Poker in America was first spread far and wide by the Civil War. Young men on both sides of the war played the game; it was one of the most common pastimes of the soldiers in each army. There were some detractors who believed the spread of poker was a symptom of the loss of moral fiber in the camps, by and large the game continued to proliferate. And when the war ended and the soldiers went home, they took poker with them.
- In The Life of Billy Jack, Wiley writes persuasively about the war introducing many Union soldiers to activities and behaviors in which they wouldn’t otherwise participate like swearing, smoking, drinking, and, of course, card playing.
- The degeneration came from the removal of accustomed restraints and associations, the urge to experiment with the forbidden, the desire to escape boredom and the utter inadequacy of religious and recreational facilities for soldiers of the sixties.
- Their leader Ulysses S. Grant enjoyed poker before, during, and after the war, and many of those who served likewise embraced the game.
“The war itself would hasten the spread of the game even more, both during the four years of fighting and afterwards. Many thousands of young men on both sides would be first introduced to poker (and other gambling games) during those years.”