Railroad Transportation of Commissary Stores
   One of the hardest questions to answer, 150 years after the fact, is how army supplies were carried in wagons and railroad cars. What were the dimensions of barrels and boxes? Were they stacked on ends or on their sides? We know the number of pounds a car could carry, but little more detail than that ---- until a reader directed me to Google Books and a 175-page book, entitled "How To Feed An Army." In the summer of 1865, the Commissary General of the US Army sent out a questionnaire to many men who had held Commissary positions in the US Army during the war. The answers were published in this book in 1901, as the growing US Army tried to recapture the lessons learned from the Civil War.
   Though the data presented below is for the Federal Army, and is probably best case, it is as close as we can expect to get to the same type of information for the Confederate Army. There are probably three major differences between the US and the CS data. First, the Confederate industry was unable to provide the variety and uniformity of commissary items that the Northern industry did. Thus, the Confederates did not provide many of the items that the US did and never provided them in such abundance as the US did. Second, the Southern farm boy was far more willing to eat some foods than his Northern counterpart. For instance, the US soldier wanted salt pork and wanted fresh beef (3 days a week), while the Confederate preferred bacon to salt pork and frequently went long periods with very little fresh beef. Confederates were also willing to eat corn meal, while the Northern soldier refused it. Third, the "rations" referred to below are US rations; Confederate rations, because of lack of availability, were smaller.
    With those thoughts as background, I offer below railroad-related data from the Union experience. The comments come directly from the reports provided by the various officers and may contradict each other in minor areas. 
p. 21  In moving stores by rail, box cars are generally used for the transportation of such supplies as are liable to damage by the elements; for transportation of pork, salt beef, or bacon open or platform cars will answer. In loading cars with pork or salt beef the barrels should be placed on their ends or chimes and as many stowed as the capacity of the cars will allow. In loading with flour the barrels are piled in tiers; barrels of sugar, beans, coffee, etc., are loaded in the same manner as pork. Hard bread in boxes is loaded in tiers, breaking joints when practicable in order to give stability. Cars being generally loaded from platforms, skids are used upon which to roll the barrels into the car. In loading boxes they are passed from hand to hand until deposited in the car, where they are properly stowed by one or two laborers skilled in the work; unloading to be done in a similar manner.
p. 26   In my opinion the best packages are as follows: For pork or salt beef, barrels containing 200 pounds of meat. Bacon in boxes 20 by 20 by 28 inches, outside measurement, containing 225 pounds each when to be carried in the field, otherwise in casks. Hard bread in boxes 26 by 17 by 11 inches, outside measurement, containing 50 pounds of bread. Sugar in barrels containing from 210 to 225 pounds each. Beans in barrels containing from 200 to 240 pounds each. Coffee in barrels containing from 130 to 170 pounds each. Green coffee in sacks containing from 100 to 160 pounds each. Rice in barrels containing about 250 pounds each. Desiccated potatoes and mixed vegetables in air-tight cans. Whisky in barrels containing 42 gallons each. Vinegar in kegs containing 15 gallons each, or in barrels containing 42 gallons; the former are preferable. Soap in boxes 17 by 15 by 12 inches, outside measurement, containing 80 pounds each. Salt in barrels containing from 260 to 280 pounds each, or in sacks containing from 200 to 250 pounds each. Pepper in boxes containing 25 pounds ground for use, and packed in papers of 4 ounces each. Potatoes in barrels containing 150 pounds each. Molasses in kegs containing 12 to 15 gallons each. 
p. 28-29   Capacity of railroad cars and army wagons, in complete rations, in marching rations, loaded with one article only, number and kind of packages, and best method of stowing them.
   The dimensions of an ordinary box car are as follows: Length 27 feet (inside measurement), width 7 11/12 feet (inside measurement), height 6 feet (inside measurement). This gives a space of 1,282 1/2 cubic feet. The capacity of this car is from 18,000 to 20,000 pounds. Platform or open cars are usually 26 feet long and 8 feet wide, capacity from 14,000 to 18,000 pounds.
   When a box car is loaded with pork or salt beef, 60 barrels, placed on their ends or heads, constitute a load; of flour, piled in tiers, 100 barrels; hard bread, 360 boxes. About 6,000 rations (complete) may be loaded in a box car; salt meats to be stowed in the ends over the trucks, other stores in the center. 
p. 31-32   Cubic space required for the storage of 1,000 rations, of each article of the ration, in the usual packages.
