Games during the Civil War

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Games During the Civil War

The Civil War was a time of hardship, struggle, and sometimes boredom for soldiers of both the North and the South. All of the hardships that were endured during the Civil War caused many soldiers to find distractions to steer their attention away from the negative effects of the war, and to something fun that they can enjoy with not only themselves, but others as well. Checkers is a classic game that was played among many soldiers and their families at home. Often called “America’s Pastime,” baseball was a popular sport that was played by soldiers during breaks at camp. American football was another popular game that was played during the Civil War in camps. A pastime that was enjoyed by soldiers during the winter were snowball fights. Many card games were played among soldiers. Chess was also a popular game among soldiers during the Civil War. The games and board games that were played during the Civil War helped the soldiers to steer their attention away from the war. Soldiers during the Civil War played and founded many games that changed the way that they looked at the war.

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Checkers is a classic board game that many soldiers during the Civil War played. The checkers board has 64 squares with “checkered” colors. There are twelve game pieces or checkers that occupy one color each. To win, you must eliminate all of the other player’s checkers by diagonally eliminating them. During the Civil War, checkers was played among soldiers and their families. Checkers was a common game that was played in camps, where soldiers who were waiting for their orders would play checkers, among other board games, and many checker boards and checker pieces have been recovered from former camp locations from both the North and the South.

Baseball, also known as America’s Pastime, was a common outdoor game that was very common within camps that helped soldiers to stay active while they were waiting for the next plan of attack. The rules are that there are four bases, including the home base. The batter stands by the home base and waits for the pitcher to pitch the ball to him. The batter then attempts to hit the ball past nine fielders, and a team gets a point or a run when a base runner reaches every base on the field. Rather than the game dying during the Civil War, it would eventually get bigger and better after the Civil War due to the amount of soldiers and families that played the game. Players would play baseball to not only give themselves a distraction from the constant fighting going on, but to give themselves something active and fun to do during the long hours of waiting for the next battle.

Another sport that was played during the Civil War was “a very often-brutal version of American football.” (“Civil War Games,” n.d.) Football is sometimes described as being “more like a huge brawl than the game we know today, and often resulted in broken noses and broken limbs” (“Leisure Activities During the Civil War,” n.d.) which tells some that the game that was played during this time could have both positive and negative effects on the army due to the possibility of injury. Football was a modified version of rugby that was played in Civil War camps, and would grow significantly. Eventually, Rutgers and Princeton would play the first college football game in 1869. In the 1800’s, legendary rugby player Walter Camp would reinvent American football and it would prosper to what it is today.

During the Civil War, a common pastime among soldiers during the winter were snowball fights. Soldiers would often eliminate their boredom and take part in snowball fights. After a couple of snowstorms in February of 1863 blanketed the ground with over eight inches of snow, soldiers of the Confederate had a “friendly snowball battle amongst rival divisions of Confederate troops near Fredericksburg, Virginia.” (Ambrose, Henry, and Weiss, 2002) In this such snowball fight, thousands of soldiers that were a part of the Confederate army took place in the massive fight. Many other large scale snowball fights took place around not only the Confederate side of America, but in the North as well. Although there were many snowball fights that took place between soldiers of each side, none of the snowball fights would compare to the snowball fight that took place in February 1863 in Fredericksburg, Virginia.

During the Civil War, many card games were played among the soldiers to pass the time. One such card game that was played was different poker games. Many Civil War soldiers “spent the vast majority of their time in camp” (Huets 2012) which caused many soldiers to be bored. Poker is a gambling game that many thought of as sinful during the Civil War era, but desperate soldiers decided that poker is not a bad game to play. Another card game that soldiers spent hours playing was Whist, which “claimed gentlemen, and ladies when available.” (Huets 2012) To play Whist, each player must be placed into a partnership, and once the cards are dealt, each player will have thirteen cards in their hands. Like Euchre, a trump card is revealed and belongs to the dealer. The goal is to win the most tricks by placing the highest card down to win them.

Another board game that was played during the Civil War was chess. There are six different chess pieces on the chess board. The first piece is the pawn, and there are a total of eight pawns on each side of the chess board, and they are also the weakest piece on the board, as unlike all of the other pieces, they are unable to move backwards. The rook is a piece that “looks like a small tower.” (“The Rules of Chess,” n.d.) The rook can move “in a straight line horizontally or vertically for any number of squares” (“The Rules of Chess,” n.d.) and there are two of them on each side of the board. The bishop can move “in a straight line diagonally for any number of squares” (“The Rules of Chess,” n.d.) and there are two of them on either side of the chess board. The Queen is the “most powerful piece in chess” (“The Rules of Chess,” n.d.) and can move in any direction on the board for any number of squares.

