Fun in the Snow 1860s Style


It snowed today and a white Christmas is predicted for my region. Time to have fun in the snow!

Despite the war, children during the Civil War period loved snow as much as children do today. Indeed, the 1864 American Boy’s Book of Sports and Games included snow play among its many healthful activities for American boys. Under the category “Games without Toys” are included how to make snow giants, coasting, and snow forts:

To make a snow fort, wooden spades may be used, if the snow is loose; when, however, it cakes, heavier implements are necessary, as the weight and resistance of the blocks would soon destroy a wooden shovel. A snowball may be brought to almost any size, by first kneading a small one with the hands, for the nucleus, and then rolling it over and over, when it will gain size in its progress, until at last it can only be moved by employing the leverage of long poles. To make a snow fort, the foundations should at first be marked out, either in a square or circular form, and then clear out the snow from within, piling it upon the line of boundary to form the wall. A similar process goes on from without, and thus a good stout wall is soon produced, which must be considerably broader at the base than at the top. The size of the construction, and the plan, must necessarily depend upon the number of boys engaged in rearing it. and the supply of material in the form of snow. In a castle of ambitious construction, there should be a parapet, raised above the wall, on the top of which latter the defenders stand, to ward off the attacks of the besieging party. Loopholes should also be pierced, through which the smaller boys, hidden in the interior, harass the approaching enemy with snowballs. The height of the fort, exclusive of the parapet, should not exceed six feet, or seven at the most; and care must be taken, in piercing the loopholes, to strengthen the surrounding parts, or the attacking party may find a breach most conveniently made, through which they can enter the fortress, to the discomfiture of the defenders. The snow-balls used for the bombardment and defense must not be made too hard or too large, and all the military operations should be conducted with that good humor and love of fair play for which American boys are in general famous. (p. 27-28)

All good natured fun, of course, but also good training for future soldiers. The war was not far from the minds of the authors whose purpose as laid out in the Preface states:

STRENGTH, courage, and a wholesome spirit of emulation, are among the best characteristics of all really great nations; and the presence of these noble attributes in the Man depends largely upon his training as a Boy.

Though the pursuit of simple and healthy amusements may not actually make heroes, it may certainly cultivate and develop all the heroic elements that may be inherent.

So now we know how to build a snow fort and why it’s good for boys to do so, although I suspect there were intrepid girls who participated as well. (After all we now know numerous women went for soldiers during the war: “Women Who Fought in the Civil War“). However, as we will see, building snow forts was not an activity found in books for girls.

More on snow forts:

For a photo of a great snow fort go to

Compare the past with today: Here is a contemporary take on how to build a snow fort. Which set of directions will teach you how to make a better snow fort?


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