War: The Organized Bore

Justice Holmes once said, “War? War is an organized bore.” Despite what you may see in the movies and so on, war is not a bunch of non-stop action. In truth, there is a lot of downtime when it comes to wartime, and this is especially true when you are talking about the Civil War.

During the Civil War and those that came before it, there were long periods with nothing to do. It would take days, weeks and even months, before there was a battle. The rest of the time was filled with marching towards a specific location and being set up in base camp. As such, most soldiers spent a lot of time looking for things to do to pass the time.

Games were extremely important and popular during the war. Games not only passed the time in camp but they also provided much needed socialization between the soldiers. Engaging in such activities helped keep the soldiers sharp and provided entertainment in an otherwise somber time of their lives. They were away from their families, without the comforts of home.

Through the many journals and diaries that were left by the soldiers we have learned that they played many different types of games during the war. One such game was baseball, using crude though effective bats and balls. Union soldiers were the primary source of knowledge of the game and they were credited with introducing the game to those from the west as well as captured Rebel soldiers in prison camps.

Another activity which was not nearly as widespread, was football. Football was played in a very early form but was extremely violent to say the least and was often times banned in camps due to the possibility of the soldiers getting injured and therefore unable to fight.

Card games, such as poker, played a vital role in the camps. Gambling was a well-seated pastime among soldiers in both the North and the South. Gunfights were the norm when it came to poker during the war, as the players accused one another of cheating.

Some of the most common games were chess and checkers, mostly played by those that had some sort of education. Many of the soldiers that were fighting on both sides of the war were young and lacked any sort of formal education. Still, chess and checkers became quite popular.

Actual chess boards and pieces were extremely hard to come by and most soldiers did not want to carry around the extra weight when they were marching between locations. As such it was common practice for these men to make their own chess pieces and boards while passing the time in base camp.

Materials were never in short supply, especially lead in the form of the bullets they use. Many soldiers would carve the soft metal rounds into any number of usable items, including chess pieces.

Thousands of these pieces have been unearthed over the years, some are very crude carvings while others are incredibly detailed. The pieces were often left behind when the soldiers were forced to move to a new camp and there they would make new ones.

These pieces are highly collectible and many a treasure hunter would love to get their hands on them. They certainly show that those men fighting in the war were resourceful and skilled at keeping the boredom at bay.

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