   The actual cubic space required for the storage of 1,000 complete rations, consisting of pork, hard bread, beans, coffee (roasted and ground), sugar, vinegar, candles (adamantine), soap, salt, pepper, molasses, and fresh potatoes, is 107 1543/1728 cubic feet.
   Cubic space required for the storage of 1,000 rations, of each article of the ration, in usual packages is as follows:
750 pounds of pork or salt beef, 3 150/200 barrels, 23 756/1728 cubic feet
1,125 pounds of flour (18 ounces to ration), 5 145/196 barrels, 31 1509/1728 cubic feet
1,000 pounds of hard bread, 20 boxed, 56 472/1728 cubic feet
100 pounds of rice, 2/5 barrel, 2 864/1728 cubic feet
150 pounds of beans, 3/4 barrel, 4 1188/1728 cubic feet
80 pounds of coffee (roasted and ground), 1/2 barrel, 3 216/1728 cubic feet
100 pounds of coffee (green) 5/8 barrel, 3 1566/1728 cubic feet
15 pounds of tea, one-third of a 45-pound chest, 18 1/2 by 18 by 14 inches, 1554/1728 cubic feet
150 pounds of sugar, 2/3 barrel, 4 288/1728 cubic feet
80 pounds of vinegar, 10 gallons, 1 582/1728 cubic feet
12 1/2 pounds of candles, 614/1728 cubic feet
40 pounds of soap, 1/2 box, 1402/1728 cubic foot
37 1/2 pounds of salt, 1344/1728 cubic feet
2 1/2 pounds of pepper, 1/10 box, 154.1728 cubic foot
300 pounds of fresh potatoes, 2 barrels, 12 864/1728 cubic feet
32 1/2 pounds of molasses, 2 1/2 gallons, 575/1728 cubic feet
p.101   *** In transportation by river or railroad the cattle are usually not more than twenty-four hours on board and will not need any feed if in proper condition when shipped, and properly taken care of when delivered. They should be watered en route, and if the trip consumes more than twenty-four hours, fed. When the army is supplied over a long line of railway it is better to have depots at convenient distances, where the animals can be discharged and allowed to rest, and others forwarded in their place.
   Box cars will hold comfortably eight to ten animals. Both doors should be open to admit air, and the opening secured by planks or joists. Cattle cars carry fourteen to eighteen animals.
p. 111-114   Dimensions and capacity of railroad car (box car as used on military railroads during the war)
Dimensions (interior measurement): Length, 27 feet 5 inches; breadth, 7 feet 6 inches; height, 6 feet 3 inches; capacity, 20,000 pounds {note the frequent overloading of the cars in the Gross Weight column}
Loaded with present packages Number of packages Gross weight per package Net weight per package Total pounds net Number of rations Gross weight
Pork 60 340 200 12,000 16,000 20,400
Salt beef 60 340 200 12,000 9,600 20,400
Bacon 60 350 290 17,400 23,200 21,000
Flour 100 217 196 19,600 17,422 21,700
Hard bread 388 65 50 19,400 19,400 25,220
Beans 100 240 223 22,300 148,666 24,000
Rice 80 307 280 22,400 224,000 24,560
Hominy 100 221 200 20,000 200,000 22,100
Roasted and ground coffee 112 190 160 17,920 224,000 21,280
Tea *425 59 46 19,500 1,300,000 25,075
Brown sugar 80 290 269 21,520 143,467 23,200
Vinegar ^100 212 --- &2,200 220,000 21,200
Adamantine candles 500 47 1/2 40 20,000 1,600,000 23,750
Soap 240 92 80 19,200 480,000 22,080
Salt 70 300 280 19,600 522,666 21,000
Pepper 800 32 25 20,000 8,000,000 25,600
* Half chests     ^ Kegs   & Gallons
Stowed as Follows
Pork and beef -- On chimes; 15 long, 4 wide, covering the entire floor of the car
Bacon -- In tiers across the car; 3 wide, 2 high, 24 in each end, 12 between the doors on chimes; total 60
Flour -- In tiers across the car; 4 wide, 3 high, 48 in each end, 4 between the doors; total 100