The King is the most valuable piece on the board and a player loses when their king is put into “checkmate” or put into a position where they cannot move anywhere without getting knocked off of the board. The Knight usually resembles a horse and moves in an “L-shaped pattern.” (“The Rules of Chess,” n.d) Chess was not only played by the regular soldiers, but was also played by high position officials in army camps. Confederate General Robert E. Lee was an “avid fan” (“Union Officers Diverted by Chess”, n.d.) and he would even implement ideas from chess not only while he was talking, but when he would draw up his battle plans.

Games that were played by both Union and Confederate soldiers affected each soldier in many different ways. When soldiers were awaiting their next move in their camps, they would play games to not only pass time, but to distract themselves from the ongoing battles that were taking place all around them. Due to Civil War camp life being very tedious and boring at times, soldiers interacted with each other in many ways, and playing board games and sports were no exception. Many soldiers in Civil War camps were described as having “disease and boredom” (“Union Officers Diverted by Chess,” n.d.) which gave them not only a want for something to do, but a need for something to do to keep their morale high. Soldiers in camps also kept their physical and mental well-being in check by playing these different types of sports and games.

During the many hardships of the Civil War, members of the Northern and Southern armies found ways to keep themselves occupied, and decided that they were not going to let boredom and struggles overcome them. Among the many board games played was Checkers. Baseball was also a common staple among camps in both the North and South. A rougher version of American football was played among soldiers in their camps. Snowball fights were a fun way for soldiers to relieve stress and keep them busy during the long breaks between battles that would often give soldiers a sense of boredom. Countless card games were also played in camps by members of each side in the Civil War. Chess was a very popular board game that could be found in many camps, even gaining the attention of generals like Confederate general Robert E. Lee. American soldiers founded and played many games to keep themselves busy during the Civil War, and it helped them to change the way they looked at the war.

References

Primary Sources

  1. Kirsch, G. B. (2013). Baseball in Blue and Gray: The National Pastime during the Civil War. Princeton: Princeton University Press.
  2. Morris, P. (2008). But didn’t we have fun?: An informal history of baseballs pioneer era, 1843-1870. Chicago: Ivan R. Dee.
  3. Harvey, O. W. (1863). [Letter].
  4. Parker, A. B. (1863). [Letter].
  5. U. (1862). [Letter].
  6. Putnam, G. (n.d.). [Letter].
  7. Ambrose, K., Henry, D., & Weiss, A. (2002). Washington weather: The weather sourcebook for the D.C. area. Fairfax, VA: Historical Enterprises.
  8. Blanchard, H. (1864, May 1). [Letter to Horace Blanchard].

Secondary Sources

  1. Civil War Games Include Checkers, Chess and Cards. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.civilwaracademy.com/civil-war-games
  2. Baseball and the Civil War. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://pacivilwartrails.com/stories/tales/baseball-and-the-civil-war
  3. Pastimes of the 1860’s. (2018, October 18). Retrieved from https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/pastimes-1860s (n.d.). Retrieved from https://ushistoryscene.com/article/baseball-and-the-civil-war/
  4. Schaefer-Jacobs, D. (2016, January 24). Civil War baseball. Retrieved from https://americanhistory.si.edu/blog/2012/08/civil-war-baseball.html
  5. Onion, R. (2014, October 06). The Pro-Union Civil War Board Game That Was the Chutes and Ladders of 1862. Retrieved from https://slate.com/human-interest/2014/10/history-of-civil-war-board-game-1862-pro-union-game.html
  6. Lab, D. S. (n.d.). The History Engine. Retrieved from https://historyengine.richmond.edu/episodes/view/4569
    Civil War Baseball. (2017, April 17). Retrieved from https://www.alexandriava.gov/historic/fortward/default.aspx?id=40132
  7. Rebel and Yank Snowball Wars: Fighting Winter Boredom. (2011, October 01). Retrieved from https://civilwarstoriesofinspiration.wordpress.com/2008/09/20/rebel-snowball-wars-fighting-winter-boredom/
  8. “A Desperate Snow Battle”. (2017, May 11). Retrieved from https://www.battlefields.org/learn/primary-sources/desperate-snow-battle
  9. Kevin. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.civilwar.com/index.php/overview/soldier-life/148551-leisure-activities-during-the-civil-war.html
  10. Your One-Stop Page for the Basic Rules of Chess. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.thesprucecrafts.com/rules-of-chess-611533
  11. Schalk, K. A. (2006, March 13). How to Play Whist. Retrieved from https://entertainment.howstuffworks.com/how-to-play-whist.htm
  12. Huets, J. (2012, September 07). Killing Time. Retrieved from https://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/07/killing-time/
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Games During The Civil War. (2019, May 08). Retrieved May 29, 2022 , from
https://studydriver.com/games-during-the-civil-war/

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