Much of a Civil War soldier’s life was spent in camp, and camp life could be quite tedious. Soldiers quickly came up with games to occupy their time. Many of the games are old standards like card games, checkers, chess, and dominoes. Other games, like lice races and cockroach races, were invented due to the conditions in the camp! They also played a game which would later become known as our National Pastime.
Playing baseball helped to ease the boredom of camp life, gave the soldiers an escape from the war, helped to maintain their physical fitness, and created a team spirit among the men. Some soldiers took baseball equipment to war with them. When they had no equipment they had to improvise with fence posts or tree branches for bats, and rag-wrapped walnuts for balls.
|An illustration of Union prisoners at Salisbury, North Carolina playing baseball. |
Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress.
Sometimes the camp baseball game would be interrupted by a battle. A Union soldier named George Putnam once wrote about a game that was cut short by a surprise attack on their camp in Alexandria, Texas. In his words:
Suddenly there was a scattering of fire, which three outfielders caught the brunt; the centerfield was hit and was captured, left and right field managed to get back to our lines. The attack...was repelled without serious difficulty, but we had lost not only our centerfield, but...the only baseball in Alexandria, Texas.
It is difficult to discern from his account whether he was more upset over losing a comrade or their baseball! It does give an idea of how much the men enjoyed the game. In fact, the popularity of the sport surged after the war.
So, when our museum was contacted to participate in History Days at the stadium of our local class A baseball team, the Frederick Keys, we happily accepted. We set up a table which had information about Civil War medicine, and the middle school students there had to find answers for their history packets. The pace was a bit frantic at times, but I think the students learned at least a little bit from us!
|Students hunting for their answers at our table.|
|Here are the questions for the students. How many of them can you answer correctly?|
|Tom dressed as a Civil War soldier and demonstrated how to shoot a musket. The first baseman got in on the fun and fell down after the shot. That certainly got everyone’s attention!|
Once the game started, most of the students found their seats. It gave us a chance to enjoy watching the game too.
|Here’s George Wunderlich, the Executive Director of the NMCWM, on the big screen, telling the crowd about baseball and the Civil War.|
|Now that the crowd has thinned out we can watch the game.|