Entertainment

Public entertainment of all sorts attracted children, especially in the North where circuses and museums continued to be popular. Of much interest were panoramas, extremely detailed illustrations. For a small fee, patrons could watch as the painting moved across a space, unwinding off one huge spool and onto the other accompanied by appropriate music. The works depicted the life stories of famous individuals such as the founding fathers, generals, or Abraham Lincoln. Panoramas often illustrated the stories from the Bible or the action of major battles. In the prewar years, the exhibitions tried to reinforce the lessons and values of the middle class. During the war, such things provided information, but their main purpose was to entertain and to distract the observers from the stresses of life in a nation at war. One panorama featured a fictional character that appeared in several of the panels and the children had fun looking for the figure and determining his meaning in the illustration.

Children who lived near the camps where the armies trained had a ready source of entertainment. They accompanied adults, or snuck off on their own, to watch the soldiers drill and to attend dress parades. The crisp uniforms, the martial music, and the gaily fluttering flags made the early days of the war exciting. Following the ceremonies, the children and the adults mingled among the tents and inspected the soldiers' gear. The prominence of the military in national life presented new possibilities for entertainment. For children near major waterways, naval vessels could be visited when they were in port. In an attempt to mimic the noise guns made, little boys wanted firecrackers to celebrate events large or small.

Boys whose older relatives planned to enlist had clear role models. One 10-year-old boy watched in awe as his two uncles tried to learn the manual arms. The men bought an old musket and a copy of a book of tactics and ''worked seriously in a business like manner'' so they would be ready for service (Elmore 1910, 54-59). The boy kept a constant vigil, not so much from admiration but on the off chance that he might be able to play with the weapon once in a while.

Visits to camps and ships and the presence of men preparing for war led to a new spirit of militarization among the children, who begged for their own miniature uniforms, toy guns, and small drums. Popular periodicals for adults took note of the change just as those for children did. An illustration in one, labeled ''The Fourth of July,'' showed two small children dressed in military uniforms beating bright drums while their mother cowered in the background with her hands clapped over her ears and a look of pain on her face.

The war brought many new items into the world of children. Valentines were fairly new to the people of the 19th century. During the war, Valentine's Day cards with images of soldiers were available. They reflected the longing of both the soldiers and the members of their families for a restoration of the family circle. Other cards made fun of the home guards. These units recruited men too old for the rigors of long campaigns, boys

Like many young boys across America, P. H. Martin dressed up in a uniform to play war (1862). (Library of Congress)

too young for the regular army, and men home on long furloughs because of illness or injury. Among the members were men who were suspected of using their membership in the home guard as an excuse for avoiding regular service—thus the term ''shirkers.''

Schoolyards soon reflected the observations the children made about the uses of the military men. The simple play of children became politicized and militarized. Name-calling reflected the sides in the war. Like gang members in modern-day America, children often wore symbols that indicated their connections. Those that represented the Northern forces pinned or sewed the brass buttons of the Union Army onto their clothing, while Southern sympathizers fastened the halves of walnut hulls to theirs. The symbols attracted much attention and caused many schoolyard fights. Gangs also adopted such signals, and whether the groups were just friends who wandered around together getting into mischief or groups with more sinister intents, their activities took on a more warlike manner than they had in the prewar years.

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