Baseball in Blue and Gray: The National Pastime during the Civil War
George B. Kirsch
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During the Civil War, Americans from homefront to battlefront played baseball as never before. While soldiers slaughtered each other over the country's fate, players and fans struggled over the form of the national pastime. George Kirsch gives us a color commentary of the growth and transformation of baseball during the Civil War. He shows that the game was a vital part of the lives of many a soldier and civilian--and that baseball's popularity had everything to do with surging American nationalism.
By 1860, baseball was poised to emerge as the American sport. Clubs in northeastern and a few southern cities played various forms of the game. Newspapers published statistics, and governing bodies set rules. But the Civil War years proved crucial in securing the game's place in the American heart. Soldiers with bats in their rucksacks spread baseball to training camps, war prisons, and even front lines. As nationalist fervor heightened, baseball became patriotic. Fans honored it with the title of national pastime. War metaphors were commonplace in sports reporting, and charity games were scheduled. Decades later, Union general Abner Doubleday would be credited (wrongly) with baseball's invention. The Civil War period also saw key developments in the sport itself, including the spread of the New York-style of play, the advent of revised pitching rules, and the growth of commercialism.
Kirsch recounts vivid stories of great players and describes soldiers playing ball to relieve boredom. He introduces entrepreneurs who preached the gospel of baseball, boosted female attendance, and found new ways to make money. We witness bitterly contested championships that enthralled whole cities. We watch African Americans embracing baseball despite official exclusion. And we see legends spring from the pens of early sportswriters.
Rich with anecdotes and surprising facts, this narrative of baseball's coming-of-age reveals the remarkable extent to which America's national pastime is bound up with the country's defining event.
the returned heroes of our gallant Fourteenth are some well known ball players, who, while devoted to the use of more deadly weapons, have not forgotten the use of bat or ball, as the many games played 37 CHAPTER TWO 8. “On Tented Fields—in Prison Pens.” This image was prepared for Spalding’s America’s National Game, published in 1911. The American ﬂag in the center links two views of troops playing baseball on a camp ﬁeld and also inside a prison yard. Used with permission of the New York
ﬁelders to “plug” base runners with the ball to record an out. He remembered that a pitcher from Texas was removed from one game after “badly laming” several prisoners. Clarkson wrote that “the game of baseball had been played much in the South, but many of them [the guards] had never seen the sport devised by Mr. Cartwright.” His side had to politely inform their captors “that we would no longer play with a man who could not continue to observe the rules.” Adolphus Magnum, a Confederate chaplain
reached the urban centers of the north, it only slightly dimmed the bright lights of the world of leisure, especially in the largest cities. To be sure, the ﬁrst year or two of civil war severely tested the people of those communities, but by 1863 the prosperity produced by wartime spending enabled many civilians to enjoy more comfortable and even afﬂuent lifestyles. The upper classes of ﬁnanciers, merchants, factory owners, and professionals crowded into hotels, theaters, operas, and shops. In
baseball—especially New York City, Brooklyn, and Newark, New Jersey—there was continuing criticism of Lincoln’s wartime policies. While there is little concrete evidence that links ball players with Democratic politicians who advocated compromises with the Confederacy, one may speculate that some of these athletes were less than enthusiastic about risking their lives for the Union. On the other hand, in Philadelphia there were several leading players who served short-term tours of duties with
Baltimore and Washington, D.C., followed suit in 1860. Whenever baseball fever infected a new city, it was only a short time before its best teams looked elsewhere for other nines to conquer. Outside the greater New York metropolitan area the 1860 tours of the Brooklyn Excelsiors excited thousands of sportsmen throughout upstate New York, Baltimore, and Philadelphia. In July this “crack club” visited Albany, Troy, Buffalo, Rochester, and Newburgh, and news of its victories ﬂashed across the