The numbers multiply into new questions and ideas for how to think about three days in July, 1863. Count on it!

In early July, 1863, troops from General Robert E. Lee’s Army of Northern Virginia (the Confederates) met up with a patrol of Union cavalry on the outskirts of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Over the next three days, this encounter grew into a turning point of the Civil War. Lee’s forces battled against General Meade’s Army of the Potomac (the Union). When the battle was over, Lee’s army was defeated, and his aim of taking Civil War fight into the north had ended. The war would continue for another eighteen months, but Gettysburg changed the course of the conflict.


What beans, bullets, and blankets did soldiers have?

Daily “Beans” in Camp

“Beans” on the March



When the army is encamped (or not marching), rations are more plentiful because they can be stored (as opposed to carried), and were often provided by local "sutlers" in the community who came in to make some money off the army by selling food and provisions to the Quartermaster. A Union soldier was entitled to receive daily when in camp:

• Meat: 12 oz of pork or bacon or 1 lb. 4 oz of fresh or salt beef
• Bread: 1 lb. 6 oz of soft bread or flour, 1 lb. of hard bread, or 1 lb. 4 oz of cornmeal


Per every 100 rations (for example, for a company of 100 men) there was issued:

1 peck of beans or peas
10 lb. of rice or hominy
10 lb. of green coffee
8 lb. of roasted and ground coffee, or 1 lb. 8 oz of tea
15 lb. of sugar
1 qt of molasses
1 lb. 4 oz of candles
4 lb. of soap
In addition or as substitutes for other items above: desiccated vegetables, dried fruit, pickles, or pickled cabbage

Today’s recommendations for a healthy diet include:
3-6 ounces of meat
6 slices of bread
4 cups of vegetables
1 cup of dried fruit


How would a nutritionist today rate the diet of a Union Soldier?
What was lacking?
What did he eat too much of?
Would he burn off about what he ate or gain/lose weight? How could nutrition affect the outcome of a war?

Sources for this information:
Civil War Army Rations
Suggested Servings from Each Food Group


On the march, the soldiers don't have time to cook much, and there is an emphasis of travelling light and staying on the move, so they are issued just what they need to survive while on the march until they camp again. The “marching ration” consisted of:
• 3/4 lb. of salt pork or 1 1/4 lb. of fresh meat
• 1 lb. of hard bread
• plus the sugar, coffee, and salt issued per 100 soldiers

Assuming both Union and Confederate soldiers had similar “marching rations” while at the Battle of Gettysburg, and assuming there were approximately 160,000 soldiers at the Battle, there may have been all this to “feed” the battle PER DAY (Multiply by 3 for the full battle totals):
• 160,000 pounds of bread (80 tons)
• 120,000 pounds of salt pork (60 tons)
• 16,000 pounds of coffee (nearly 8 tons)
• 24,000 pounds of sugar (12 tons)


By comparison, McDonalds uses a BILLION pounds of beef per year, or 2,739,726 pounds a day! Starbucks sells about 4 Million cups of coffee every day in the US.

How many pounds of food do 100 average American adults eat in one day?
How many tons of food does your school cafeteria use in a year per 100 students?
How much food do international or disaster relief programs provide per 100 people?
How do these compare with the food for 100 Gettysburg soldiers?

Sources for this information:
Civil War Army Rations
How many pounds of hamburger meat does mcdonalds cook a day?
How Many Cups of Coffee Does Starbucks Sell a Day?


Estimates are that about 7 million rounds of ammunition were fired at the Battle of Gettysburg, not including artillery (cannonballs).

If one bullet weighs about 500 grains and there are 7000 grains to a pound, then the weight of 7 million bullets would be about 500,000 pounds of bullets (or 250 TONS). And that does not include cannonballs!

How many tons of metal does it take to build a major landmark like the Eiffel Tower or the Statue of Liberty compared with the metal used for Gettysburg bullets?
What kind of impact could 250 tons of lead left behind at Gettysburg have on the groundwater and the local environment?

Sources for this information:
Amount of ammunition used during the war?
Enfield design bullet comparison

If every one of the 160,000 soldiers had a blanket, and each blanket was about 65”x90”, how much area would all those blankets cover? That’s 5850 square inches per blanket. All together that’s 936,000,000 square inches! There are 4,014,489,600 square inches in a square mile, so that’s about ¼ a square mile of blankets!

If a wool blanket requires about 4 pounds of wool, and each sheep can produce about 15 pounds of wool per year, it would take almost 43,000 (42,666) sheep to make all those blankets!

If you blanketed ¼ of a square mile area surrounding your school, what fields and structures would you be covering?
How many recycled plastic bags would it take to make synthetic fleece blankets for all the soldiers?
Which would use more natural resources?

Sources for this information:
Civil War Blankets
how many sheep do you need?

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