In researching my Civil War ancestor, I became fascinated by all aspects of that war. If you're a Civil War buff, check out my topics.
What Was Life Like for Children in the 1860s?
In researching my Civil War ancestor, I became curious about what life was like for his children. While my great-great grandfather was gone three and a half years with the 93rd Indiana Infantry, what was happening with the two young children left at home with their mother?
To find the answers to these questions, I'm reading a number of Civil War diaries and also researching the topic in books and online. I'm a retired librarian, and this is what we do for fun. If you have questions about what life was like for a child during the Civil War, please put your query in the guestbook. I'll do my best to find the answers and put them here.
The topics I'm starting with are what did children wear, what was their daily life like and how did they play (games and toys). I'm going to focus on childhood in the north, as the experience for a southern child would be somewhat different during the war and the life of a child in slavery would be even more so.
Did Children Have Sweets or Candy during the Civil War?
Yes, candy was available at that time in stores or it could be homemade. Cane sugar would probably have been difficult to get in the north since the production of sugar cane in the south was disrupted and shipping was dedicated to war activities. In the far north, maple syrup was made and across the north, sorghum was converted to syrup.
The family could dry fruits like apricots or plums to eat during the winter. Dried fruit concentrated the flavors and sweetness of the fruit and would have been a treat for the children and adults.
- Candy During the Civil War | American Civil War Forums - The Civil War buffs on this forum verified a number of candies were available in the 1860s. They mention horehound candy, Necco Wafers (called Peerless Wafers until after the war), Turkish delight, rock candy, Peppermint humbugs & peppermint sticks.
- Candy: What'd they have? - Civil War Re-enactors Forum - In this discussion, the re-enactors mention some of the same ones listed above. They added black jack sticks, peanut brittle, nonpareils, lollipops, fig and gumdrops. They also mention baked sweets such as treacle-puffs and apple-pasties.
- Food Timeline: history notes - candy and recipes that would have been used in the Civil War times. These included meringues (some with hazelnut centers), coconut candy, lemon candy (rock candy), cream candy, taffy made with molasses, and candied orange or lemon peel.
Checkers Was a Popular Game
This was an easy board game to make at home with some wood and paint back in the 1800s. Antique ones are highly valued for their graphic qualities. They make nice displays for the wall.
Homemade Checkerboard from the Civil War Era
Draughts or Checkers?
Draughts is an old-fashioned name for the game of checkers. There's an illustration in the October 1864 Godey's Ladies Magazine showing children playing draughts.
Other board games that were played during the Civil War era are Yankee Pedlar and The Checkered Game of Life. Some were educational games like the Multiplication Table in Rhyme where the players matched cards. The card game of Hearts was played at that time.
Military Related Toys Were Popular
Children Played Games Like Blind Man's Bluff
- I found a drawing of older children and a young girl playing blind man's bluff. It was an illustration from Godey's Ladies Magazine, October 1864.
- Hide and Seek is still played today but goes back many generations.
- The BoardGameGeek - The site explains about a popular board game from the mid-1800s. Called Dr. Busby, it included cards that were divided into 4 families. Read more about it at the site.
- The Authors card game was played during the Civil War. We played this card game in the 1950s when I was a child. I had no idea at the time that it dated back to the Civil War era.
Children Playing - Museum Activity
Other Toys That Children Had in the 1860s
Some were homemade or could be bought from the general store or from a peddler.
- Alphabet blocks have been around for ages. A toddler in the 1860s would have a fun time stacking these and arranging the letters.
- Little girls had china head dolls or homemade rag dolls or cornhusk dolls. Usually, the china head doll would have a cloth body. Sometimes the hands and feet were china also and attached to the cloth arms and legs.
- A rocking horse made of wood was a popular toy.
- Civil War Toys and Games - A great site with descriptions and pictures of many toys and games used by children during the Civil War. You'll recognize many of them (jacks, Jacob's ladder, dominoes, cup and ball, marbles, pick up sticks, tops, quoits, and a rolling hoop.
- Building blocks - As families made wooden items for household and farm use, the leftover pieces could become playthings for the children.
- The toy soldiers that children played with in the 1860s would have been made of lead or tin or carved at home from wood. Plastic soldiers are much more recent and weren't a material available during the mid-1800s.
