Playing Civil War in 1862

Here is an interesting little find from Slate’s history blog. In 1862 the Philadelphia publishing company Charlton and Althrop released this board game to promote patriotism and Union throughout the North. You advance on the board by landing on spaces that support the Union cause and lose ground by landing on spaces that threaten it. Some of them are quite humorous, but consider the execution of an identified Union soldier as an example of the latter. Serious stuff.

Secession Game

5 thoughts on “Playing Civil War in 1862

  1. Scott A. MacKenzie

    This is a fascinating artifact. The images in it reveal much about its creators’ views on the war. It lionizes the Union war effort thus far, making big heroes out of McClellan, Scott and DuPont, and the soldiers and sailors. It of course castigated the rebels as villainous foes. I liked the image about taking the oath to the CSA as being one with devil. At the same time, it has almost no images of African Americans at all. The one depicting a rebel cavalryman riding what appears to be a black man is as close as we get. There may also be one in the image of raising the flag over port royal, sc. The one image of the only white southerner to enter u.s. lines is very negative of poor white trash. Lincoln receives one image and no other real commentary. I suspect that the Philadelphia authors of this board game were Democrats.

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  2. Julian

    Fascinating piece of early design “repurposing” – those of your readers who collect Civil War ephemera may recognise some of the vignetted images along the snake – both patriotic and satirical – as being the same as those used on the printed envelopes that were so popular at the time. Perhaps the printer also produced these envelopes, but my feeling in looking at these envelopes is that they were copied and pirated from printer to printer and from publisher to publisher across the north – so the maker may be self quoting or copying from others. The rather bloodthirsty folksy graphics full of hangman’s nooses and various caricatures are typical of the humourous printed envelopes of the era with Union mottos

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    1. Kevin Levin Post author

      I just assume that these images were pervasive throughout the North. Still surprised by the execution scene in a board game from 1862 and used as a symbol of Union given that Lincoln commuted so many of these sentences.

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  3. Sam Smith

    Thanks for this! We got this out at happy hour last night. It was a rush to be playing a game that would have been played in those turbulent times!

    I put this together in a powerpoint presentation that a teacher might be able to project and play in the classroom: https://drive.google.com/file/d/0B-9CJLp09aelUkdsSkUwQS1CMGc/view?usp=sharing

    You’ll still need dice. http://www.random.org/dice/ is a clean site for dice rolling if you don’t have real ones on hand.

    Here’s an interesting collection of primary sources relating to the execution depicted on the board: http://www.nysl.nysed.gov/mssc/ballsbluff/execution.htm

    William Johnson was executed for desertion and passing information to the enemy. He was trying to get down to New Orleans and see his mother. He met a Union officer, who must have been suspicious of Johnson’s motives, because he pretended to be a Rebel officer. Johnson deserted to the impersonator and gave him information about the surrounding picket posts. Here’s Johnson’s confession:

    “I suddenly came across Colonel Taylor, of the Third New Jersey regiment, with his scouting party. I thought they were the rebels, but at first was so scared that I did not know what to say. However, I asked him who they were, and he said they were the enemy. Said I to him, “I’m all right, then.” “Why so?” said he. “Because we are all friends,” said I; “I am rebel too—I want to go down to New Orleans to see my mother.” Then he asked me how our pickets were stationed. I told him two of our companies which had been out went in that day toward the camps. He asked if I thought he could capture any of them, and I told him I did not think he could. He asked why, and I replied that there were a number of mounted riflemen around. The head scout asked me what kind of arms the Lincoln men received, and at the same time said, “Let me see your pistol.” I handed him my revolver. Colonel Taylor took it, and cocking it, said to me, “Dismount, or I will blow your brains out!” I was so much frightened I thought my brains had been blown out already.”

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