Plate 61. Commissary Department, Headquarters Army of the Potomac

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Text and photograph from Gardner's Photographic Sketchbook of the War, Vol. II. Negative by Timothy H. O'Sullivan, text and positive by Alexander Gardner.
The commissary at General Headquarters of the Army of the Potomac was nothing less than an immense grocery establishment. Coffee, tea, sugar, molasses, bacon, salt pork, fresh beef, potatoes, rice, flour, &c., were always kept on hand in large quantities, and of the best quality. This institution was under the charge of Brevet Major J. R. Coxe, whose portly form adorns the photograph of "What do I want, John Henry?" Occasionally some command out of provisions would suddenly call on Major Coxe for a hundred thousand rations or more, and never was the gallant Major found unable to respond. Rain, snow, darkness, fathomless roads, or unexplored forests, never hindered his wagon trains. Upon him depended the sustenance of Headquarters, and the Commissary General and Staff. It was never his fault if they went hungry.
It was interesting in the last year of the war to witness the Virginia families flock to Headquarters for the purpose of purchasing supplies of the Commissary. Decrepit [sic] men, ladies, children, and family servants crowded the Commissary at stated periods for rations, carrying off their purchased provisions in the oddest vehicles, on horseback, and on foot, some individuals every week walking twenty miles to get their supplies. The provisions sold by the Commissary were disposed of at prices far below market rates, the Government only charging the cost price at wholesale; and as great care was taken in the selection of supplies by the Government agents, it was highly desirable to citizens to purchase rations. This was especially the case with respect to tea, coffee, and sugar, which were bought by the Government in as unadulterated a form as could be found.
Currently not on view
date made
Gardner, Alexander
Physical Description
paper (overall material)
overall: 17.3566 cm x 22.4366 cm; 6 13/16 in x 8 13/16 in
ID Number
accession number
catalog number
related event
Civil War
See more items in
Culture and the Arts: Photographic History
Gardner's Sketchbook
Engineering, Building, and Architecture
Data Source
National Museum of American History


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