The Legendary Dalton Snowball Fight and Sticks, Fists and Rocks at Orange Courthouse

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Posted : March 14, 2021

Our Confederate Ancestors: The Legendary Dalton Snowball Fight; and Sticks, Fists and Rocks at Orange Courthouse


H. McInnis of Lakeland, Fla. in 1895 wrote: “Allow me to say something about that grand snowball battle we had at Dalton, Georgia. In the early morning there was light skirmishing between our Brigade (Findley’s) and Tyler’s Brigade across the road. We saw that Tyler’s men were going to charge us so we went to work and soon had breastworks built out of snow and in a short while the warning was given: ‘Look out, boys, they are coming!’ Then that blood chilling, on one side, and soul-cheering Rebel Yell was raised, and such a scene was hardly ever witnessed before. Tyler’s men had the best of it and took possession of our quarters. Then we concentrated both brigades and charged and captured Gen. Walker’s Brigade over another hill, and so on all day. Long live the Veteran!”

From Confederate Veteran magazine,
Nashville, Tenn., Vol. III, No. 2, Feb. 1895

The Legendary Dalton Snowball Fight;
Sticks, Fists and Rocks at Orange Courthouse

[Publisher’s Note, by Gene Kizer, Jr. :
There are several accounts of massive snowball fights involving thousands of Confederate troops with battle flags flying, formations, horses, charges, and prisoners, while they were hunkered down for the winter in different places during the War Between the States. There are some drawings in the Library of Congress.

The Dalton, Georgia snowball fight is famous and they had some hilarious things going on! They had Gen. Patrick Cleburne carrying a fence rail since that was a known punishment of his for slackers.

The second account, featured below, at Orange Courthouse, Virginia, got serious when some soldiers used rocks as well as snowballs dipped in water and packed tight to make them like ice balls. Their shocked opponents captured the provocateurs then counterattacked and quickly the passions of actual battle ensued! There were several serious injuries and some bitterness that “took time and comradeship, battles, privation, and suffering to destroy.”]


Snowball Battle at Dalton
by S. R. Watkins

From Confederate Veteran magazine,
Nashville, Tenn., Vol. II, No. 7, July, 1894


IT WAS IN THE SPRING OF 1864, about the 22d of March; a heavy snow had fallen during the night; the hills and valleys were covered with the flaky white. Joe Johnston’s army was in winter quarters at Dalton. Two regiments of infantry were camped near each other, and in a spirit of fun, began in somewhat military order to throw snowballs at each other.

The effect was electrical, boyhood frolics were renewed, and the air was full of flying snowballs. Brigades and divisions were soon involved, and such a scene was never before witnessed on earth. Many thousands of men were engaged in a snowball battle.

Caption should say 1864, not 1863.
Caption should say 1864, not 1863.

It began in the morning; generals, colonels, captains, and privates were all mixed up. Private soldiers became commanders and the generals were simply privates, and the usual conditions were reversed. The boys had captured the generals’ horses and swords and were galloping through the flying snowballs giving orders and whooping things up generally. Verbal orders to different portions of the field were sent on flying steeds.

Library of Congress: Dalton, Georgia, March 22, 1864.
Library of Congress: Dalton, Georgia, March 22, 1864.

Gen. Patrick Cleburne was noted for his strict discipline, and whenever he caught a straggler from any regiment in the army, he would make him carry a fence rail. Well, the boys had captured “Old Pat,” when some fellow yelled out: “Arrest that soldier, and make him carry a fence rail.”

The surgeon of our regiment was calm and even-tempered, but would get out of patience with a lot of whining fellows who would report on the sick list day after day. The doctor would look at his tongue, feel his pulse, and say: “Well, there is not much the matter with him; just put him on light duty.”

They captured the old doctor, and a soldier had hold of each leg, another his head, and others his arms, and as he was brought in as terribly wounded, Fred Domin ran to him, felt his pulse, looked wise, and said: “Well, there is not much the matter with him; just put him on light duty.”

This same doctor was noted for having had the same affliction as the soldier who complained. If a man went to him with the toothache, he would say: “Shucks, that’s nothing; I’ve had the toothache a thousand times.”

One day Kenan Hill got a bug in his ear and went to the doctor, hallooing in great agony. The doctor said : “O shucks, that’s nothing; I’ve had a thousand bugs in my ears.” One day a soldier got a nail in his foot, and the doctor said: “O shucks, that’s nothing; I’ve had a nail in my foot a thousand times.”

The doctor had one of his eyes nearly knocked out by a snowball when Fred Domin ran up to him again and said: “O shucks, that’s nothing; I’ve had my eye knocked out a thousand times.”

There was a great deal of this kind of fun and take-off in imitation of some general or other officer, but we were kept too busy throwing snowballs to take it all in at the time. Infantry boys would capture cannon and caissons and take the horses from the artillery and go dashing through the crowd. They would also hitch to the caissons and dash off somewhere else. This snowball battle lasted all day.

