BASEBALL AND THE CIVIL WAR
Earlier this month, America celebrated the 150th Anniversary to the start of the American Civil War. The Glorification and glamorization of the event through historians, re-enactors, and movies, only serves to hide the horror of the conflict.
Although there are many positive outcomes to the Civil War, one true and yet overlooked plus is the relationship of the Civil War and Baseball.
I'll start with 'father of baseball' Henry Chadwick. The writer, statistician, and historian became the first baseball editor. He devised the box score and convinced newspapers like the New York Times to print them.
He campaigned against gambling, which started almost instantaneously as the first games were played, and the use of alcohol. He even argued against his good friend, Albert Spalding, who tried to pin the founding of baseball on Abner Doubleday.
Chadwick was also the first writer to coin the term "America's Pasttime" to describe the game in 1859.
Although the phrase was used, it took four years of bloody conflict that was our Civil War to truly make it America's Game.
Although there were many forms of 'townball', 'rounders' and cricket, it was the Northeast part of the United States, particularly New York City that played under organized rules set down by Alexander Joy Cartwright.
The writer and volunteer fire fighter organized the New York Knickerbocker Baseball Club, named after the Knickerbocker Fire Engine Company in the early 1840s. The formal rules that governed games occurred at Elysian Fields in June of 1846 where the Knickerbockers were crushed by the New York Nine.
The game grew from there and teams formed a league. In 1857, the National Association of Baseball Players (NABBP) was made up of sixteen teams from the New York Area. Since the primary source of news came from newspapers, Chadwick's boxscore drew interest from readers.
Then, the turmoil that had been dividing our country since America's founding erupted into Civil War. Abraham Lincoln is elected in 1960 and the Deep South secedes from the Union. Lincoln's response is to call up 75,000 volunteers.
Men across the North (and South) volunteer to settle the great conflict of slavery and states' rights on the battlefield. The northern soldiers grabbed their bat, ball, and their rules for the game and brought them south.
As the soldiers prepared for the first battle, they played baseball in their free time. While stationed in Washington D.C., a team from the 71st New York Regiment defeated the local team from Washington 41-13. The first battle, the Battle of Bull Run (Manassas) took its toll on the New York Regiment. A year later the same team from New York lost too many of its players in battle and lost the rematch.
In Hilton Head, South Carolina in 1862, another New York Regiment played a game before 40,000 spectators. One of the participants, A.G. Mills, went on to be the first commissioner of the National League.
While fighting in Texas, Union Soldier George Putnam wrote about a game interrupted by a Confederate attack. "Three outfielders caught the brunt; the centerfield was hit and was captured, left and right field managed to get back to our lines….we not only lost our centerfielder, but we lost the only baseball in Alexandria Texas."
Author Michael Aubrecht writes that Commanders on both sides promoted the game as a way to pass away the boredom.
In the dreaded Andersonville, Georgia prison camp where the commander after the war was executed for his treatment of Union soldiers. The captives played games and shared the rules with their Confederate counterparts.
As the Civil War ended in 1865, membership of the NABBP grew to almost 100 clubs. By 1867, the league ballooned to over 400, including teams from as far south as Louisiana and as far west to San Francisco, California. One of those clubs, the Chicago White Stockings, later became the Chicago Cubs and serves as the oldest team in American organized sports.
Baseball was now a sport for the masses as people came to see these contests. All across the land, teams started to fence in their fields and began to charge admission.
As the original league folded, the National League was formed in 1875 and consisted of mainly teams in the Northeast. While other leagues existed and folded during the same time period, the American League started in 1901. With that, the two champions of each league played the first World Series in 1903.
The Civil War was costly in many ways. It still serves as America's most deadly war with over 600,000 lives lost. From this conflict, the culture of baseball was spread across the country and it blossomed into a great spectacle played out every year as "America's Pasttime."