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Thursday, January 8, 2015

Chess During the Civil War

     To fill the long hours between marches and battles, soldiers on both sides of the American Civil War enjoyed reading. They read letters, newspapers, novels, the Bible, and any other printed material they could find. In fact, they were sometimes so into reading that when near enemy lines they would occasionally trade newspaper.
     Milton Barrett, of the 18th Georgia Volunteers, wrote in 1863: Our regiment has just come off picket. We stood close together and could talk to each other, then when the officers were not present we exchanged papers and barter tobacco for coffee. The way we managed this is with a small boat. with sail set it will go over by itself then they send back in return the same way.
     Sometimes soldiers published their own camp or hospital newspapers containing accounts of battles, poetry and essays. Music was another popular diversion. Gambling was also very popular: from horse races to louse races. Games like cards, chess, checkers, and dominoes could be played for money or if one was so inclined, simply for fun. Card games such as poker, twenty-one, keno, and euchre were played on both sides, but by the last years of the war decks of cards were hard to come by for the Southern soldiers so they obtained them by foraging them from dead Union soldiers, prisoners or by trading with enemy troops.
An Original Civil War Game Pack

     Wrestling, boxing, leapfrog, racing on foot or horseback, cricket, and bowling using cannon balls to knock down rough wooden pins were also played. An early form of baseball was also popular. During winter months activities such as ice skating, sledding, and building snowmen were popular. Being soldiers, they also invented a violent winter game...the snowball battle. Brigades would form up in lines, develop plans of attack, and pummel each other with hard snow and ice balls. Even officers joined in the battles, which often resulted in black eyes, bruises, and an occasional broken bone. This last reminded me of the "camel fights" we used to have in the Marine Corps. One man would get up on the other's shoulders...sort of like this, but just imagine it was two Marines:
   The object was to knock all the other guys over and be the last team standing. Officer's sometimes took part in these fights, too, and they were considered 'fair game.' Giving one of them a bloody nose was a real accomplishment. Some examples of chess pieces carved by soldiers can be seen at Sgt. Riker's Civil War Trading Post.
     Paul Morphy was in Richmond in October 1861 and the Richmond Chess Club was active during the War. They even held a tournament that had 32 entrants. Morphy may or may not have been involved with the Southern government during the war.  See my post HERE.
     General U.S. Grant was known to have played and General Robert E. Lee frequently played chess with his aide, Colonel Charles Marshall, on a rough home made chess table. Gen. Albert Sidney Johnston's intellectual past time was chess and his correspondence often contained problems submitted to him with his solutions. In 1861 Chaplain Warren H. Cudworth organized a chess club complete with tournaments at a place called Budd's Ferry, Maryland.

Original Civil War Set

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