Last week it was time to change our display over at Fort Detrick. The theme for the current exhibit is Civil War games. Since this is a medical museum, you might not expect to find game-related artifacts here. We do have some though, which can be seen in our Camp Life display to illustrate how the surgeons and the soldiers coped with their time in camp.
So, how do games relate to Civil War medicine?
Much of a Civil War soldier’s life was spent in camp, and camp life could be quite tedious. One method of occupying their time was to play games. Many of the games the soldiers played are familiar classics like card games, dice games, checkers, backgammon, chess, horseshoes, and dominoes. In the winter there were sometimes snowball fights. Other games, like lice races and cockroach races, were invented due to the conditions in the camps! Soldiers also participated in team sports such as baseball, and an early form of football.
Playing games helped to ease the boredom of camp life, and gave the soldiers a temporary “escape” from the war. Playing sports had the added bonus of contributing to the physical fitness of the soldiers. Playing together on teams could also help to create a team spirit and camaraderie among the men. So, these camp games did play a role in bolstering the men’s physical and mental well-being.
Photos courtesy of the National Museum of Civil War Medicine, except where otherwise noted.
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