Five Questions: Baseball in the
An interview with local historian Michael
Conducted by Michael Zitz for The
Free Lance-Star (DAMN YANKEES FEATURE)
1. How widely was the game played
during downtime during the war?
"Throughout my research, I haven't
been able to find a definitive figure in regards to
how often baseball was played during the Civil War,
but I am sure for every game that was documented,
there were a dozen or more that were not recorded.
Most of the information I did discover was found in
letters home, where soldiers often bragged of their
victories on the ball field as opposed to the
of the key factors I believe that people need to
understand in regards to the game of baseball and
the Civil War, is how truly beneficial the game
was. This was baseball in its most primitive and
purest form. The game itself was exactly as it was
intended to be, a game. Baseball provided an escape
from the realities of war and ultimately improved
the morale of troops who were obviously homesick,
scared and in some cases, traumatized by the
horrors they had witnessed on the battlefield.
Baseball was also very commonplace in prison camps,
where soldiers from both sides of the Mason Dixon
Line were able to forget their woes if only for a
2. I know Doubleday didn't really
invent the game, but his name is still one closely
connected with it. Do you have any idea if he might
have organized a game here during the
"Many baseball historians (myself
included) still reject the notion that Union
General Abner Doubleday designed the first baseball
diamond and drew up the modern rules. Regardless of
really being (or not being) the actual "inventor"
of the modern version, Doubleday did apparently
organize several exhibitions between Union
divisions and was a passionate student and fan of
the game. As a result, it is very possible that
Doubleday may have organized a game or two leading
up to the Battle of Chancellorsville. At the time
of the engagement, he was in command of the 3rd
Division, First Corps and despite putting up a
ferocious fight, his troops were eventually
overwhelmed by the Confederate's Third Corps under
the command of A.P. Hill and Robert E. Rodes'
division of Richard S. Ewell's Second Corps.
Therefore most recorded history focuses on the
defeat and not his encampment activities.
According to my sources, there are
only a few Civil War photographs in existence that
captured an actual game of baseball while in
progress. Unfortunately none of them were taken in
our area. There is however, a rarely published
rendering verifying one particular game with ties
to Chancellorsville. In the illustration,
apparently commissioned for a veteran's reunion in
1870, the 1st New Jersey Artillery, Battery B is
depicted in camp near Brandy Station, Virginia. In
the foreground, a group of soldiers are positioned
around a baseball diamond and clearly engaged in a
contest. Michael Hanifen, a gifted athlete and
Irishman from Trenton, recorded the artillery
company's memoirs and quoted this event as taking
place shortly before they were "called to arms" at
the Battle of Chancellorsville.
This makes perfect sense, as
baseball was already an established pastime in the
northeast years before the first shots of the Civil
War erupted at Fort Sumter. Soldiers from states
like New York and New Jersey would have been more
familiar with the game and more likely to play.
Whether Doubleday had any involvement with this
specific game is not known."
3. Also, is it true that one of the
more active teams of the time was the Union squad
called the Washington Nationals?
"Ironically, one of the first
established baseball teams in the United States was
the Washington Nationals. They were a professional
ball club located in the nation's capital and often
competed in exhibition games against amateur teams
from the Union Army. Among the most noteworthy was
a game played on July 2, 1861 in which the
Nationals were beaten by a score of 41-13 by
members of the 71st New York Regiment. A year
later, the 71st returned to Washington DC to take
up defensive positions and was defeated by the
Nationals 28-13. Many believed that the rematch was
tainted however, as many of New York's best players
had been killed in action at Bull Run shortly after
their first game. In 1901, the Nationals became one
of the first eight major league teams in the newly
formed American League."
4. How would Stonewall Jackson have
looked upon games played prior to battle? A welcome
distraction for his troops or a waste of time and
"Although Stonewall is not
specifically mentioned as being for or against the
play of baseball, I'd like to think that he would
view it as a welcome distraction from time to time.
Jackson was an extremely well disciplined and
Christian man. He frowned upon the use of both
tobacco and alcohol. He was not a proponent of
gambling and I am sure he would prefer that his men
spend their downtime studying Biblical scripture as
he did. That being said, he was also a brilliant
motivator and I am sure he would understand the
benefits of baseball. Often, the teamwork displayed
on the baseball diamond translated into teamwork on
the battlefield and vice versa."
5. Are there any other significant
connections between the war and
"More than a decade after the Civil
War ended, the National League was developed.
Coincidentally, it was the same year that General
George Armstrong Custer was killed, along with two
hundred and sixty-four Union Calvary troopers,
after engaging Indian warriors at Little Bighorn.
The year was 1876, and the National League of
Professional Baseball was formed with an eight-team
circuit consisting of the Boston Red Stockings,
Chicago White Stockings, Cincinnati Red Legs,
Hartford Dark Blues, Louisville Grays, Philadelphia
Athletics, Brooklyn Mutuals and St. Louis Browns.
has been reported that many members of the U.S.
Calvary, most of them veterans of the Civil War,
engaged in baseball games to pass the time while
protecting the western territories. Some of them
returned home to witness the likes of Ross Barnes
of Chicago hit the first National League home run
which was an inside the park variation. A
Cincinnati pitcher named William "Cherokee" Fisher
served up that historic pitch."