Winter months often gave the Union and Confederate armies a respite from the fighting that occurs in the spring and summer. In 1864, a particularly harsh winter achieved what warring armies and pontificating politicians couldn't provide. Other than a few skirmishes and occasional cavalry raids, most of the major fighting came to a stop.
When an army traveled by foot or horse, winter could often bring a war to a standstill. In 1864, that was the case. Large camps were established in both the eastern and western theaters. Muddy roads that were all but impassable and harsh weather stopped most military operations.
During the summer, soldiers slept under the stars or in canvas tents. These were replaced in the winter with huts, providing more substantial shelter for the soldiers. The camps were arranged like small villages complete with churches and sutlers' shops. The camps also had a series of thoroughfares called "company streets."
Boredom was the main foe of the soldiers as they spent hours in the huts or not venturing far from camp. Winter was a good time to send soldiers home on furloughs but this had to be done on a controlled basis so the whole army didn't disappear.
Soldiers passed the time by sleeping late, playing cards, writing letters, storytelling and attending religious services. Commanders usually broke up the monotony by continually drilling their soldiers to keep them sharp for the upcoming year.
The camps lacked the appropriate measures to provide clean water and to dispose of waste. This, coupled with the lack of food, meant death did not take a holiday even though the fighting did. Disease was rampant, often killing more soldiers during the winter than actual fighting in the warm months.
While the winter months at Dalton, Ga., were harsh, the soldiers used the time to heal and have their own version of fun. While at Dalton, soldiers in different regiments played baseball games.
On Mar. 22, 1864, an unseasonable late snow blanketed the Dalton area. Soldiers from the Deep South used this as an excuse to launch a full-scale snowball fight. Soldiers in the 41st Mississippi Infantry, reinforced by the 9th and 7th Mississippi, attacked the 10th and 44th Mississippi Infantries.
The snowball fight grew in size until the divisions of Frank Cheatham and W.H.T. Walker participated. It was estimated that five to six thousand soldiers fought in the snowball offensive. With so many men participating, the air was full of snowballs. There were some injuries as some soldiers claimed their foes were putting rocks in the snowballs.
Less than two months later, the snow had melted and William T. Sherman began his push into Georgia, starting what would become his Atlanta campaign. Sherman and Joseph E. Johnston clashed, for the first of many times, at Rocky Face Ridge and Dug Gap.
The winter of 1864 was gone and the Civil War started anew.