Civil War Soldiers Leisure Time & Baseball
In both the North and the South, while in camp, free time was spent writing letters home, playing cards, pitching horseshoes, reading, listening to music, cleaning uniforms and equipment, sleeping, praying, gambling, foraging, and playing sports like boxing, horse racing, foot racing, and baseball.
Baseball had been invented prior to the Civil War, but it had not yet caught on as a national sport. Games were held mostly in New York with some in New Jersey. When President Lincoln discovered baseball, he loved it. He had a baseball field set up on the White House grounds. He allowed kids to play there, and occasionally played baseball on his field himself. When the Civil War began, the Union army distributed New York baseball rule book to the troops. Baseball was a game easy to set up, took very little equipment, and kept the men busy. The game quickly became popular with Union soldiers. Southern troops learned the game of baseball from Union prisoners. There were about 160 prisoner of war camps. Conditions in all prison camps were horrible. But not all of them were the nightmare of the Confederate prison at Andersonville or the Union prisons at Elmira and Rock Island. In some prison camps, both sides set up a baseball team and played each other, North against South.