A Civil War Child's Doll
Young girls learned to sew by making dresses for their doll. In the diary of Carrie Berry, she mentions walking to her aunt's house to get scraps for quilts and to make clothes for her doll. These would be remnants and fabric scraps leftover from making clothes or curtains.
Carrie Berry was a 10-year-old girl living in Atlanta when General Sherman and the Union Army captured the city. In her diary, she describes the effects of the war on her family and herself. You can download for free the whole diary to read: War Through the Eyes of a Child - The Diary of Carrie Berry
A Rocking Horse Was a Fine Toy for a Civil War Child
Make Your Own Rocking Horse
If you are a woodworker, there are patterns for making wooden rocking horses. I'm sure in the 1800s there were many variations on homemade rocking horses.
I found a vintage style rocking horse made of cherry at a site called Horse Hubs. Since we don't have woodworking tools, we could buy one already made like this. It looks very sturdy and has a mane of yarn.
Clothing Worn by Children in the Civil War Era
The picture at the top of this page is from a daguerreotype of Gertrude Mercer Hubbard, with her children Roberta Bell, and Mabel Hubbard Bell taken in 1860. Note the off-the-shoulder style worn by the standing child. This shows up in many photos of girls in the 1860s, so it was the style of the time.
Read a Diary by a Young Girl - from Civil War days
Village Life in America 1852-1872 Including the period of the American Civil War as told in the diary of a school-girl
This book gives a lot of fascinating details about school life, social activities, clothes, games, songs, and other childhood activities from the 1860s.
Available on Kindle for free download. You can also purchase it as a regular book.
The Reason I'm Interested in Childhood in the 1860s - I'm researching my Civil War ancestor
When Abraham Tower Bates left to serve in the 93rd Indiana Infantry at the end of August 1862, he left behind his wife, Nancy Angeline (Long) Tower with their two small children. Their son, Erastus Laban Tower, had just turned one that month. Their daughter, Laura Ann Tower, had her third birthday September 29. Abraham served in the Union Army for three years (six months of that time, he was a prisoner of war). Erastus would be four and Laura would be six around the time they once again had a father.
I found an 1861 daguerreotype of a young boy (yes, both boy and girl babies wore dresses at this age). It helped me imagine Erastus at the time his father left for war.
- Civil War on the Home Front
What was life like for a Civil War soldier's wife in Southern Indiana in the 1860s? Here's what I found on this topic.
- Women's Diaries of the Civil War Era
Fortunately there are some women's diaries published in book form and some that can be read online. They shed some light on what life was like for women in the 1860s.
- A Civil War Christmas
What was an American Christmas like during the War Between the States? Each family would have a slightly different Christmas experience, but I found out what kinds of gifts were given in the 1860s. There are descriptions of a child's Christmas and of
Children Had to Help Each Day
At an early age, children learned to help their parents during the 1800s. Especially with the father gone to war, everyone in the home needed to do some of the chores. Little girls learned to sew by stitching a sampler and mending clothing. She might make a small quilt for her doll. Over time they would learn to make clothing and quilts.
Children's Duties and Chores during the 1860s
A child would help tend the garden, pick the vegetables and fruit, and snap peas for the family meal. Girls would learn to make biscuits and other simple cookery.
The boys would bring in wood for the fire, buckets of water for the kitchen and help take care of the animals such as a cow, pigs, chickens and the horse. Older children would watch over the younger children.
Life Was Not All Play or School, There Were Hard Times Too
We lost our last hog this morning early. Soldiers took him out of the pen. Me and Buddie went around to hunt for him and every where that we inquired they would say that they saw two soldiers driving off to kill him. We will have to live on bread.
— Carrie Berry
Videos with Information or Re-Enactments - of Civil War Childhood
Would You Have Liked Being a Child in the 1860s?
Children Had Chores to do
Civil War Kid's Day - Video
Illnesses and Childhood in the 1860s - during the Civil War
Many children died quite young from illness or accidents. It was the custom at that time to have a photograph taken of the beloved child to remember them by. At first viewing, one thinks the baby is sleeping, but this is called a post-mortem picture.
