Playing War, Images Of Childhood Interrupted

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JPK Huson 1863

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kid gun 1 resized.jpg

Era photos can tell us a lot of what our society was going through at the time. It can be useful when dating orphaned photographs, like this ferociously garbed small boy. Rifle, sash and Zouave pants? Bet a lot of money this is from early in the war, 1861, maybe 1862. Time to play the war his father marched off to join.


kid gun 1861 new haven.jpg

Handwritten notation on this 1861 photograph states " Taken at New Haven ". Pretty obviously not a ' real ' soldier, this child's uniform is a meticulous reflection of patriotic fervor- note the peter pan collar. Some mother just couldn't resist. Still, it seems clear there was a comfort zone surrounding weapons and kids. Eerie to us, serious play for our ancestors.

Remember Ralph's mother? Don't ask Ralph who? Ralph whose mother insisted a BB gun would " shoot his eye out ". She does every December as soon as cable stations begin airing " A Christmas Story ". Guns 'n kids. There are a lot of un-nostalgic, not at all cute horror stories involving the what-happens when children are let loose with one of those things and the thread's intent sure isn't over the current debate.

kid dixie primer lesson gun.jpg

From a pre-war alphabet and beginner spelling book, " The Dixie Primer ". There's no ' G is for Gun ' or ' R is for Rifle '. This is just the image used to represent the entire book. Baffling 160 years later.

I do remember Dad coming home with a long box, unwrapping it on the kitchen table and calling we girls. Think I was 8? It was a very light weight .22 rifle. Dad's take was well, he wanted girls and got them. If he had girls, he said, it'd be wise to teach them to shoot. That's a true story. Mom's protest went unheeded and was a little hollow anyway. We still have her father's gift to her as a little girl one year- it's an ornate version of the .22 Dad brought home. Still, no play, all " pay attention, this isn't a toy ". It's funny, we weren't allowed toy weapons, just a serious take on real ones.

kid gun 2.jpg

Is that a secession rosette on his chest? There's some serious imagery. If so, you could place this child around 1860-1861

Not just guns, children and weapons of war have been around for awhile. Westerns were pretty big noise as recently as a few decades ago, silly sagas of ' Injuns ' and cowboys were repeated on endless playgrounds although the tin soldiers of their ancestors are now collector items. You can still buy little green warriors, those plastic dime store tanks and a few sheriff badges although I haven't seen them lately.

kid gun sword toy.jpg

Sword and soldier tell us this child is probably a boy, his mother still clinging to the then-popular dress and curls we insisted was just fine for small boys.

It's just different, realizations come slowly, ' times ' change with terrific reason. We're different, our society is unrecognizable from our ancestors', children are certainly different and expectations for them vastly different. Heck, " Children should be seen and not heard ", a parent's mantra when I was a kid has been replaced with placing children on the best chair in the room. Little unsure it's been a good idea although not the point of the thread.

kid gun 3.jpg

I ' think ' he's holding a toy sabre?

kid gun sword.jpg

And another, a soldier's toy tent, kepi and cannon displayed in this child's play scene. It's an unusual pose, too. Guessing he's a little later in the war, toy companies having had time to come out with some of these.


kid gun toy.jpg


I'm dating this earnest little man as early because he's another Zouave, someone's hand-made little rifle clutched in his hands. There are quite a few more- you come across these on Ebay frequently and wonder how anyone allowed these orphaned images to get away from family collections. They're archaic in that it's now unthinkable you'd use guns and other weapons as photographic props, much less toys. It's just where we were- beneath all the ' cute ', awfully chilling.

kid gun dress resized.jpg
 

Kurt G

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No doubt many of these images are due to "patriotic fervor" . As far as the "comfort zone surrounding weapons and kids" , well it wasn't that long ago that many children played with toy weapons . I'm in my 60s ( OK , maybe it was THAT long ago) and had a western style cap pistol when I was a youngster. We always played "sheriff against bad guys" as most TV shows at the time didn't actually show Indian fighting . Later the TV show "Combat" came on (1962) and we all went to "G.I.s versus Germans". We played with plastic replicas of WW2 weapons and since I grew up in a city , I'm sure we drove the neighbors nuts . I also had a Marx Civil War playset with lots of plastic blue and gray soldiers . That , along with a family vacation that included a stop at Manassas is what really got me interested in the Civil War . I turned out fine , as did my friends . I am interested in all aspects of the war and a lot of other history . "It's now unthinkable that you'd use guns and other weapons as photographic props , much less toys." That is very true . Perhaps Vietnam changed that . I certainly don't remember any of my friends getting their picture taken with their WW2 toys .Many of our fathers were WW2 vets and they never talked about the war , but tolerated us playing it. Times change and attitudes change . It is difficult to look at images and understand them through modern eyes . To us there is a certain sadness in looking at these Civil War images . They didn't understand all the carnage and suffering , though many would feel its results . They were simply innocent children dressed as soldiers and playing with toys .
 
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Mrs. V

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Great thread. I can see a mother having this kind of picture taken, and sent to a father in the field to bolster their moral. And I love the Zoave uniforms! One of these days I am going to put together a Vivandier impression..

