A brigade officer of the day, seeing some of these scraps along our front, called out sharply to our men: “Throw that hardtack out of the trenches.” Then, as the men promptly gathered it up as directed, he added: “Don’t you know that you’ve no business to throw hardtack in the trenches? Haven’t you been told that often enough?” Out from the injured soldier heart there came the reasonable explanation: “We’ve thrown it out two or three times, sir, but it crawls back.”
|Troops in the trenches|
Library of Congress/ Getty Images
(Location is debated. Some sites tag this as picturing men in trenches at Petersburg.
But other sites say the location is unknown or at Fredericksburg.)
I heard this joke about hardtack early on when we started reenacting many years ago, and have often used it myself over the years to explain to spectators, especially kids, about the “glories” of hardtack. No one I talked to knew the source, even though they had heard the joke. Some years later I finally learned the source of the story is from Henry Clay Trumbull, who served as a Chaplain in the 10th Regt. Connecticut Volunteers. Was glad that I confirmed to myself that it had historical background instead of being just a modern reenacting joke.
But what was Trumbull source? Was it his personal slam on hardtack he would tell in a fictional story to make it sound good? The joke about hardtack appears in his book in Chapter 3 entitled “Disclosures of the Soldier Heart”. In this chapter Trumbull uses several incidents which he witnessed to give insight into attitudes and motivation of the soldiers he served with. He cites various incidents of soldiers enduring hardship while still showing great dedication and fortitude in their service to their unit and their country. Then he makes the following summary statement:
“’Uncle Sam’ is very careful that his boys shall have good cartridges while in his service.”
“Yes, sir; I wish he was half as careful of their hardtack,” was the keen and respectful reply.
This dry humor in the expression of strong feeling showed itself in the ordinary soldier in every phase of his service.” [p.53]
Trumbull then moves on from examples of humor giving vent to frustration over poor rations to explaining how general humorous contempt toward cowards helped the man in the ranks resist the temptation to shirk his own duty in the next few pages.
Trumbull does not tell how the officers reacted to the hardtack jokes. Possibly his being silent on that aspect might mean the officer in each situation caught the point, knew it was an honest challenge about the poor quality of rations, and chose not to seek punishment on the man who said it. Can’t say for certain.
Henry Clay Trumbull (1830 to 1903) was Chaplain of the 10th Connecticut Infantry starting in 1862. The troops enjoyed his eloquent sermons, his dedication to helping and encouraging them, and his personal courage. He was captured at the battle of Fort Wagner on July 19,1863 while searching for wounded Union soldiers, and held as a prisoner of war until exchanged on Nov.24, 1863, when he then rejoined the 10th Conn., serving with them until they mustered out in Aug. 1865.
After the war, Trumbull became a prominent lecturer, an advocate for Sunday School being incorporated into the American church, and a scholar who wrote many books. Among them was The Knightly Soldier (1865 biography of his friend, Adjutant Henry Ward Camp, who was KIA Darbytown Road, Oct 13, 1865), and War Memories of an Army Chaplain (1898).
|Chaplain Henry Clay Trumbull|
Picture from Connecticut Historical Society collection.
Rustic pulpit built by Army Engineers
below Richmond Va. in the winter of 1864-65.
The 10th Connecticut Infantry Regiment was one of Connecticut’s most exemplary units, having fought in twenty-three battles and many smaller skirmishes. It was formed in the summer of 1861, serving in the early war coastal campaign from the battle for Roanoke Island to the assault on Fort Wagner, then on to fight in the trench as the Union Army pressed in on Petersburg and Richmond. They were present at Appomattox when Lee surrendered to Grant. The Tenth was one of the top 300 Union regiments in the Civil War (out of over 1,700), according to historian William F. Fox.
For hardtack projects check out my other posts tagged with “hardtack” such as Oct.22, 2022 “Why was hardtack so disdained by the Civil War troops?”