Library of Congress, from
Library of Congress, from
A Battle with Snowballs.
by Thomas Perrett, Faison, N. C.

From Confederate Veteran magazine,
Nashville, Tenn., Vol. XXVI, No. 7,
July, 1918


AFTER THE BATTLE OF GETTYSBURG, July 1-3, 1863, I was laid up for repairs for about four months; and after a perilous trip to Richmond and about thirty days in Camp Winder Hospital, I was granted a furlough to visit my home in Central North Carolina. Remaining there till in the early part of November, I returned to the Army of Northern Virginia, finding the 26th North Carolina Regiment, to which I belonged, located near Orange Courthouse. I found the regiment in much better shape than I had expected after the great loss sustained at Gettysburg. Many of the wounded had returned to duty, and quite a number of new recruits had been added, which gave it much of its old-time life and morale.

We were soon on the move and bivouacked at several places during the next months, our moves usually caused by raids of the Federals. During the latter part of November the Federals crossed the Rappahannock in considerable force, advanced up the turnpike in the direction of Orange Courthouse, and were met by the Confederate forces at a place we afterwards called Locust Grove. No regular engagement, only skirmishes, took place, and after a few days they retreated and left us in possession of the field.

During our stay, however, we had to be constantly on picket duty, and on one occasion I had charge of a part of the picket line in the woods about five hundred yards from the Federal line. While on duty there one day a flock of wild turkeys got between the Federal and Confederate lines, which excited the boys very much. As the turkeys came near our line the boys turned loose a volley at them. The turkeys then made a get-away in the direction of the Federal line. In a few minutes the Federals let loose a volley, and the turkeys again headed in our direction. This sport was kept up for some time. One of our boys finally killed one of the turkeys. This sport was positively against orders, but so many of us were in it that no one got punished.

The latter part of December our camp was moved to a large wood about four miles northeast of Orange Courthouse, and we were assured that we would have this as winter quarters. The weather was extremely cold, and we had no tents; so it was up to us to do the best we could under the circumstances, I selected three partners, and we at once went to work to build us a “shack.” The ground was frozen hard, and we were too cold to sleep. The moon was shining brightly, and we began cutting poles and setting them up, and by day we had the structure ready for the roof and chimney; and by night the roof was on, a stick chimney built, and the cracks daubed to keep out the cold. We moved in and had a regular “house-warming.” We remained here through the winter, but were called out occasionally to meet some threatened raid or do picket duty on the North Anna River.

Library of Congress: Abandoned Confederate camp, 1861-1862.
Library of Congress: Abandoned Confederate camp, 1861-1862.

A little friction had developed between the brigades of General Kirkland and General Cook, which were located near each other, the whole trouble starting by making raids on each other in fun, which had grown into bad feeling. The boys must have something up all the time to keep them in good humor, and about everything was tried that would afford any sport,. When not on drill they would play cards, drafts, make and fly kites, and occasionally made a raid at night.

Early in 1864, at the first heavy snowfall, a challenge was passed for a battle royal between the brigades, snowballs to be the weapons. The challenge was duly accepted, and the rules of battle agreed upon. The brigades, under command of their respective officers, met in a large field, facing each other on opposite sides of a ravine. At a given signal the battle began in earnest.

At first the men contented themselves with using ordinary snowballs, and all was fun and frolic; but the battle had not progressed very far before we discovered that quite a number of Cook’s men had brought along their haversacks and filled them with snowballs dipped in water and pressed as hard as a ball of ice. On making this discovery we captured a number of them and relieved them of their haversacks and snowballs. As the contest waxed more animated, each side struggling for victory, the passions of the combatants became aroused, and the excitement of actual battle seized them. Hard substances, frequently stones, were used with telling effect, in a number of cases doing serious damage.

At one stage of the battle about twenty-five of Cook’s men made a charge to capture the colors of the 26th Regiment and were met at the colors by about an equal number of our men. The fight that followed was terrific for a few minutes. We broke the flagstaff into several pieces, fought with these pieces, fists, or anything we could get, but finally routed them and carried off the colors in triumph. I happened to be one of the men engaged in the fight over the colors, but escaped without any serious damage. Colonel McRae, in command of one of the regiments, was pulled from his horse and roughly handled; and the combat ended only with the exhaustion of the men, each side agreeing that it should be considered a drawn battle.

This affair caused some bitterness between the brigades which it took time and comradeship, battles, privation, and suffering to destroy. This battle was not compulsory with the men, but most of them engaged in it for the fun. On returning to camp a few slackers who had refused to take part in the fun got to guying the boys about being such fools, when they were taken down and covered up in the show as a “leveler.”


Deo Vindice!
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