I may earn a commission from the companies mentioned in this post via affiliate links to products or services associated with content in this article. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases. Please read the Advertising Disclosure for more information.

During the Civil War, soldiers found themselves with a lot of downtime between battles. To pass the time, alleviate boredom, and maintain camaraderie, they engaged in various games and recreational activities. This article will delve into some of the games that soldiers played during the Civil War, highlighting their importance in boosting morale and forging bonds among the troops.

Civil War Playing Cards - Civil War Games

Civil War Playing Cards

Civil War Games


Chess was a popular game among Civil War soldiers, particularly officers. It was a game of strategy and intellect, which made it a natural fit for those engaged in warfare. Soldiers would often play chess during their downtime, using makeshift chessboards and pieces carved from wood or other materials.


Poker, a card game involving strategy, bluffing, and luck, was a favorite among Civil War soldiers. The game’s popularity was due to its simplicity and the potential for large payouts. Soldiers would often bet their pay or other valuable items in high-stakes games, adding excitement and a sense of camaraderie among the players.


Another popular game among Civil War soldiers was checkers. This simple yet engaging game could be played with minimal equipment, making it an ideal pastime for soldiers in camp. Checkers helped pass the time and provided a sense of friendly competition, allowing soldiers to momentarily forget the horrors of war.


Dominoes, a game played with a set of rectangular tiles marked with dots, was also popular during the Civil War. Soldiers would gather around makeshift tables, playing dominoes as a way to relax and socialize. Like checkers, the game was easy to learn, and its simplicity made it an appealing choice for soldiers looking to unwind.

Civil War Card Games


Whist, a card game that predates bridge, was another popular choice among Civil War soldiers. The game required skill and concentration, making it a favorite of officers who enjoyed strategic games. Whist also allowed soldiers to socialize and bond with their comrades, which was essential for maintaining morale.


Cribbage, a card game that involves playing and grouping cards to score points, was also played during the Civil War. The game’s combination of skill, strategy, and chance appealed to many soldiers, who would often compete in intense matches during their downtime.


Backgammon, a board game that combines elements of strategy and luck, was another favorite pastime of Civil War soldiers. Using dice to determine movement, players raced to move their pieces off the board while trying to block their opponents’ progress. The game’s fast pace and competitive nature made it an exciting and engaging way to pass the time.

In addition to poker, whist, and cribbage, Civil War soldiers enjoyed a variety of other card games. Some popular choices included euchre, seven-up, and bluff. These games provided a welcome diversion from the stresses of war and helped to build camaraderie among soldiers.


When not engaged in board games or card games, Civil War soldiers participated in various sports to stay active and entertained. Baseball, for instance, was a favorite pastime for many soldiers. Makeshift fields and improvised equipment allowed them to enjoy a game that was becoming increasingly popular in America during the 19th century. Other sports, such as wrestling, foot races, and boxing, were also common among soldiers seeking physical activity and friendly competition.

Dice Games

Dice games, such as chuck-a-luck and hazard, were popular among Civil War soldiers due to their simplicity and portability. Soldiers could easily carry dice with them, and games could be played virtually anywhere with a flat surface. These games of chance provided a quick and engaging way to pass the time and offered opportunities for betting and socializing.

Word Games

Word games, such as hangman and word squares, were another way for Civil War soldiers to engage their minds and pass the time. These games required minimal equipment and could be played in groups or individually. They offered a welcome change from the more physical games and allowed soldiers to sharpen their minds while waiting for the next battle.


Riddles and brainteasers were also popular among Civil War soldiers. These mental challenges required no equipment and could be shared among comrades as they sat around campfires or in their tents. Solving riddles offered a welcome distraction from the harsh realities of war and helped to maintain morale among the troops.

Importance of Games

These games and activities played a crucial role in the lives of Civil War soldiers. They offered a means of escape from the harsh realities of war, allowing soldiers to maintain their mental well-being and foster camaraderie among their fellow troops. The bonds formed through these games helped to build trust and unity, which were essential for survival on the battlefield.


The various games soldiers played during the Civil War provided much-needed respite from the hardships of war. Through chess, poker, checkers, and numerous other games, soldiers were able to relax, bond with their comrades, and maintain morale in the face of adversity. These activities were not only entertaining but also crucial in fostering a sense of unity and purpose among the troops.

Civil War Games – FAQs

  1. Which games were the most popular among Civil War soldiers? Chess, poker, checkers, and various card games were among the most popular games played by Civil War soldiers.
  2. Did soldiers only play games during their downtime? While games were primarily played during downtime, they also served as a way for soldiers to relax and bond with their comrades, helping to maintain morale.
  3. How did soldiers play games without the proper equipment? Soldiers would often improvise, using materials available to them such as wood, bones, or scraps of cloth to create game pieces or playing surfaces.
  4. Did games serve a larger purpose than just entertainment for Civil War soldiers? Yes, games played an essential role in maintaining morale, fostering camaraderie, and providing a means of escape from the harsh realities of war.
  5. Were there any negative consequences to playing games during the Civil War? While games were generally a positive way for soldiers to pass the time, there were instances where gambling could lead to disputes or the loss of valuable items, which could negatively impact morale.