Shotgun's Home of the American Civil War

Entertainment in the Camp

    The best times came in the evenings, when all the drill was done. in summer, and on fall days especially, when the light lasted late, they sat around their tents or their fires and entertained themselves as have soldiers of all times. They wrote prodigiously, literally millions of letters and tens of thousands of diaries. Even the illiterate could pass the time by dictating a letter home to a more lettered comrade. Those who could read did so, devouring whatever they could find: newspapers, cheap novels, the Bible, political tracts, and sometimes even camp newspapers prepared and printed by fellow soldiers.
    Almost every mess had at least one boy who could strum a guitar or banjo, or play a fiddle. Music echoed about the camps every night, and if most of it was not very good, still it lifted the hearts of the listeners. A few regiments even fielded small bands to entertain, often augmented by groups of amateur actors and glee clubs. One Kentucky Confederate brigade even had its own debating society. Hundreds of songs enjoyed popularity North and South, but one outshone them all, signifying the longing of the boys to return to their "Home, Sweet Home."
    The rest of the time they took their fun where they could find it. In winter, a fresh snowfall was sure to produce snowball battles, some of epic proportions, like the one in the Army of Tennessee in March 1864, when whole divisions battled each other, taking prisoners and inflicting not a few wounds, all in the name of fun. They put on races and bet their meager pay on anything that would move, from cockroaches dropped onto heated plates, to men riding razorback hogs, or others pushing comrades seated in wheelbarrows. They played baseball - already an old game by the time of the war - used cannon balls for bowling at ten-pins, and even dabbled in a rude variant of cricket. They whittled sticks, carved pipes from soapstone, mended their garments, stared at the evening skies and daydreamed, and most of all just sat around the coffee boiler and talked, fighting their old battles over and over again, and boasting of what they would do when they got their next crack at Reb or Yank
    Above everything else, they made friends, the kind of friendships that lasted for lifetimes, as they spent their youth and risked their lives on the battlefields of North and South.
Source: "The Soldiers of the Civil War," by William C. Davis

This Page last updated 02/10/02


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