Sunday, June 8, 2014

Civil War Soldiers and Practical Jokes

With so much down time in camp Civil War soldiers naturally looked for various diversion to pass the hours. Some played cards, some formed singing groups, some read everything they could find, some gravitated toward camp revivals, and some played practical jokes.

And,while contrabands in the Union army (above photos) and camp slaves in the Confederate armies came in for fair share of the victims, comrades were most often on the butt end of the joke.

Pennsylvanian Private Sidney M. Davis of the 6th US Cavalry wrote about some to the tomfoolery that he witnessed:

"During these days of wild soldiering the men were addicted to playing practical jokes upon each other. Sometimes when a party would be lying asleep around the campfire, with their boots out and their bare feet stretched out towards the welcome coals, a comrade would move a blazing branch closer to the glistening soles. Presently the sleeper would move uneasily and draw up his pedal extremities. Then the branch would be moved closer, followed by a similar movement, and this programme would be followed up until the sleeper had gradually travelled over considerable ground.

When at last the sleeper awakened, he would look about him with a bewildered stare, until the laughs of his comrades brought him to a realization of the pranks that had been played upon him.

There was another mode of dealing with soldiers accustomed to sleep with their mouths open. A long train of paper would be made and laid, with one end in his mouth, and the other off some distance. The end farthest away would then be lighted, and the paper would burn gradually up towards his face, and presently awake him with its light and heat. On such occasions it was a comical sight to observe the curious emotions displayed upon his face--the uncertainty for a time, and then the sudden consciousness that brought him to his feet with startling suddenness."

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