America's National Game/Chapter 7
THE FIRST SERIOUS BACKSET TO THE GAME—WIDESPREAD DEMORALIZATION FOLLOWING THE OUTBREAK OF THE CIVIL WAR—BASE BALL PLAYED IN CAMPS OF BOTH CONTENDING ARMIES.
AS HAS been already stated, the years 1857-8-9 saw rapid progress in the multiplication and quality of Base Ball organizations. The decade of the fifties had developed the game from one of crude beginnings to a sport that was attracting widespread attention because of its easily discernible possibilities. The year 1860, however, was the banner year in early Base Ball history. The triumphal tour of the Excelsiors had wrought wonders in the way of creating public sentiment favorable to the game. The contests at Albany, Troy, Buffalo, Philadelphia and Baltimore had inspired the young men of those cities to emulate the example of the youth of New York and Brooklyn, and had begotten within them the hope that they might win for their cities a glory akin to that which had been achieved for the city on Long Island. As a result, clubs were organized by the hundreds, the fever spreading to all parts of the country, East, West, North and South, and matches, which developed strong new players, were scheduled everywhere.
But in 1861 a serious check was given to the progress of Base Ball. The news that Fort Sumter had been fired upon turned the thoughts of men of the North to a subject more grave than ball playing, while Southerners, believing that the President's call to arms meant the invasion of the "Sunny South," prepared to give their Northern visitors a less hospitable reception than that which had been accorded to the Excelsiors a few months previous at Baltimore. Thoughts of contests on fields of sport were banished from the minds of men in every section, while all looked forward to a greater, fiercer struggle that should be decided by the arbitrament of arms on fields of battle.
And yet, while the game of ball, during those four years of fratricidal strife, was held in abeyance—the attention of its votaries being more deeply engaged in the game of war—it was nevertheless undergoing an evolution of greatest import to its future. For, during those years of unhappy conflict, on both sides of the line "Yanks" and "Johnnies" were playing ball and laying the foundation for a game which, when war's alarms should cease, would be national in its spirit and national in its perpetuity.
No human mind may measure the blessings conferred by the game of Base Ball on the soldiers of our Civil War. A National Game? Why, no country on the face of the earth ever had a form of sport with so clear a title to that distinction. Base Ball had been born in the brain of an American soldier. It received its baptism in bloody days of our Nation's direst danger. It had its early evolution when soldiers, North and South, were striving to forget their foes by cultivating, through this grand game, fraternal friendships with comrades in arms. It had its best development at the time when Southern soldiers, disheartened by distressing defeat, were seeking the solace of something safe and sane; at a time when Northern soldiers, flushed with victory, were yet willing to turn from fighting with bombs and bullets to playing with bat and ball. It was a panacea for the pangs of humiliation to the vanquished on the one side, and a sedative against the natural exuberance of victors on the other. It healed the wounds of war, and was balm to stinging memories of sword thrust and saber stroke. It served to fill the enforced leisure hours of countless thousands of men suddenly thrown out of employment. It calmed the restless spirits of men who, after four years of bitter strife, found themselves all at once in the midst of a monotonous era, with nothing at all to do.
And then, when true patriots of all sections were striving to forget that there had been a time of black and dismal war, it was a beacon, lighting their paths to a future of perpetual peace. And, later still, it was a medium through which the men who had worn the blue, found welcome to the cities of those who had worn the gray, and before the decade of the sixties had died the game of Base Ball helped all of us to "know no North, no South," only remembering a reunited Nation, whose game it was henceforth to be forever.It is very unfortunate that the records of games played by soldiers during the Civil War are inscribed only upon the memories of those who participated in them. Interesting, indeed, would it be to read the details of struggles which served so well to break the monotony of camp life in the early sixties. Especially would it be of interest to note that while Americans of the North were fighting Americans of the South, between battles both were playing a game that had been devised nearly a quarter of a century before by a youth who, in the pending struggle, had sighted the first gun in defense of Fort Sumter, and who, later on, was to wear the epaulets of a Major General.
It was during the Civil War, then, that the game of Base Ball became our national game; for against it there was no prejudice—North or South; and from that day to this it has been played with equal fervor and with equal prowess in every section of our beloved country.
It is said that in Virginia, in the long campaign before Richmond, at periods when active hostilities were in abeyance, a series of games was played between picked nines from Federal and Confederate forces. I have heard rumors of this series repeatedly, but have not been able to trace them to any authoritative source. I refer to them here, not as history, but simply as of sufficient interest to be worthy of mention. I have not found any soldier of either army to corroborate these rumors or to deny them. Several have told me that they took part in many games, on one side or the other, and that they believed the rumors might be founded on fact, because they had themselves known of cases where good-natured badinage had been exchanged between Union and Confederate soldiers on the outposts of opposing armies in the field.
