as an intriguing introduction to the Civil War.
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Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
So, you want to be a Civil War soldier? You want to get rustic and go reenact. Live the hard life. Really understand what it was like to be on campaign in 1864...??

LOL. You have no idea. I'm a Union reenactor and although we try to live as authentically as we can for a few days a month, it gets old fast. People bring meat in coolers, a few beers, an oil lamp for light, even cots to sleep in!

The truth of the matter is, and what I really found myself asking by the end of this beautiful account, written by an actual soldier, was:

-Could I survive on 4 4x4" squares of bread made of nothing but water and flour, so hard that they could break your teeth and were invincible to softening even by soaking in hot coffee for an hour or more?
-Could I eat meat that was half rancid, "stunk like hell", and was infested with "worms" because that's all there was for the next four days
-Make coffee out of chicory root. Why, you ask? Because coffee was the cocaine of the CW soldier. Its all they had to keep them marching mile after mile.
-March up to 30 (or more) miles a day in shoes (brogans) that would make your feet bleed after the first 20 miles, carrying 30 lbs of awkward equipment, all in a full suit of itchy wool. PS. Your lucky if you even had decent shoes, or shoes at all!
-Go to the bathroom with no toilet paper and no leaves available (yes, use your imagination as to what they did, and remember they didn't realize that you needed to wash it off your hands to keep from getting sick.). Microbes were yet to be discovered.
-Drink muddy water that would turn your bowels into liquid wax (remember, your still marching on a dusty road in Virginia and it could be 90 degrees outside while all this is going on inside you).
Read more ›
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