The Main Pastimes of the Civil War

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When you imagine what life as a Civil War soldier would be like you think of the things that they had to suffer through and all the pain that came with it, but what about the times when they werent fighting during the Civil War, some free time was spent with small groups of friends huddled around the fire (Frank 512). Times they spent with one another created a bond and help create a sense of nationalism. The main pastimes of the Civil War consisted of the following: Gambling , sports, whittling, making music, and letter writing.

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One pastime soldiers enjoyed during the Civil War was gambling. Gambling was a great way of distracting the soldiers from the anxiety and boredom and it required little to no physical effort and a great source of entertainment. Which made it extremely popular among the soldiers and helped create a bond with one another. In fact 9 out of 10 gambled. One recruit even wrote to his father a young man cannot guard himself too closely in camp where to be considered an accomplished gentlemen it is necessary to be a scientific and successful gambler (Murphy 59). There were multiple ways in which the soldiers could gamble including buying raffle tickets for a nickel, drawing tickets from hats, betting on horses, cock fights, wrestling, boxing, raffles, even fights and races with the soldiers. They got barely any money which made the stakes pretty low, such as five dollars, a chicken, buttons, corn kernels, and matches (Frank 512). Some people believed that gambling was a great way to past the time however it got too intense and resulted into arguments or fights over things like losing or cheating (Frank 315). Ministers and priests often read from the Bible wanting them to repent for their sins but they got irritated with the service and went back to gambling (Frank 513). Ulysses S. Grant the commanding general of the union army, was a card player all throughout his life especially in the war as well as Abraham Lincoln another former president who like Grant learned at a young age. Lincoln learned when sailing a flatboat carrying produce from Illinois to New Orleans (Harris).

Another pastime during the Civil War was Sports. One of the sports that they played was baseball. In their spare time soldiers helped transform the game of baseball from a pastime in a small area to a national obsession. Abner Doubleday, a soldier in the civil war was given credit to inventing this game but it turns out that was untrue. Abner never claimed to have anything to do with baseball and he was in WestPoint in 1839 at the time when the game was supposedly invented (Who Invented). During the war the balls were made out of old shoe leather, socks, or woolen uniforms material stuffed with soft material and sewn together. They used carved out tree limbs or wooden posts for bats. The game was so popular in christmas during the war in 1862 40,000 spectators attended the game between the 165th New York volunteer regiment and another team including A.G. mils who would later become president of the Nation League when it was formed in 1876 (Baseball). Ninety-one former players of the Brooklyn Excelsior enlisted into the Union Army. One member, physician A.T. Pearsall, joined the Confederate side. When these men left for the war, they brought New York baseball with them, laying the foundation for an explosion of baseballs popularity during the Civil War (Frank 490). More athletic activities included wrestling, boxing, leapfrog, racing on foot or horseback, and horseracing, cricket, and in rare occasions they bowled using cannonballs to knock down rough wooden pins.

Whittling was another way to past the time, it wasn’t a popular hobby until the war in 1865. Not all soldiers enjoyed this pastime or had the skill to pursue it but the soldiers who did
enjoy it and have the skill would carve items such as figurines, sculptures, smoking pipes, fans, whistles, and ball in a cage out of things like bone, wood, and other materials they could find. A common item that was made was chess pieces, Lieutenant colonel Robert J. Lawrence of the 14th mississippi was captured in Fort Donelson TN. on February 1862. Lawrence was lucky enough to be exchanged for another prisoner in October but when he was a prisoner he stole firewood to carve a chess set out of mapple and black walnut and used broken glass and a pocket knife. (Whittling). Another man, a member of John Hunt Morgans raiders made a knife out of beef bone when he was in Fort Delaware and william hayes took it home with him. The knife has bumpy handle with crosshatch designs (Whittling). Whittling requires skilled hands and a lot of free time but in the end it makes beautiful soldier art. Not only did the soldiers whittle but Europeans and British as well along with most of the commanding officers including General Grant who was enlisted (Gettysburg).

Music was also an important part of the War. The soldiers found comfort in singing and creating music as well as using instruments such as drums, guitar, banjos, fiddles that they made out of wooden cigar boxes, fifes, bugles and harmonicas. There were drummer boys who served during the Civil War that were too young to fight but wanted to help the soldiers and ended up doing so on both sides, although some didn’t realize it at first. It kept the soldiers motivated, providing a beat for marching drills or just communicating to the soldiers that meals were ready. One twelve year old boy wrote But i was very small and they would not give me a musket. The next day i went back and the man behind the desk said i looked as if i could hold a drum and if i wanted i could join that way. I did, but i was not happy to change a musket for a stick (Murphy 39).

Some of the young boys couldn’t handle the life of the war and got homesick. To help with that they often used singing to help express their feeling like one southerner J.B. Lance of Buncombe county, North Carolina who was tired of life away from home. Lance wrote to his father Father i have saw a rite smart of the world since i left home but i have not saw any place like Buncombe and henderson yet (Murphy 29). Musical duels between the two sides were common, as they heard each other across the countryside both sides deuel with a song one night which turned out to be the night of the battle of stones rivers which turned into both sides singing Home! Sweet! Home! together as one. Kenneth A. Bernard called the war between the states a musical war, so when soldiers marched into the war they took their love of music with them and broke down the walls between them. Music passed the time and entertained but most importantly brought back memories of home and family. It also create a sense of nationalism. Bernard said “In camp and hospital they sang sentimental songs and ballads, comic songs and patriotic numbers….The songs were better than rations or medicine (Bernerd).

Lastly letter writing was a common pastime. Soldiers wrote letters home to family, friends, and loved ones and wrote about how they were doing and much they missed them and wanted to come home. Mail service for the union soldiers was time efficient during the war but the confederates never fully delivered the mail because of the confederate government but they made an effort to deliver the mail best they could so they could get the letter back as soon as possible in rain, sleet, or gloom of the night(Murphy 55). Some of the soldiers were not literate and could barely write their name but most spell things how they sounded for exampleeven the Sargints is holleren at you and the man in youre reer is cumplaning of youre gun not been held up rite . The conditions such as the lack of food concerned the women and often begged their loved ones to come back home. An Alabama wife wrote to her husband, imploring him to come home. We have got nothing in the house to eat but a little bit of meal If you put off acomin, ?twont be no use to come, for well all hands of us be out there in the grave yard with your ma and mine.

Young boys in the war often wrote about duty, honor and courage as shown in this letter to the boys mother Deuty while in the noble army of Northern Va and if I were to desert and lie out of this Struggle as many are doing I could not go any where but that the Eys of man and Woman would look at me I would feel worse than a Sheep killing dog.

Letter writing in the Civil War took on different aspects for the men whod left their homes, their wives and children, and their families. It kept them grounded and helped them to stay connected to the people they loved. Thousands of the letters still exist today, treasured by the descendants of Civil War soldiers.

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The Main Pastimes Of The Civil War. (2019, May 18). Retrieved November 26, 2022 , from

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