The Civil War was waged from 1861 to 1865. As children of this era did not have access to DVDs or Wii, it seems almost impossible in this modern age to imagine what they did to entertain themselves. But entertain themselves they did. Civil War children had plenty of toys, games, sports, and other activities.
Wooden toys abounded: there were toy soldiers, animals, wagons, building blocks, jacks and marbles, and trains. There were balls made of canvas or rags, and the classic cup-and-ball toy, a small wooden cup with a handle and a ball attached to the cup with a string. The objective is to get the ball into the cup—which may seem easy, but is harder than it sounds. Children also had instruments such as drums, whistles, horns, and cymbals. Also, many of today’s popular boardgames were played back then, including chess, checkers (known as “draughts”), and backgammon. The board game LIFE was created in 1860; its popularity spread quickly. Girls had dolls dressed in brightly colored clothing of the day. These dolls were typically fashioned out of cloth or corn husks; dolls having porcelain heads and/or limbs were too expensive for all but the very rich and too fragile to withstand rough play. Toy weaponry was popular with both girls and boys. (As children, girls played just as rough and hard as boys. It was not until puberty that girls were to be fine and ladylike and boys were to be courteous, proper gentlemen.) Miniature wooden pistols, cannons, swords and musket rifles were the weapons of choice used in mock Yankee-vs-rebel battles.
Croquet was popular throughout the 1800s. This game, played both recreationally and competitively, is played by using mallets to hit balls through hoops in the ground on a grassy lawn. Toward the end of the century, however, its popularity began to be surpassed by that of two new sports: tennis and baseball. The latter spread like wildfire—by the time the war was over, baseball had quickly gone from curious novelty to national obsession, replacing croquet as the most popular game in America. People also enjoyed races: racing three-legged races, racing and jumping over hurdles, racing while balancing an egg on a spoon, and foot races long and short distances. In the game known as Graces, players used a pair of sticks to roll a hoop to a fellow player, who caught it with his or her pair of sticks and sent it to another player. With several players, dozens of hoops would be whirling to and fro simultaneously. A variation of Graces was the activity Running Hoops, in which one ran beside a hoop (much bigger than the one used for Graces), keeping it moving using only a short stick.
Many games that remain popular today were played back then: Charades, 20 Questions, Blind Man's Bluff, Hide and Go Seek, and Duck, Duck, Goose. Other favorites included Squeak Piggy Squeak. In this game, one child is the farmer; all others are piggies. The piggies sit in a circle around the farmer, who is disoriented by being blindfolded and spun around. Then the blindfolded farmer points to a piggie and says, “Squeak, piggie, squeak.” The piggie squeaks, and if the farmer can guess who squeaked, that piggie becomes the farmer. Other activities children enjoyed were playing cards, and singing favorite songs, many still sung today: “Farmer in the Dell,” “Ring a Ring of Roses,” “Pop Goes the Weasel,” for example. And girls loved to play house, while boys threw old blankets over tree limbs to make tents to play under.