In The Press
Also online at:
The Free Lance-Star
Reprinted in: The Richmond Times
Dispatch, Potomac News Online, Hampton Roads
Photo by Mike Morones, The Free
By Michael Zitz, The Free
Date published: 5/3/2005 REGION
During the Civil War, the Yankees
wore blue, not pinstripes, and they were far less
After all, there was no Derek Jeter
then, no Alex Rodriguez, and no George Steinbrenner
using his deep pockets to hire a free-agent field
general every time the Union made a tactical
an even bigger baseball name was on the losing
Yankees' side at the Battle of Chancellorsville
during the spring of 1863.
Abner Doubleday may have organized
baseball games to calm the nerves of Union soldiers
awaiting the start of the Chancellorsville
campaign, says Michael Aubrecht, a baseball
essayist and Civil War historian.
Aubrecht, who lives in Massaponax,
is a contributing writer for Baseball-Almanac.com
and the author of the Civil War book, "Onward
Christian Soldier: The Spiritual Journey of
Union Gen. Doubleday, who was for
years falsely credited with inventing baseball, is
believed to have set up games between Yankee
divisions during the war, he said.
"It's very possible that Doubleday
may have organized a game or two leading up to the
Battle of Chancellorsville," Aubrecht said.
the time of the engagement in early May some 142
years ago, Doubleday was in command of the 3rd
Division, 1st Corps.
Doubleday was in the Fredericksburg
area from the summer of 1862 through the Battle of
Fredericksburg that December; and the Battle of
Chancellorsville in May 1863, said John Hennessy,
chief historian at Fredericksburg &
Spotsylvania National Military Park. Baseball was
played "extensively" by Union soldiers in Stafford
County during that time, he said, but he's seen no
record of Doubleday's hand in games hereabouts.
Civil War helped fuel a boom in the popularity of
baseball evidenced by the fact that a ball club
called the Washington Nationals was born in
1860--145 years before a Major League Baseball team
was given the same name in D.C. this season.
scores from games played by New York soldiers were
published in newspapers in places like
They didn't look much like baseball
box scores today. One game was 49-31.
games were quite rough, Hennessy said. "It was a
little bit of a different game than we know today,"
one letter home, Hennessy said, a New York soldier
describes a St. Patrick's Day, 1863 game in which
"there were bruises and broken bones in the
"There are some very vivid accounts
of baseball being played," he said.
Most of the accounts, he said, are
from New York units and most of the games played
during the war were apparently played by Union
spokesman at the Baseball Hall of Fame in
Cooperstown, N.Y., said a drawing of a Union
veterans' reunion is believed by some to show a
re-enactment of a baseball game played prior to the
Battle of Chancellorsville.
the illustration, apparently commissioned for the
reunion, the 1st New Jersey Artillery, Battery B is
depicted in camp near Brandy Station in Culpeper
County, Aubrecht said.
image appears in the 2001 book, "From Pastime to
Passion: Baseball and The Civil War," by Patricia
Aubrecht said that Michael Hanifen,
a gifted athlete and Irishman from Trenton, N.J.,
wrote the artillery company's memoirs and recalled
the game taking place shortly before the players
were "called to arms" at Chancellorsville.
"This makes perfect sense, as
baseball was already an established pastime in the
Northeast" prior to first shots of the Civil War at
Fort Sumter, Aubrecht said.
"Soldiers from states such as New
York and New Jersey would have been more familiar
with the game and more likely to play," he
Donald Pfanz, an historian with the
National Park Service here, agreed that "Baseball
was in vogue at the time of the Civil War."
he said still pictures of men with baseball bats
are far more common than photographs of Civil War
games because cameras were primitive and shutter
speeds were too slow to capture action.
"Photography had to be pretty still
in those days," Pfanz said.
Only one picture taken by famous
Civil War photographer Matthew Brady shows a
baseball game going on in the background.
Baseball games among Yankee troops
in the Fredericksburg area are believed to have
been fairly common.
According to George B. Kirsch's
2003 book "Baseball in Blue & Gray," John G.B.
Adams of the 19th Massachusetts Regiment recounted
that "base ball fever broke out" at a Falmouth
encampment in early 1863 with both enlisted men and
officers playing. The prize was "sixty dollars a
side," meaning the winning team paid the losers
was a grand time, and all agreed it was nicer to
play base than minie [bullet] ball."
Adams reported that around the same
time, several Union soldiers watched Confederate
soldiers play baseball across the Rappahannock
River in Fredericksburg.
Nicholas E. Young of the 27th New
York Regiment, who later became president of
baseball's National League, played the game at
White Oak Church in Stafford County.
Union soldier Mason Whiting Tyler
wrote home that baseball was "all the rage now in
the Army of the Potomac."
George T. Stevens of the New York
Volunteers said that in Falmouth, "there were many
excellent players in the different regiments, and
it was common for one regiment or brigade to
challenge another regiment or brigade. These
matches were followed by great crowds of soldiers
with intense interest."
a telephone interview Kirsch, a professor of
history at Manhattan College, said a Christmas Day
1862 game between Union soldiers in Hilton Head,
S.C., was watched by 40,000 troops.
his 1911 history of baseball titled, "America's
National Game," Albert G. Spalding wrote:
human mind may measure the blessings conferred by
the game of Base Ball on the soldiers of our Civil
War. It calmed the restless spirits of men who,
after four years of bitter strife, found themselves
at once in a monotonous era, with nothing at all to
Aubrecht said there's no way to
know for sure how many games were played during the
war, "but I am sure for every game that was
documented, there were a dozen or more that were
Most of what he's learned came from
soldiers' letters home, in which they "often
bragged of their victories on the ball field as
opposed to the battlefield," he said.
"This was baseball in its most
primitive and purest form," Aubrecht said. "The
game itself was exactly as it was intended to be, a
"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
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