Monday, July 30, 2007
A Soldiers Life
Supreme Court Justice, Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. - a battle scarred Civil War veteran - recalled that "War, when your at it, is horrible and dull."
No doubt many old soldiers would have agreed with him. The typical Civil War soldier spent more time battling boredom that he did the enemy. The monotomous drudgery of army life, with its ceaseless round of drills, guard duty, and fatigue details, tested the morale of even the most pattiotic volunteers. One Pennsylvania soldier, in a letter to his family, informed them that soldering was "a very slow business."
Officers encouraged a variety of sporting events as an antidote to boredom and a healthful alternative to the temptations of cards and alcohol. Baseball was a popular pastime. In winter camp snowball fights would somtimes escalate to epic proportions. "It reminds one of a real battle, to see a thousand or two men standing face to face throwing the white balls is truly exciting as well as amusing," claimed one Union recruit.
Many units formed regimental glee clubs to entertain the troops, and amateur theatricals proved so popular that most winter encampments included several theaters. Lacking a female presence, enlisted men would sometimes hold stag dances, with soldiers dressed in women's attire.
Photo above: Pvt. Edward Collidge and drummer William Clarke, two members of the Engineer Battalion pose in character for a play they were about to perform. Tickets were sold for 26 cents each.
Irish units in the Army of the Potomac, celebrated St. Patick's Day with a steeplechase, foot and wheelbarrow races, climbing a greased pole, and what one officer described as "running after the soaped pig - to be the prize of the man who holds it."
Boxing was also a favorite pastime. Soldiers would square off for a bareknuckle boxing match at the drop of a hat. Enthusiasm for boxing grew with the arrival of prominent British professional boxers who immigrated when their sport was outlawed in much of Great Britain shortly before the Civil War.
Musical emsembles were also popular. Groups similar to the one above helped while away hours in winter encampments and provided accompaniment for amateur theatrical performances and minstrel shows.
Inevitably the time would come to sling knapsacks and shoulder muskets, as the armies prepared for battle. With mingled excitement and apprehension soldiers would abandon their camps and march off to resume the terrible business of war.
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