Soldier Games and Hot Plates

a few months ago

Confederate Sam Watkins of Company H, 1st Tennessee Regiment, had a lot of stories to tell about the happenings on and off the battlefield during the Civil War. You probably have read one of them in one a recent email or blog “Halt! Who Goes There?” and blog about how he spent hours in a Federal camp, pretending to be a Yankee, gathering valuable intelligence for General Polk.

Sam had an amazing career as a soldier. When he enlisted 1861 there were 120 men in his company. Two weeks after Appomattox, he was one of only seven remaining. He had been shot three times, captured three times, and escaped three times.

After the war, he put all of his experience into a book. In one excerpt he wrote: wrote:

“I always shot at privates. It was they that did the shooting and killing, and if I could kill or wound a private, why, my chances were so much the better. I always looked upon officers as harmless…”

A soldier’s life was often dull with not much to do to kill the boredom. Soldiers would invent ways to entertain themselves, but most did manage to spend a lot of time playing poker and chuck-a-luck (gambling with three dice). Their commanding officers were not too happy about the gambling, and discouraged it, but it was pretty hard for them to stop.

One of their most unusual competitive games involved a plate and some lice. It seems that the boys of Company H would hold races with lice. Watkins explains how one guy in particular named Dornin would always win the money:

“We could not understand it … The lice were placed in plates … and the first that crawled off was the winner. At last we found Dornin’s trick; he always heated his plate.”

Boys will be boys, no matter where they are!

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