" Clowns & Cannons, The American Circus During the Civil War"


Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Forum Host
May 12, 2010
Now Florida but always a Kentuckian
I have always loved going to the circus. As a young child thought many times of having a dog act in one. It seemed romantic and so adventurous to me.

I wondered about circuses during the Civil war. Did the show still go on?

This book, "Clowns & Cannons, The American Circus During the Civil War", by William L. Slout, is the story of the survival of the American circus during one of the most perilous periods in our nation's history. The events encompass the Civil War years from 1860 through 1865, a period of transition for these traveling exhibitions.

By the mid-century the physical size of circuses, both in terms of equipment and personnel, had begun to level off, and the "modus operandi" of the shows had begun to show distinct similarities. Performances were now fixed and varied little from town to town and show to show. The number of proprietors in the business reached its peak at the beginning of this period, and would remain stable for another decade.

There were just a handful of large shows, no more than a dozen, with another dozen or so companies operating in the mid-ranges. Horses were the major expense of nineteenth century circuses, requiring constant care to keep them going. Each show also featured fifteen or twenty human performers, including equestrians, gymnasts, leapers, tumblers, vaulters, posturers, clowns, contortionists, tight-rope walkers, jugglers, wild beasts handlers and tamers, and sideshowmen.

The 1860s were a time of survival for circuses. They had previously traveled the whole of the country. By 1860 only two managements, Robinson & Lake and Dan Rice's Great Show ventured into the South.

Mr Slout in this book tells how circuses survived, about performers who enlisted for the war and the many hardships and triumphs of the circuses during these war years. This book is a must read for circus fans and those interested in this part of life during the Civil War.

Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!

Fewer ads. Lots of American Civil War content!