The writing of Hard Tack and Coffee was the result of a reunion of Civil War veterans at a White Mountain resort in 1881. There, the author entertained listeners with stories of his personal experiences of army life. Although far from complete, the topics of interest are more suggestive of reality. Unlike histories written of the Civil War whose subjects are battles or the campaigns of generals, this book is an attempt to record daily army life in detail. Hard Tack and Coffee relates stories about enlisting, life in tents, and offenses and punishments for soldiers in the Engineering and Signal Corps.
Charles W. Reed illustrated this version with six plates of Corp Badges and over two hundred original sketches. Reflecting many of the sights and scenes from the era.