SABR

Hurry up and wait: Baseball in the Civil War era

From George B. Kirsch at the New York Times on October 24, 2012:

As hundreds of thousands of Billy Yanks and Johnny Rebs enlisted in the Union and Confederate Armies during1861 and 1862, military and civilian officials and journalists from both sides recognized that soldiers who trained for deadly combat would need relief from their endless drills and chores. Among other activities, people on both sides urged soldiers to take up the relatively new sport of baseball.

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Baseball games were supposed to divert the soldiers’ attention from the danger and possible death that awaited them, but on a few occasions hostilities disrupted their recreation. In the spring of 1862, Jacob Cole was lying on the ground watching a match between the 57th and 69th New York Regiments when he heard a “rumbling noise.” He and his friend stood up and heard nothing, but when they put their ears on the ground Cole told his friend, “Our boys are fighting.” He remembered: “Hardly had I spoken before orders came to report to our regiments as once. So the ball game came to a sudden stop never to resume.”

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The frequency of baseball games in Army camps varied by seasons. Most matches took place when the soldiers were in winter quarters, from November through early spring, with participation peaking in March and April. A study of baseball in Civil War Army camps by members of the Society for American Baseball Research reports that for the entire war the number of games played during the major campaigns from May through September was less than a third of those played in March and April, when the weather was improving and just before the soldiers left their winter camps. The research project found that ballplaying in Army camps peaked in April 1863, when there were 31 accounts of baseball matches, predominantly played by Union troops encamped in Northern Virginia. Baseball in Army camps then declined over the final two years of the conflict, probably because of the increasingly desperate conditions of total war.

Read the full article here: http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/10/24/hurry-up-and-wait-and-play-ball/

Related link: To learn more about baseball in the Civil War era, visit Protoball.org.

This page was last updated October 25, 2012 at 11:18 am MST.

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