Extra Voices: Camp Sports

Library of Congress
Union prisoners play a game of baseball while in confinement at Salisbury, North Carolina.

In the Voices section of the Summer 2020 issue of The Civil War Monitor we highlighted quotes by Union and Confederate soldiers about the various sports they played in camp. Unfortunately, we didn’t have room to include all that we found. Below are those that didn’t make the cut.

“Monthly inspection by Division inspector at 1 P.M. He found the camp rather upside down, after which a champion game of base-ball was played on the flat between the non-veterans and veterans. The non-veterans came off victorious by 11 points in 61.”

Jenkin L. Jones, 6th Wisconsin Light Artillery, in his diary, September 24, 1864

Army life in Virginia (1895)
George Benedict, 12th Vermont Infantry

“At 2 o’clock, the regiment turned out on the parade ground. The colonel had procured a foot ball. Sides were arranged by the lieutenant colonel and two or three royal games of foot ball—most manly of sports, and closest in its mimicry of actual warfare—were played. The lieutenant colonel, chaplain and other officers, mingled in the crowd; captains took rough and tumble overthrows from privates; shins were barked and ankles sprained; but all was given and taken in good part. Many joined in games of base ball; others formed rings and watched the friendly contests of the champion wrestlers of the different companies; others laughed at the meanderings of some of their comrades, blindfolded by the colonel and set to walk at a mark.”

George Benedict, 12th Vermont Infantry, in a letter to his hometown newspaper about how Thanksgiving was recently celebrated in camp, December 6, 1862

“In the afternoon a programme of sports was given in the presence of the whole brigade and hundreds from the neighboring camps. Foot-races, sack-races, wrestling matches, and chasing a greased pig, claimed the attention of a delighted audience, and received much well-earned applause.”

George H. Allen, 4th Rhode Island Infantry, on how his regiment spent Christmas Day 1861, in his memoirs

“Among other things we sent to St. Louis and procured a set of boxing gloves. They were well patronized by the company and gave the boys much amusement and healthy exercise in learning the manly art of self-defense.”

Albert O’Connell Marshall, 33rd Illinois Infantry, reflecting on the ways in which his comrades passed time while in winter quarters in 1861, in his memoirs

Library of Congress
Union soldiers prepare to box in camp at Petersburg, Virginia, in 1865.

“I forgot to tell you the sport that we are haveing down here at present. Base Ball is all the rage and when ever the weather permits the feilds around here are filled with men playing ball. Day before yesterday the was a match between 9 of the 5 N.J. Vols (Officers) played against 9 out of the rest of our Brigade and the result was that the 5th got beat bad. The bet was for $100 dollars.”

George W. Fox, 6th New Jersey Infantry, in a letter to his brother, April 23, 1863

“Don’t forget to send my boxing gloves….”

—Second Lieutenant Frederick T. Peet, 1st U.S. Sharpshooters, in a letter to father, October 31, 1861

“I was sent out a half-mile from camp to guard the ammunition train. The weather was still threatening and raw. I got warm by boxing with Joe Taylor.”

Mason Whiting Tyler, 37th Massachusetts Infantry, in his diary, November 22, 1862

Library of Congress
Union general Alexander Hays

“[W]e had a fine game of ball in honor of General Hays, who had sent to Washington for balls and bats to enable us to play at good advantage. When the general and his wife came galloping into camp … our captain went out to greet them and said: ‘Ah! general, I suppose you would like to see the battery on drill.’ The general quickly replied: ‘No; I want to see them play ball, which they can do better than any men I ever saw.’”

Thomas Aldrich, 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery, on Union general Alexander Hays’ enthusiasm for baseball, in his diary, January 25, 1864

“Through the innovation of the Colonel another item is worthy of mention. We now have quite a number of foot-balls, and the boys keep them moving. The exercise will do more toward restoring the health in the regiment than all the blue pills in the medical department.”

Lucien A. Voorhees, 15th New Jersey Infantry, in a letter home, February 26, 1864

“What were the rebels doing all this time? Just the same as we were. While each army posted a picket along the river they never fired a shot. We would sit on the bank and watch their games, and the distance was so short we could understand every movement and would applaud good plays.”

John G.B. Adams, 19th Massachusetts Infantry, on watching nearby Confederate troops playing baseball in camp during the early months of 1863, in his memoirs

“Many of the boys had a revival of their school days in a game of ball. These amusements had much to do in preventing us from being homesick, and were productive, also, of health and happiness.”

George Lewis, 1st Rhode Island Light Artillery, December 18, 1861, in his diary

Sources: An Artilleryman’s Diary (1914); Army Life in Virginia (1895); Forty-six Months with the Fourth R.I. Volunteers in the War of 1861 to 1865 (1887); Army Life from a Soldier’s Journal (1884); The Civil War Letters of the Fox Brothers (ehistory, The Ohio State University); Civil War Letters and Documents of Frederick Tomlinson Peet (1917); Recollections of the Civil War (1912); “True Jersey Blues”: The Civil War Letters of Lucien A. Voorhees and William Mackenzie Thompson, 15th Regiment, New Jersey Volunteers (2011); Reminiscences of the Nineteenth Massachusetts Regiment (1899); The History of Battery E, First Regiment Rhode Island Light Artillery (1892); The History of Battery A, First Rhode Island Light Artillery (1904).

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