The Civil War Connections Blog

Our National Pastime

Howdy folks, and welcome back to the good ol’ blog! Today’s tidbit about me is: I’m a solid fan of the Philadelphia sports teams, and I enthusiastically cheer on the Eagles, Flyers and Phillies from Football, Ice Hockey and Baseball respectively. I don’t give two Wheats about professional Basketball, though.

On the flip side, I give this many Wheats about each of the other sports!

 

Speaking of sports, can you name the sport that had its first recorded game in 1846, and was played extensively in the Civil War by soldiers of every rank? I’ll give you a hint: in the same year of its first game (1846) Walt Whitman wrote “I see great things in (this sport)…It will take our people out-of-doors, fill them with oxygen, give them a larger physical stoicism, tend to relieve us from being a nervous dyspeptic set, repair those losses and be a blessing to us.” (Citation HERE.) As you may have guessed, folks, the answer is… Baseball!

Since the United States is such a young country compared to most others, it’s ironic that Uncle Sam is so old in this picture…

 

Baseball was already well loved and widely played in the mid-Atlantic states of New York and New Jersey before the Civil War started. During the war itself, soldiers often had little respite from the tedium of camp life and endless drills. Some Union units, especially those from the mid-Atlantic, knew how to play the game and taught it to their comrades: thus did baseball become a common occurrence in Union camps. In order to play, all they needed was a baseball and a bat – the bat could be made from the limb of an oak tree, and a ball could be made by winding lots of yarn around a walnut then covering it with some hand-stitched horsehide. Gloves weren’t a problem because they weren’t even worn until the turn of the century, and back then the ball itself was bigger and more like a modern softball so catching it wasn’t a problem. As a plus, a bigger/slower ball meant smaller baseball fields, so you had an easier time finding room to play. In fact, during the Civil War Abraham Lincoln erected a baseball field on the White House lawn, and he loved playing so much that there’s even a story that Lincoln put off meeting with his advisors because it was almost his turn at bat!

Click if you want to read all the text, but in essence everyone’s making baseball puns about Lincoln winning the 1860 Presidential election.

 

Abraham Lincoln wasn’t the only US president to love baseball: his two successors Andrew Johnston and Ulysses S. Grant were both avid fans themselves! In fact, when the war ended Union (and some Confederate) soldiers went back home and brought their love of baseball with them. Club teams sprouted up all over the re-unified country, and as baseball exploded in popularity over the course of the late 1800s the game was modified, codified and professionalized. By 1901, baseball had undergone almost all the major rule changes that turned it into the game it is today. By the early 1920’s, the last major change to game play occurred when ball dimensions were standardized and a few rule modifications made the game better for hitters. After that, Babe Ruth rose to become one of our biggest sports icons and baseball was solidified as our national pastime.

I’m sorry, is that a USS Monitor baseball card? Nice!

 

Well folks that’s about all for today, and we hope you come back for more Civil War history! And for those of you so inclined, the Philadelphia Phillies are playing a home game against the Cincinnati Reds tonight at 7:05!