As to toy guns etc. One of my fondest childhood memories involve the horse Trigger, and my cowgirl outfit that consisted of a snap front embroidered shirt, red skirt, and vest trimmed with white fringe and matching hat. This ensemble came with a gunbelt and a pair of 6 shooter cap guns. I had brothers, so I was one of the “guys” for most of my childhood. Not much talk of gun safety at the time, just good clean fun.
 

Miles Krisman

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Sadly, there were children on the battlefield at times. The following took place at the Battle of Seven Pines/Fair Oaks on May 31, 1862.

Colonel James Kemper marched up in support of General Rodes’ mangled ranks. As Kemper’s men approached the battlefield, they came upon a demoralizing sight: “Long streams of wounded made their appearance on their way back to the rear, in every species of mutilation,” wrote Private Hunter of the 17th Virginia. “Some were borne on stretchers, others swung in blankets from whose folds blood and gore dropped in horrible exudations, staining the ground and crimsoning the budding grass.” Farther along, the troops of the 17th Virginia passed a wrecked Confederate battery whose gunners and horses all lay dead and wounded except for a little boy, the “powder monkey”, who had somehow escaped injury. Private Hunter remembered the boy: “He cowered behind a wheel of one of the guns, with eyes protruding, hands clasped, teeth clenched and a face wearing a look of horrified fright - face so white, so startling in its terror, that it haunted me for days after.”
 

donna

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Children have always played dress up as soldiers or cowboys. Now a days they dress as Star War characters and Super Heroes. They also play games that show war and violence.

I guess the centuries change but interest doesn't.

They are cute pictures. I too remember dressing as a cowgirl. I loved Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.
 
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Mdiesel

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These are great pictures, thanks for sharing them. For their times I really don't believe such photos are that unusual. They were capturing these children as they were & with their favorite toys. What's really macabre about 19th century photos are those taken of the dead. Families would sometimes pose with a deceased loved one for one last portrait. The dead in these photos are propped up into a living position & often holding favorite possessions. But maybe that's a subject matter for another thread...

As for modern children, I recieved my 1st shotgun when I was 13 yrs old. It coincided with completing my hunters safety course. I have pictures of unwrapping that shotgun & playing with toy guns as well (though I admit never a formal portrait). My boys love playing with nerf guns, water guns, laser tag, & paint ball. They all have bee bee guns & enjoy archery as well. Again no formal portraits but last year our family Christmas cards featured an image of my son muzzle loader hunting from his deer stand. We live in a rural area & this is quite normal. So I guess, my take on the historical images is a little different & I really don't find them unsettling, but very very interesting.
 
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Great thread. I can see a mother having this kind of picture taken, and sent to a father in the field to bolster their moral. And I love the Zoave uniforms! One of these days I am going to put together a Vivandier impression..

As to toy guns etc. One of my fondest childhood memories involve the horse Trigger, and my cowgirl outfit that consisted of a snap front embroidered shirt, red skirt, and vest trimmed with white fringe and matching hat. This ensemble came with a gunbelt and a pair of 6 shooter cap guns. I had brothers, so I was one of the “guys” for most of my childhood. Not much talk of gun safety at the time, just good clean fun.


My sister and I circa 1956.

1956 at our house resized.jpg
 
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JPK Huson 1863

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As always an excellent post @JPK Huson 1863 It’s too bad that there wasn’t names listed for these children ‘s photos or for the family’s. Another tail of history mystery’s.. thanks for sharing this awesome post.

Yes, aren't all these orphaned photos haunting? There are endless numbers on Ebay, guessing either found when someone was contracted to clean out a house or family members with little interest in ancestors? Judging by online auctions it seems anything ' old ' is thought to be valuable. Maybe some are but once it's passed out of family hands it's just gone. Of course anyone can do whatever they want with their own property, it just feels as if we don't have the right to deny future generations these treasures.
 

JPK Huson 1863

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Mine was along a similar vein. It had an embroidered shirt-yellow flowers I think..with a fringed vest and skirt. Had a hat as well. I wonder if that is what has inspired my life long love of hats?? Gosh we had fun running around like wild things. Now I’d like to just be able to run!

I do feel sorry for children in this era. We could just let loose and run and run and run, playing anything from tag to hide n seek to those perpetual games with whatever ball someone brought- to just running because it was fun. It's not the whole video games thing keeping kids from having the childhood we did, you just can't let a child out of your sight in 2019. We sure were lucky. Can you imagine our mothers' faces if anyone told them to schedule a ' play date '?
 
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Story

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And another, a soldier's toy tent, kepi and cannon displayed in this child's play scene. It's an unusual pose, too. Guessing he's a little later in the war, toy companies having had time to come out with some of these.
Science Fiction writer HG Wells would formalize those childhood games played on the carpet into what we now know as war games.
Elboration https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-22777029
 

Mrs. V

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I do feel sorry for children in this era. We could just let loose and run and run and run, playing anything from tag to hide n seek to those perpetual games with whatever ball someone brought- to just running because it was fun. It's not the whole video games thing keeping kids from having the childhood we did, you just can't let a child out of your sight in 2019. We sure were lucky. Can you imagine our mothers' faces if anyone told them to schedule a ' play date '?
Oh yeah, I’d imagine they’d respond “you mean can johnny/susie come over and play? Sure, they can play in the woods behind the house.” I’ll be doing laundry in the basement.
 
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