- Chronic illness in the 1860s - On this forum, they talk of chronic poor health during the Civil War era. A child with a chronic ear infection might become deaf or an untreated eye condition might cause blindness.
- Plagues and Diseases - Not your ordinary genealogy site, this one tells of the diseases that killed many of our relatives in the good old days. It notes that "in Philadelphia, 1/5th of newborns did not reach age two."
- Illnesses that can be treated today with antibiotics like scarlet fever or prevented with a shot like measles might cause death or have long-term consequences in the 1860s.
An Informative Book about Home Life in the 1800s - The American Frugal Housewife
The edition I read came out in the 1830s, so certainly was available to guide the housewife of the Civil War era. It includes ways to treat various illnesses such as croup or first aid for injuries with the resources of the times. There is advice for having children help with the household chores.
It is available in Kindle as well for free reading. Great deal!
A Bed with a Handmade Quilt on It
Photos of Civil War Children
Because a person had to stay very still for the camera in Civil War times, you will see photos of a child sitting on a blanket. There is a little blurring. Actually the draping behind the child is concealing a parent who is trying to hold the young child still for the photograph.
I've collected on my Civil War Childhood Pinterest pinboard many photos for you to see.
A Child Only Had a Few Pieces of Clothing
A dress for a little girl would have pleats in the front which allows it to be let out as the child grows. A deep hem would allow for lengthening the dress as the child became taller. If the crease from the old hem needed to be covered, some braiding could be added for that.
There were no clothes closets in that time, so the clothes hung on wooden pegs on the wall.
Older boys such as teens wore pretty much the same clothes as grown men, but the jackets were shorter, ending at the waist. The jacket would have a button at the top, not all the way down. Young boys might wear short pants, but teens wore long pants.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2011 Virginia Allain
Any Questions about Childhood during the Civil War? - Ask here & I'll try to find an answer & add it to the page
Virginia Allain (author) from Central Florida on March 05, 2020:
Ah, Jeanine, your kind comments made my day. My husband says I spend too much time online, but genealogy and history have become a consuming passion. I greatly appreciate the opportunities for researching on the Internet.
Jeanine Clarice Gentis on March 05, 2020:
Virginia, your research & passion for history & your ancestry is amazing! I appalud you! I too love history & all things to do with my family's ancestry but you have done such a remarkable job that you should have a show on PBS or one of the History/Discovery Channel cable channels. Thank you again for sharing. Jeanine
nonya222 on March 01, 2014:
Great lens! Always interesting to see the human aspect of history.
Colin323 on February 11, 2014:
Very interesting introduction to a largely unresearched area of family/period history.
Virginia Allain (author) from Central Florida on January 02, 2014:
@Ann Hinds: I think the re-enactors are great. I want to go see some camps/battles to photograph them.
Ann Hinds from So Cal on January 02, 2014:
While the Civil War is a small part of my great grandmother's story, I find myself totally lacking in knowledge. I added this as a resource on my Scrivener page and pinned it as well. I am also following the blog. You have an incredible amount of information to digest and I really appreciate all the work. I do know a little bit. My son is a reinactor and I am making a quilt for him to use as a bedroll. I have the colors right and learned that the log cabin pattern was popular at the time. 4 squares down, 16 to go.
burntchestnut on November 09, 2013:
I loved this lens; both personal and historical.
Meganhere on October 24, 2013:
I really enjoyed this lens. I love history, particularly American and English history. Thanks.
rkhadija96 on April 22, 2013:
An interesting and informative lens, I am always curious about human in the past. Thanks for sharing.
Virginia Allain (author) from Central Florida on March 19, 2013:
@Sweetbunny LM: Bet they never had a free moment though as everything was very labor-intensive.
Sweetbunny LM on March 19, 2013:
So interesting, we have a family member who has a letter and the wife talks about spinning cotton to make her husband a shirt for him as a gift for when he returns. Much slower life!
Virginia Allain (author) from Central Florida on January 26, 2013:
@norma-holt: thank you for the blessing on this page. I found the life of a child during the Civil War quite fascinating.
norma-holt on January 25, 2013:
You have done a great job with this lens and it really emphasises the difference between then and now. Featured on Blessed by Skiesgreen 2013. Hugs
casquid on January 11, 2013:
Thank you for writing this. The Civil War Era is such an interesting time. I read a lot about then and have written a script for a small museum in Ohio. For six years, the play was enacted for schools, bus trips and private showings. I love History, but am too shy to bring attention to myself, that is why the details remain skimpy.
