Cornbread is a uniquely American food and in the 19th it was a menu staple. Corn is a North American product, famously featured in the 1621 Pilgrim accounts as a hearty crop shared by the Native Americans. As the decades passed, corn remained a relatively easy crop to grow and a whole treasure trove of recipes developed for fresh or dried corn.
How “American” was cornbread in the 19th Century? Newly arrived German immigrants in the 1830’s made this observation: “It looked very tempting. The crust was well done and of an attractive brown color. We took it for cake or pudding; but when we tried to eat it, we all found it abominable.” (They eventually learned to enjoy the dish!)
Cornbread would’ve been pretty easy to bake in a kitchen, moderately easy in a Dutch oven over a campfire, and when all else failed, a soldier could try “corntack.” The latter item is basically the infamous hardback made with cornmeal.
Looking for a 19th century version of a recipe. Here’s “New England Corn Cake” :
One quart of milk, one pink of cornmeal, one teacupful of wheat flour, a teaspoon of salt, two tablespoonsful of melted butter. Scaled the milk and gradually pour it on the meal. When cool add the butter and salt, also a half cup of yeast. Do this at night. In the morning beat thoroughly and add two well beaten eggs and a half a teaspoonful of soda, dissolved in a spoonful of water. Pour the mixture into buttered deep earthen plates, let stand fifteen minutes to rise again, then bake from twenty to thirty minutes.