In times of war, many soldiers had long hours where they had to wait until they received instructions of what their next move was. Thus, there were often long periods of inactivity. So, what did they do during their downtime?
Reading was one of the most popular past times for soldiers during the war. It can be undertaken in silence, so it was perfect. Soldiers read letters from family and friends if they were posted abroad. They also read novels from popular writers, as well as newspapers so that could keep abreast of current affairs. Many soldiers also found solace and comfort in The Bible.
An interesting note made by a soldier from the 18th Georgia Volunteers named Milton Barrett, he suggested soldiers sometimes traded with the enemy as a past time. In a statement, Barrett wrote:
Our regiment had just come off picket. We stood close together and could talk to each other, and 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 a sail set it will go over by itself then they send back in return the same way.
Listening to music was also a popular past time with soldiers. However, instead of listening to a Walkman or an iPod, which were obviously nonexistent during those times, people would play instruments or sign around campfires and even staged balls. The movie, The Sapphires recounts the lives of 4 singers who were hired to sing at military campsites. It’s a great movie that shows viewers what it was like to be a musician during war-stricken times.
Gambling was also a prevalent back in the 1860s. Soldiers liked to play poker, blackjack, baccarat, and many other forms of card games. Roulette, of course, was out of the question. Unlike today where live-streaming roulette is being offered by gaming providers for convenience’s sake, carrying such equipment back then was impractical. Decks of cards, dice and chess pieces could be easily carried by soldiers, so they took them wherever they went for to keep them entertained during their downtime.
When in a safe military camp, soldiers participated in boxing, wrestling, baseball, cricket and even improvised bowls. Soldiers used cannon balls to knock down wooding pins that they carved from trees. Baseball, Rounders and cricket was played differently back then. The ball was either really soft or extremely hard – there was no in between. In Baseball for instance, a runner was only considered out when the pitcher hit the hitter with the ball.
There were plenty of other pastimes that soldiers engaged in, but generally these were the most common ones according to reports.