Virginia Allain (author) from Central Florida on January 01, 2013:
@Gypzeerose: Thank you so much for your kind words and for boosting my lens.
MariaMontgomery from Coastal Alabama, USA on January 01, 2013:
What a great idea for a lens. I really enjoyed reading it. Thank you & Happy New Year to you, Virginia!
Virginia Allain (author) from Central Florida on January 01, 2013:
@anonymous: I'd wondered about the photo myself. Since the hand is blurred, it looks like the child moved her hand (or his hand as little boys wore dresses when very young) when the photo was taken.
Rose Jones on December 31, 2012:
Congrats on making it to the favorite lenses of 2012. Your writing is always so, so rich. Pinned onto my history board, out by digg, and I think that I had already blessed it.
anonymous on December 31, 2012:
Could be wrong, but this looks like a tintype of a child who had passed away. It was very common to take photos of loved ones who had passed in that era and before. There were even contraptions to hold bodies and heads up in order to take the photo.
Virginia Allain (author) from Central Florida on December 31, 2012:
@MadeInAmerica LM: You are right about the within living memory. My great-great grandfather survived the Civil War and lived until 1930. Several of his grandchildren remember him telling stories about the war while he lived with them. Those grandchildren (great aunt and great uncle of mine) lived into their late 80s and one into her 90s. They passed the stories on to my Mom within the past 20 years.
MadeInAmerica LM on December 31, 2012:
This might sound strange to us with our TVs, and iPhones, and iPads, and cars, and space shuttles, but the Civil war was not that long ago - almost within living memory really. I can remember when I was a child in the early 60's there was a special on TV that featured a black woman who was then 100 years old, who had been born a slave. And my father, who is 85 and still alive, can remember his two great
grandfathers sitting under a tree together in their civil war uniforms - one of them union and one of them confederate. So it wasn't so long ago that people lived like that.
dawnsnewbeginning on December 30, 2012:
Lots of information here. I have always loved hearing personal stories passed down in our family about our forefathers.
Leah J. Hileman from East Berlin, PA, USA on December 30, 2012:
Beautiful lens on a very interesting subject. I had never thought about this before, what it was like to be a child during those years. I enjoyed learning.
swapnal-sarang on December 30, 2012:
My daughter had a historical day in school and we made the clothes on our own and bonnets and frills it was fun .very extraordinary lens
Stephen J Parkin from Pine Grove, Nova Scotia, Canada on December 30, 2012:
I would imagine that the civil war would ha e been one of the worst times to be a child in the USA.
anonymous on December 30, 2012:
The Civil War was such a horrible time in our nation's history. It must have so difficult on the children. This lens took a lot of research. Thanks for sharing it with us.
KimGiancaterino on December 30, 2012:
I enjoyed this very much. All things considered, we have it pretty easy today!
bossypants on December 30, 2012:
Very compelling reading. No surprise this made the list of favorite lenses of 2012! Congratulations on a well deserved honor!
kcsantos on December 30, 2012:
I just want to say thank you for sharing this lens. This is very informative and interesting!
Virginia Allain (author) from Central Florida on December 29, 2012:
@Nancy Hardin: Awww, I thank you and greatly appreciate this. It's one of my favorite lenses of mine too.
Nancy Carol Brown Hardin from Las Vegas, NV on December 28, 2012:
I came back to scatter some angel dust on a lens I really enjoyed and that I have now used as a quest for my favorite 2012 lens. It was a tough decision with all the great lenses there are, but this one had me thinking of what I was like when I was a kid, and how the two childhood eras would compare. So then there was no contest, it was this lens I chose!
anonymous on December 16, 2012:
What was it like for the children's memories? Do they like having their father and brother absent from home?
Virginia Allain (author) from Central Florida on December 10, 2012:
@anonymous: I have another page of Civil War Diaries to read online. Those might help you.
laurenrich on December 07, 2012:
I do not have any questions, but I find this lens to be very interesting and informative. Thanks for sharing.
