View Full Version : Commissary Sergeant

08-04-2006, 12:18 AM
I'm brand new here on this group and to reinacting and I was just asked to be a regimental Commissary Sergeant. They have never had one before, so I need to get any information I can. I need info on period cooking implements and utensils, vehicles, tentage, and food type and recipes and anything else you can think of.


08-04-2006, 06:26 AM
Start with a copy of Kautz. There's a description of your duties in there.

Pvt Schnapps
08-04-2006, 06:38 AM
Try http://www.usregulars.com/library.htm

Starts with paragraph 495 of "Customs of Service for Non-commissioned Officers and Soldiers."

08-04-2006, 10:28 AM
Hi, David,

...so I need to get any information I can. I need info on...anything else you can think of.


You are asking for enough stuff to fill a book. :-) The book (actually, books) have already been written and they are a good place to start. Dave and Mike's suggestions to start with Kautz are excellent, and since it is available on line, the price is right. I have a couple of other references that you can download for free, too. The best advice I can give you is to read everything that you can find -- especially original source material. Find an event that will have a functioning commissary and volunteer to be part of the commissary staff. The commissary officer or commissary sergeant will be glad to have the help.

You'll find Sanderson's army cookbook here:
Some of the pages are upside down. Sorry. I'll get around to fixing that some day. But it doesn't matter. When you print it out, turn the offending pages around.

You'll find the Subsistence Dept regs, extracted from the 1861 US Army Regulations, here:
http://pirate.shu.edu/~myzieron/cwfiles/Commissary/Subsistence Regs 1861.pdf

Pages 306 and 307 of the regs are especially useful because they list commonly-issued rations, the daily quantities per man, and tables to determine how much you need for the number of men you are providing for. I use these tables every time I procure rations for an entire event. It makes grocery shopping for 400 or 500 or 800 participants relatively simple. You'll find some of this same info in Kautz. You will also find a chapter there on cooking, with recipes, at Paragraph 671 et seq.

I have more reference materials that are not on line due to server space limitations. If you'd like them, shoot me a PM and I'll send them to you.

OBSERVATIONS: 186x Army vs 2006 Reenactor

The army Commissary Sergeant was the wholesale grocery clerk and warehouse man for the unit's Rations and Commissary Property (scales, weights, measures, tools, forms, etc.) He was responsible for caring for the rations, storing them in such a way that they didn't spoil prematurely, get lost or stolen, etc; and issuing them properly. If he had fresh meat he was in charge of seeing that it was properly butchered. He did all the requisite paperwork to account for everything that passed through his hands. He was not the chief cook and pot washer. He was not responsible for the company's or garrison's kettles and mess pans, knives, forks and ladles.

Now then: In reenacting practice, there is a tendency to lump ration distribution and ration preparation together, so the commissary sergeant becomes the de facto mess sergeant, too. Mess sergeants did not exist in the army during the civil war.

Cooking responsibilities were often rotated among the men; if you had someone who was a good cook you ate well for a week or two and if you had someone who didn't care you were sick or hungry for a week or two.

An appendix to the US Army Regs, entitled "Extracts from Acts of Congress" is very specific about this:

"SEC 9. And be it further enacted, That cooks shall be detailed, in turn, from the privates of each company of troops in the service of the United States, at the rate of one cook for each company numbering less than thirty men, and two cooks for each company numbering over thirty men, who shall serve ten days each.

SEC. 10. And be it further enacted, That the President of the United States be, and he is hereby, authorized to cause to be enlisted, for each cook, two under cooks of African descent, who shall receive for their full compensation ten dollars per month and one ration per day-three dollars of said monthly pay may be in clothing." (We've never had the luxury of an African undercook. ;-) )

In functioning as the commissary sergeant or commissary officer (depending on the size of the event), I do not cook, except perhaps for myself. I will usually, with the assistance of the privates assigned to the commissary, prepare one special meal for the headquarters staff. But I do this because I want to, not because it is part of the responsibility of the position.

A couple of pix of the commissary at McDowell last year.

Notice the scales on top of the yellow box.

We bought a cow and issued it.

Original Commissary pix from the Library of Congress

Good luck to you

Ron Myzie
Occasionally, Commissary of Subsistence at better events.
"Reenactment Nutrition Specialist"

08-04-2006, 10:34 AM
If your unit has assigned you this task so that you can run their kitchen, then they have clearly missed the boat on what the job of the commissary sergeant was. Historically, the regimental commissary sergeat was responsible for the receipt, recording and further distribution of rations and related supplies procured by the Commissary Agent. If yoy want to get a handle on the paperwork requirements of your historical job, I would suggest that you get a copy of the appropriate regulations (you did not specifiy whether you were Union or Confederate) and look up the section "Subsistence Department" (in the Confederate regulations, this section runs from page 190 - 233).

However, if your responsibilities are to actually run your unit's commissary and do the cooking, then I would suggest that you check out the following sites and perform searches for recipes: www.civilwarinteractive.com, www.geocities.com/Pentagon/barracks/1369/recipes.html, and www.civilwarzones.com. One very important feature - get at least two large coffee pots - one for coffee and the other for water. You will need the latter for warming water for the members' use in the wash and rinse of their eating utensils. Also get a good small period correct hatchet for splitting up kindling. In addition, check out the blacksmith suttlers at the larger events because there is one that makes a hollow fire poker with which you can blow directly on the coals from a safe distance. The best thing for trying to restart your fire in the morning from the residual coals.

08-04-2006, 11:48 AM
I'm brand new here on this group and to reinacting and I was just asked to be a regimental Commissary Sergeant. They have never had one before, so I need to get any information I can. I need info on period cooking implements and utensils, vehicles, tentage, and food type and recipes and anything else you can think of.


Uggh! You poor man...

08-04-2006, 12:10 PM
The replies have been great. Thanks so much But, I guess I should have said I was in a connfederate unit.:oops: Most of the references I recieved were for Union soldiers/units. Any further references from the Confederate aspect would be greatly appreciated.


08-04-2006, 12:59 PM

Keep in mind the following:

1) Many Confederate officers were formerly US officers, so they likely brought common US procedures with them to the CSA.
2) Regulations, books, pamphlets and so forth were not top secret. They were often readily available through booksellers.
3) It is pretty safe to say that USA and CSA practices were quite similar.
4) A quick glance at that section of the CSA Regulations mentioned by Mr Pritchett might leave you thinking that you are looking at a slightly revised version of the US Subsistence Dept regs. In fact, you are!

Now you've got to do some research on your own. The Confederate army regs are available on line. There is a "Confederate Receipt (recipe) Book on line. Look for first person accounts of soldiers who wrote about their experiences. Go for it.