The History of Pipe Smoking on the Battlefront
During the stressful times of war, soldiers would use pipe smoking as a means of relaxation and distraction from the horrible events that were taking place. It was a time when they would sit amongst their fellow soldiers and talk about life and death, all while puffing on their pipes. The pipe represents a symbol of perseverance and hardiness, a trait not uncommon amongst soldiers who fought in the war.
During the Civil War, pipe smoking became a commonplace hobby amongst soldiers fighting in the war. It was thought to provide them with “comfort and solace” (Rapaport, 2015). Not only would it provide soldiers with temporary relaxation, it would figuratively “save lives.” For example, in a letter from Eugene Forbes during the Civil War, he states, “Saw Wardell to-day, and he gave me some tobacco, which ‘saved my life’ for 24 hours at least” -November 15, 1864 (The Civil War Monitor, 2018). As you can see, the pursuit for obtaining tobacco was abundant.
Although clay pipes were more readily available during the war, soldiers didn’t want something that was so fragile; they wanted a hardy, durable pipe that would withstand harsh conditions and usage (Rapaport, 2015). The current briar pipe of today, which is primarily what most pipes are made out of, was the preferred choice of soldiers. Not only is briar root extremely durable, it’s also very easy to carve. This is what many soldiers did during that time to remind them of the places they had been, acting as a token to their accomplishments.
According to the article Civil War Tobacco Pipes, carving into pipes was considered “occupational therapy” for soldiers, rather than art (Rapaport, 2015). Soldiers would use their idle time to whittle away at their pipes to pass the time. Looking at artifacts from the war during current times allows us to trace back a soldier’s journey, which tells his story. A carved pipe is extremely popular today, most likely due to this reason. The intricate markings of a pipe signify the complex details of a journey through someone’s life.
During World War I, it was not uncommon for soldiers to partake in the hobby of pipe smoking. Unlike modern times, tobacco was actually provided to soldiers because it was so easily accessible. The war affected many soldier’s lives, particularly in the trenches. Blood and gore weren’t uncommon events to be witnessed, which is exactly why pipe smoking became so popular. When soldiers ran out of the tobacco they were provided, they desperately wrote to their families asking them to send tobacco (DuBose, 2018). Not only did families partake in making sure their soldiers got tobacco, charitable organizations began posting advertisements that asked for a small contribution in return for tobacco being sent to the war-front.
Some soldiers used their pipes as a sort of passport by carving into the pipe all the places they had traveled to during the war. Pipes were considered prized possessions, as they still are, and were carried with the soldiers throughout the war as they were one of the few things a soldier had that was truly his. A pipe smoker called Lieutenant Britt wrote, “Luckily I have got some tobacco and the orderly got me a pipe. He also gave me this paper and envelope. I am better of the measles now, and the wound is getting on alright." (Dubose, 2018) Pipes were not just a means of numbing the tragedy of war and escaping reality, it was a means of healing the body and soul.
The history of pipe usage throughout the war is a symbol of a soldier’s tenaciousness and grit through tragic times. A pipe is considered an “amazing piece of craftsmanship” and a symbol of “American ingenuity under duress” (Rapaport, 2015). A pipe isn’t just a tool used for a hobby, it’s a precious artifact that acts as a portal into a soldier’s physical and mental battles. It was a form of comfort and relief from the tragedies of war, and a remembrance of the arduous journey that befell soldiers as they trudged through the battlefront.
The Civil War Monitor. (2018, March 16). Extra Voice: Tobacco. Civil War Monitor. Retrieved June 29, 2021, from https://www.civilwarmonitor.com/blog/extra-voices-tobacco
DuBose, R. (2018, November 11). Out of the Trenches. Smoking Pipes. Retrieved June 29, 2021, from https://www.smokingpipes.com/smokingpipesblog/single.cfm/post/out-the-trenches
Rapaport, B. (2015). Civil War Tobacco Pipes. International Opulence. Retrieved June 29, 2021, from https://internationalopulence.com/civil-war-pipes/