Aunt-Mollie on December 04, 2012:
Impressive research. You've uncovered some precious information about everyday life in this era. Enjoyed!
ettorecolella on November 25, 2012:
This is one of the most interesting and beautiful lenses I read on Squidoo. You did a fantastic job!
Virginia Allain (author) from Central Florida on November 19, 2012:
@aesta1: I'm finding it fascinating to research my Civil War ancestor.
Mary Norton from Ontario, Canada on November 19, 2012:
This is very interesting piece of history.
anonymous on November 16, 2012:
I love how you take a personal interest here and broadened it to give us such a view of a child's life during the Civil War, I was wondering about that recently while watching a movie and you covered the subject with excellence, as usual. Congratulations on your purple star!
Virginia Allain (author) from Central Florida on November 12, 2012:
@CoeGurl: I imagine the "early to bed, early to rise" was probably followed by families in those times. They could sit around the fireplace telling stories too.
CoeGurl on November 12, 2012:
This is a very interesting topic and well-presented. Another aspect of life back then would be the lighting, which would mean the children would read and play by candlelight in the evenings.
Virginia Allain (author) from Central Florida on October 27, 2012:
@anonymous: Good question, Rebecca. I'll research that and make a separate page about women's clothing of the Civil War era. The first thing that comes to mind is Scarlett O'Hara's dresses from Gone with the Wind and southern belle outfits. I would think ordinary folks wouldn't dress that elaborately though for everyday work around the house.
anonymous on October 27, 2012:
i have a question off topic. Did the Women in the south Dress the same as the woman in the north. as in dress style? i can't seem to find any comparison done anywhere
Virginia Allain (author) from Central Florida on October 11, 2012:
@anonymous: This is an excellent question. Since my Civil War ancestor was in Andersonville Prison for 6 months, his health was severely affected. I would like to know how this affected his children when he returned home.
anonymous on October 10, 2012:
So... The children and their mothers were left behind as the fathers, brother, uncles, and other men left to fight. How did the children cope without a father? And if their father DID come back, how did they respond to the trauma that the men often dealt with after returning, both physical and psychological?
I have found plenty of stuff about the mothers and wives of the soldiers but nothing about the children so far...
Virginia Allain (author) from Central Florida on August 01, 2012:
@OhMe: That sounds marvelous, a history camp for kids to learn about the Civil War. Such an interesting period in US history.
Nancy Tate Hellams from Pendleton, SC on August 01, 2012:
I think reading those old diaries would be so interesting. I enjoyed learning more about the children that grew up during the Civil War. Our Historic Foundation does a wonderful job of educating the public on all aspects of that period and run a camp for children where they learn how to do some of these things.
Virginia Allain (author) from Central Florida on July 21, 2012:
@GregKuhn: Yes, the little daily activities, so different from today's way of living, fascinate me.
GregKuhn on July 20, 2012:
No XBoxes? How did they survive? Great lens; I used to teach history and love these aspects of our history!
Virginia Allain (author) from Central Florida on June 20, 2012:
@Gypzeerose: I love sharing information on Squidoo, so your compliment made my day.
Rose Jones on June 19, 2012:
Your lenses are some of the best on Squidoo, consistently. I loved the historical bent of this lens, as well as the personal history tie-in. Squid Angel Blessed.
Virginia Allain (author) from Central Florida on June 19, 2012:
@pawpaw911: I hope you'll make a lens sometime about your ancestors. Squidoo is a good site to feature genealogy and family history.
pawpaw911 on June 19, 2012:
I have 3 ancestors who fought in the civil war (father and son for the north, and one for the south) , and I too have wondered what life was like for children during the civil war.
The page is a great insight into what it was like for them.
Joan Haines on May 29, 2012:
Social history is so much more interesting to me than learning about only the leaders of state and army. I think it would have been a sad, hard time to be alive during the Civil War, when men butchered each other in battle right here in our own land.
CruiseReady from East Central Florida on May 28, 2012:
What an incredibly interesting page you have assembled here!
Cassidy Wadsworth on May 14, 2012:
This is a great lens! I've been a Civil War enthusiast since high school, but I never studied what it was like on the home front. This was very informative. Thank you!
