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btfire
11-23-2008, 06:37 AM
I have been reading the Diary of Samuel C. Lowry, Lt, Co F 17th SCVI (http://www.trampbrigade.com/researchpages/LtLowry.htm). I came across a reference in there that I had neither expected, nor heard before during this time period. Feburary 22nd, 1864, Lt. Lowry wrote, "The boys put up a gymnasium pole today and it is a source of great amusement to us all." I was really at a loss, so off searching I went.

Here are a few references I found in Google Books:
from the The Louisiana Historical Quarterly - Page 627

A wide, low swing hung from one strong bough ; a hammock from another, and near
by a gymnasium pole tempted the daring to deeds of prowess.

This was the first reference I found and it really did not tell me anything. I had a good idea that what I was looking for was going to involve fitness and climbing, but again, I was not sure.

Then, in A Manual for the classification, training, and education of the feeble-minded, imbecile and idiotic By Martin P. Duncan, Peter Martin Duncan, William Millard 1866 I found this:

The usual gymnasium pole and rope are to be used
only by the senior pupils, but climbing above ten feet
is not to be allowed.

Okay, so now I get it. This is a climbing pole. I had really not expected during the mid-19th century for fitness to be a big deal. We all know that in the present we hear about fitness on a daily basis, and I guess that is nothing new.


An Artilleryman's Diary by Jenkin Lloyd Jones, 6 WI Battery mentions the gym pole twice.

A gymnasium pole was put up this day. All hands
required to go over it. Force used if persuasion failed, causing
much fun and good exercise.
Etowah Bridge, Tuesday, Aug. 30 1863

Gymnasium pole has been put
up to-day, and the muscular systems will be developed.
Chattanooga, Wednesday, March 22 1864

Here is a guy in the army and the army is worried, at least slightly, about the fitness of the soldiers. I am greatly impressed by these findings.
The Samuel C. Lowry diary is currently hosted on the Tramp Brigade Mess Website. He also has memoirs of his first year in the service, but it is not online yet. Lt Lowry talks several times about games and distractions the South Carolina soldier used to get his mind off the war...