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Damn Yankees
By Michael Zitz, The Free Lance-Star
Date published: 5/3/2005 REGION

During the Civil War, the Yankees wore blue, not pinstripes, and they were far less cocky.

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 blunder.

But 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 and the author of the Civil War book, "Onward Christian Soldier: The Spiritual Journey of Stonewall."

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.

At 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.

The 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.

Box scores from games played by New York soldiers were published in newspapers in places like Rochester.

They didn't look much like baseball box scores today. One game was 49-31.

The games were quite rough, Hennessy said. "It was a little bit of a different game than we know today," he said.

In 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 aftermath.

"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 soldiers.

A 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.

In 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.

The image appears in the 2001 book, "From Pastime to Passion: Baseball and The Civil War," by Patricia Millen.

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 said.

Donald Pfanz, an historian with the National Park Service here, agreed that "Baseball was in vogue at the time of the Civil War."

But 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 that sum.

"It 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."

In 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.

In his 1911 history of baseball titled, "America's National Game," Albert G. Spalding wrote:

"No 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 do."

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 not recorded."

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 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."

To reach Michael Zitz: 540/374-5408
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Rebel flag flaps in eye of the beholder, but it's symbol we
all share
Op-Ed by Michael Aubrecht
Date published: 5/14/2005 EDITORIAL

Regarding the many recent letters debating the symbolism over the Confederate battle flag, both sides have shown a definite passion for their beliefs. Many have done wonderful research while providing readers with rare quotes in support of their argument. As a published Civil War author, I applaud their efforts and see the validity of their points. However, I would like to present another view.

Nobody has really focused on the fact that we all live in one of the most historically active areas of the Civil War. We are surrounded on all sides by major battlefields, museums, walking trails, and monuments. You cannot drive more than a mile on any road without passing one of those white National Park signs recalling an event of historical significance.

Almost every major participant in the Civil War (on both sides) walked on the same ground we do at one time or another. If not for the conflict, this would be just another town. But it's not.

Fredericksburg (despite the growing plague of urban sprawl) is ultimately a tourist town; people come here from all over the world to experience the War Between the States. I vacationed here repeatedly as a child in the '70s and '80s and can equate this place only to Gettysburg insofar as the number of wonderful attractions and expanse of hallowed grounds.

I vividly remember the battle flags from both sides adorning the doorways of the museums. The Confederate battle flag was especially prominent.

To many, this Southern banner simply represents their heritage. It is a testament to their ancestors who fought and died here in the name of a cause--whatever aspect of that cause they chose to support. To others, the flag represents the bondage of their ancestors who suffered the painful woes of slavery but were ultimately set free by the trampling of that flag. Both are absolutely right.

Still, part of preserving history is acknowledging your past. To try to ignore or remove those parts of history that offend some is a blatant act of dishonesty and disrespect. What example are we setting and what disservice are we doing to future generations by trying to erase our past? Why can't we just acknowledge that different people see different things in the "Star and Bars," and that that's OK?

Those of us who spend many hours studying the Civil War can cite countless sources, speeches, letters, and quotes that support both of these points of view, but my point is that the Fredericksburg-Spotsylvania-Stafford area is where much of this conflict took place. Many people living here are actual descendants of both soldiers and slaves, so why can we not embrace our history together and respect one another's right to remember these men and women as we each see fit?

I for one eagerly anticipate the proposed Slavery Museum, which some may find offensive for "spotlighting" slavery--the same charge others level against the Confederate battle flag. That doesn't mean the project should be canceled.

If this were some town in the Midwest where no events of historical significance took place and nothing Civil War-related transpired, I would see no justifiable reason to fly the Rebel flag. However, we live in the backyard, so to speak, of this war; to expect residents to forget their past by removing a flag that is considered by some to be politically incorrect is wrong.

The Civil War was one of the most troubling times in American history, but it was also one of the most glorious as it eventually brought the country back together. America would not be the same today without it. The Confederate battle flag is a symbol from this event, and symbols mean many different things to many different people. When I look at the flag, I see an important moment in our country's history for both black and white Americans.

Most importantly, I recognize it as a part of our own local history. I think I have the right--the obligation--to preserve that for future generations.

Michael Aubrecht of Spotsylvania County is the author of "Onward Christian Soldier: The Spiritual Journey of Stonewall" and "Christian Cavalier: The Legacy of J.E.B. Stuart."



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