Delia on February 24, 2012:
Wonderful and informative lens with great images...very well done! I will look up some of the book, like the diary of a young girl during the Civil War...
I remember getting candy during WWII from American G.I.'s
here is a ~d-artist Squid Angel Blessing~
MaggiePowell on February 24, 2012:
fantastic lens..great research, photos, info...definitely deserving of a purple star.
Peggy Hazelwood from Desert Southwest, U.S.A. on February 17, 2012:
You've done a great job letting us step into the shoes of a Civil War era child with the photos and examples of how life was lived. I'm glad we have more creature comforts now.
julieannbrady on January 18, 2012:
I couldn't even imagine being a child during the Civil War ... it must have been really difficult to be a mom back then too! Oh, dad too.
nyclittleitaly on January 07, 2012:
Really good lens. The Civil War was our Country's darkest hour.
Ann Hinds from So Cal on January 05, 2012:
My grandfather was a photographer and I have pictures of my grandmother dressed for burial. This is truly interesting and useful. We are going to Gettysburg for the 150th anniversary and there will be three children who need to get into character.
Nancy Carol Brown Hardin from Las Vegas, NV on January 04, 2012:
I'm back to read the part about the childhood illnesses. Such a wonderful job on this, and thanks for including the daguerreotypes of children who had passed away. I understand that was a common practice even into the Victorian era. *Blessed*
Pam Irie from Land of Aloha on January 04, 2012:
I will have to say that for civil war era children, I wonder if horehound candy was an acquired taste? I've never gotten used to it since I tried it as a child. One word......yuk. :(
Close2Art LM on January 04, 2012:
very interesting, a look back at childhood during Civil War.
Lynne Schroeder from Blue Mountains Australia on January 04, 2012:
Really interesting. It's difficult to imagine what life would have been like for a child in these times
Deb Kingsbury from Flagstaff, Arizona on January 04, 2012:
Really interesting topic. Children of today have such incredibly different lives. It's mind-boggling when you think about it.
Frischy from Kentucky, USA on January 04, 2012:
What a wonderful lens! I love learning about this era. We used to love to go to Harper's Ferry, and of course the docents there teach everyone so much about the Civil War era and what life was like during those tumultuous times. Fascinating topic!
Nancy Carol Brown Hardin from Las Vegas, NV on January 03, 2012:
What were some of the more frequent childhood ailments and how did they treat them? This is, of course, another of your excellent lenses. You have such a knack for writing about the very things someone would want to know about. Thanks for sharing a piece of Civil War history.
Barbara Radisavljevic from Paso Robles, CA on January 03, 2012:
I read a diary years ago by a Southern woman whose city was cut off from any outside trade for a time during the war. We take so much for granted here and now that it's hard to imagine the hardships the war caused for civilians on both sides. One thing that really brought it home to me was being at Gettysburg National Memorial Park during a living history presentation at Meade's Headquarters. Various women from the town were describing how the basements of the churches were being turned into hospitals, etc., and you almost felt you were there.
Linda Jo Martin from Post Falls, Idaho, USA on January 03, 2012:
I love history! This is the kind of research writers need to do before they write historical novels.
Tonie Cook from USA on January 03, 2012:
This is an era of history that has always been of interest to me . Thank you for sharing this information, as it will surely be of interest to those who research and write about the Civil War.
Treasures By Brenda from Canada on January 03, 2012:
Yikes, I'm mixed. Life was simpler but not all of that simplicity was good.
Evelyn Saenz from Royalton on January 03, 2012:
Thank you for teaching me about another aspect of life during Civil War Times. Another great lens! :)
poutine on December 29, 2011:
Wow! That was a fast reply.
|I'm glad to see that the children had jelly beans and gum drops even in those days.
Not good to eat every day, but once in a while as a treat.
Heather B on December 29, 2011:
Ah, life was so much simpler back then! Let's do away with all these modern games and go back to social forms of entertainment like blind man's buff...
poutine on December 29, 2011:
I wonder if the children were allowed to eat "sweets"....
Coreena Jolene on December 29, 2011:
This is an interesting view into the civil war. I have often wondered what life was like for my ancestors as I do research.