Sometimes it’s hard to remember that Civil War soldiers were no different than teenagers and college students today. But many were in their teens or twenties, so it should not surprise us to learn that soldiers liked to play practical jokes on each other, particularly in the boredom of winter, when campaigning was put on hold and armies settled into winter quarters.
Of course, snowball fights were a favorite pastime. See our previous post “Snowball Fight!!” here. But simple pranks were just as much fun—for both the giver and the receiver!
In February of 1863, the 3rd South Carolina Infantry was in winter quarters near Fredericksburg, Va. On the 27th, Cpl. Taliaferro “Tally” Simpson wrote home of the fun he and his friends had after ten inches of snow fell.
They decided to play a joke on their colonel and some of the other officers. They went to the colonel’s quarters armed with eight or ten snowballs each, and put a blanket over the chimney. Capt. Langston had been told about the joke ahead of time, so as soon as he realized the blanket was in place, he added more logs to the fire and went out to join the pranksters.
The tent filled with smoke, and one of the officers went out to see what was wrong with the chimney. He was immediately bombarded with a dozen snowballs and forced back inside. Tally wrote, “then they began to smell a rat. They laughed, halloed, and begged us strenuously to have mercy on them. But twas no go.”
They managed to pull the blanket off, but Capt. Langston fetched a saddle blanket which Tally held on top of the chimney again. By then the rolling smoke was so thick that Maj. Maffett poked his nose through a hole he cut in the canvas, and Lt. Johnson put his head under the door for air.
“They begged, threatened, and told us they would pay us back some day, all to no go. Finally they could bear it no longer, and they rushed out amid a storm of snow balls and lit in to fighting us like good fellows. But our party was too strong, and they had to knuck under. They enjoyed it as much as we did, and we all laughed heartily over it.”
May you enjoy some fun in the snow this winter, until, as Tally ended his story, “The snow is gone, and the fun is up.”