Historical fiction author Jessica James Civil War snowball battle
Civil War snowball battle.

With all of the snow we’ve been having this year, I thought it would be interesting to take a look back at how the soldiers dealt with snow during the Civil War.

I found that two back-to-back snowstorms in February of 1863 provided the ammunition for a friendly snowball battle among rival divisions of Confederate troops near Fredericksburg, Va.

On February 19, eight inches of snow fell on the region, and two days later, nine inches of snow fell. On February 25, sunny skies and mild temperatures softened the deep snow cover, providing ideal conditions for making snowballs, and helping  to spark a huge snowball battle in which approximately 10,000 Confederate soldiers participated. One soldier who participated in the snowball battle described it as one of the “most memorable combats of the war.”

The battle started when General Hoke’s North Carolina soldiers marched towards Colonel Stiles’ camp of Georgians, with the intent of capturing the camp using only snowballs. The attacking force, composed of infantry, cavalry and skirmishers, moved in swiftly. Battle lines soon formed and the fight began with “severe pelting” of snowballs. Just like in a real battle, reinforcements arrived from all sides to assist the brigade under attack. Soon, the attacking soldiers were pushed back.

Hoke’s beaten soldiers retreated back to their camp. Stiles decided to organize his men and march directly into their camp, with snowballs in hand. When Stile’s forces finally arrived in Hoke’s camp, they were quite surprised to find that their adversaries had rallied and filled their haversacks to the top with snowballs. This allowed Hoke’s soldiers to provide an endless barrage of snowballs “without the need to reload.” The attacking force was quickly overwhelmed and many of their soldiers were captured and “whitewashed” with snow.

The snowball battle came to an end and both brigades settled back into their respective camps. The captured prisoners were quickly paroled and returned to their camp, to much heckling from fellow soldiers.

The weather turned mild and rainy in the following days. Other snowball battles were documented during the Civil War – including a snowball fight at Dalton, Georgia – but The Snowball Battle of Rappahannock Academy was unique in size, strategy and ample snow cover. The depth of the snow cover on the day of the battle was documented in a soldier’s diary to be 12 inches.

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