Hard bread -- Boxes on the edge, end of box to end of car; 8 on the floor, 4 high, 32 in tier, 5 tiers in each end (320); in space between the doors, 5 on edge ends toward door, or side of car, 4 high in 3 tiers (60); leaving room for 8 boxes, 6 on end, 3 wide, 2 high, side toward door, and 2 on edge side toward door, breaking joints; total 388 boxes
Beans -- Same as flour, 100 barrels
Rice -- In tiers across car, on bilge; 4 wide, 2 high, 4 tiers in each end, 16 between doors on chimes; total 80 barrels
Roasted and ground coffee -- In tiers across, on bilge; 4 wide, 3 high, 4 tiers in each end, 16 between doors on chimes; total 112 barrels
Brown sugar -- Same as rice, 80 barrels
Tea, half chests -- In tiers across; 5 wide, 5 high, 17 tiers; total 425 half chests
Vinegar kegs -- 72 on chimes covering the floor (15,264 pounds gross weight)
Salt in barrels -- In tiers across; 4 wide, 2 high, 4 tiers in each end, 6 between doors on chimes; total 70 barrels
Pepper -- In tiers across, 800 boxes
    For the articles of candles and soap, the space is more than sufficient for the weight that the cars should carry. Although the capacity is given at 20,000 pounds, the weights in the foregoing table have been constantly carried on the City Point Railroad.
Box car loaded with complete rations -- Pork, etc.
Articles Number of packages Net weight, Pounds Number of rations
Pork 30 6,000 8,000
Hard bread 160 8,000 8,000
Beans 4 892 5,946
Rice 1 280 2,800
Roasted and ground coffee 4 640 8,000
Brown sugar 5 1,350 9,000
Vinegar 4 (kegs) 88 8,800
Adamantine candles 3 (boxes) 120 9,600
Soap 4 (boxes) 320 8,000
Salt 1 (bbl.) 280 7,467
Pepper 1 (box) 25 10,000
   Gross weight   25,767  
Stowed as Follows
   Hard bread piled as described for car loaded with that article alone, just filling one end of car; total 160 boxes. Pork in tiers across, 8 in a tier, 3 complete tiers, and 6 barrels in another; 2 barrels of beans complete the tier. The remaining 2 barrels of beans, 1 of rice, 4 of coffee, 5 of sugar, and 1 of salt -- 13 barrels, and 4 kegs of vinegar, between the doors. Candles, soap, and pepper on pork.
Box car loaded with complete rations -- Bacon
Articles Number of packages Net weight, Pounds Number of rations
Bacon 24 6,960 9,280
Hard bread 180 9,000 9,000
Beans 4 892 5,946
Rice 1 280 2,800
Roasted and ground coffee 5 800 10,000
Brown sugar 5 1,350 9,000
Vinegar 4 (kegs) 88 8,800
Adamantine candles 3 (boxes) 120 9,600
Soap 4 (boxes) 320 8,000
Salt 1 (bbl.) 280 7,467
Pepper 1 (box) 25 10,000
   Gross weight   25,457  
Stowed as Follows
   Bacon in tiers across, 8 in a tier, 3 tiers
   Hard b read, 160 boxes in one end of car. Rice, coffee, sugar, and salt, 12 barrels in one tier next to bacon, leaving the space between the doors for 20 boxes of bread, and the beans, vinegar, soap, candles, and pepper
Box car loaded with marching rations
(Three-fourth pound hard bread, 3/4 pound bacon or smoked beef, full rations of sugar and coffee, half ration of salt.)
Articles Number of packages Net weight, pounds Number of rations Gross weight, pounds
Bacon 32 9,280 12,373 11,200
Hard bread 182 9,100 12,133 11,830
Roaster and ground coffee 6 960 12,000 1,140
Brown sugar 7 1,890 12,600 2,030
Salt 1 280 7,363 221
   Total       26,421
Stowed as Follows
   Bacon in tiers across, 8 in a tier, 4 tiers. Hard bread, 160 boxes in one end of car, and 22 on bacon. Fourteen barrels coffee, sugar, and salt, on chimes between doors. It is difficult with present barrels to stow in rail cars and prevent breakage. If stowed on the bilge, the packages are crushed; if on the chimes, the heads fall in. The packages should be stronger.
{The same details about shipping and stowage in army wagons is also available in this book.}