However, it is of record that many games of Base Ball were played by soldiers during the war. On Christmas Day, December 25th, 1862, a team from the 165th New York Volunteer Infantry, Duryea's Zouaves, engaged a picked nine from other Union regiments in that army. The game was witnessed by about 40,000 soldiers. It was played at Hilton Head, South Carolina, and was discussed for many a week thereafter. Among those participating in this game was Mr. A. G. Mills, of New York City, afterwards President of the National League, and to him I am indebted for the interesting incident.
Writing under date March 8th, 1909, Mr. N. E. Young, former President of the National League, says:
In Collier's Weekly of May 8th, 1909, Will Irwin writes as follows:
"Then came the Civil War, and the place of the Boston boys was the ranks. The number of clubs in and about New York City dwindled from sixty-two in 1860 to twenty-eight in 1865. But the enlisted players took their game with them into the camps of Virginia and Tennessee. Whenever, in summer or fall, the Federal armies rested for a week, some one was sure to take a Base Ball out of his haversack and start a game. They played it on the Peninsula while the Army of the Potomac waited for the latest incompetent general to replace the last incompetent general. They played it before Fort Fisher, dropping one game mid-innings to fall in and run to the firing line. They played it in Confederate prisons, where they taught it to their captors. The Ohio, Illinois, Wisconsin and Indiana regiments turned out to watch and remained to learn. A young cricketer from Amsterdam, New York, who had enlisted in the ranks, saw the Eighth New York, recruited from Manhattan, playing a new game. It looked like cricket, for which his soul thirsted; he begged into the game. It was Nicholas E. Young, for a quarter of a century President of the National League. A volunteer private returned invalided to Rockford, Illinois, in 1863. He saw the boys batting up flies, and he told them that he knew a better game. He had learned it in the army. One tall, wiry boy took a special interest. It was Al. Spalding, great pitcher, great manager, great organizer—prime figure in Base Ball from that day to this. On Roanoke Island Hawkins' Zouaves formed two scrub teams. A young volunteer pitcher won for his side by a weak, puzzling delivery which baffled the batsmen. It was Alphonse Martin, first in the line of great American pitchers.
"The same leaven was working in the Confederate ranks. The New Orleans boys also carried base balls in their knapsacks. A few of them found themselves in a Federal prison stockade on the Mississippi. They formed a club. Confederate prisoners from Georgia and South Carolina watched them, got the hang of it and organized for rivalry. In the East and West Series that followed the West won triumphantly by unrecorded scores."
James L. Steele, writing in Outing Magazine, has the following relative to newspaper treatment of the sport in days before the war:
"The first newspaper report of a Base Ball game that I remember reading was an account of a game played at Hoboken. N. J., in 1859. It appeared in an illustrated weekly, and was such a novel and interesting event that the weekly gave a double-page illustration.
"There were no Base Ball schedules in those days, and nobody lay awake nights hatching up reasons why Harvard should not play Princeton and why Yale should play Pennsylvania. All that was needed was an occasion such as a Fourth of July celebration, a county fair, a house-raising, or some other event of that nature. The occasion for this particular game was the entertainment given to a team of English cricketers then touring this country and defeating 'United States Twenty-Twos' with commendable regularity. We had evolved a game called Base Ball, and we wanted to show our cousins what a high old game it was.
"It may have been the 'humors of the day' editor who wrote the report, which was as follows:
"'Base Ball differs from cricket, especially in there being no wickets. The bat is held high in the air. When the ball has been struck, the "outs" try to catch it, in which case the striker is out; or, if they cannot do this, to strike the striker with it when he is running, which likewise puts him out.
"'Instead of wickets, there are, at this game, four or five marks called bases, one of which, being the one at which the striker stands, is called "home."
"'As at cricket, the point of the game is to make the most runs between bases; the party which makes the most runs wins the day.'
"The fact that the reporter thought it necessary to explain how the game was played, indicates the extent of the public's knowledge of Base Ball at that time, and even he wasn't quite sure whether there were four bases or five. When he says a base runner may be put out by hitting him with the ball, he makes no mistake, for that was an actual fact, and it was considered a good play on the part of the base runner to draw a throw from the pitcher, for usually the runner would dodge the throw and gambol around the bases while the fielders were hurrying after the ball. This rule was abolished as soon as the game became popular, for a baseman, instead of touching a runner with the ball, would often 'soak' him at short range, which generally brought forth unprintable remarks from the soakee.
"The artist, in illustrating this game, was not far behind the reporter. The picture shows us several hundred spectators, and, with the exception of a few ladies and gentlemen, seated in carriages, the only person sitting down in the entire assemblage is the umpire; and, as if to show the perfect tranquility of his mind and his contempt for foul tips, he leans back in his chair with his legs crossed. The basemen, instead of playing 'off,' are standing, each with one foot on his base, and a base runner is 'glued to third,' although the pitcher is ready to deliver the ball. In short, the general aspect of the field is enough to give a modern Base Ball captain nervous prostration."