Sunday, September 21, 2014

Civil War Sunday - The General and the Game

Sometimes, the United States Civil War has connections that lead us to unusual places, if only we are willing to travel down those old, winding roads.

I always love a good story, and this story is a good one, complete with a myth that causes thousands of people to visit a small city in upstate New York every year, just as I did earlier this month.

In early September, I visited a museum, and saw this portrait.  It's of a Union General.  In his early life he was a civil engineer.  But the exhibit had nothing to do with the Civil War.

The man in the portrait fired the first defensive shot of the Civil War, at Ft. Sumter, in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina.  He was second in command at the fort.  He fought at Second Manassas and Gettysburg.  A statue of him stands today on the Gettysburg battlefield.

He wrote two books.

Later in life, after the war, he established San Francisco's first cable car company.

And today, no one seems to care that this man even served in the Civil War.  His name, instead, is connected with something else, a something in the lives of many Americans each summer.

That is why this Civil War portrait of a New York State native hangs in a sports museum in Cooperstown, New York.
It may have something to do with this photo I took a few evenings ago.
Here, at a minor league championship baseball game, the opposing teams line up - the Richmond,  Flying Squirrels (Virginia) vs. the Binghamton Mets (New York).

That championship game would have been impossible during the Civil War, as our nation split in two, and Richmond served as the capital of the Confederate States of America.  New York, meantime, stayed with the Union.
Let's also note this structure in Cooperstown, New York, where I saw baseball immortal Bob Feller pitch back in 2009 (he has since passed away), named after this man.

Cooperstown, New York - the site of baseball's Hall of Fame.  All because of Abner Doubleday.
This May Be the First Baseball

For many years we who grew up in the United States loving baseball were taught a story-that Civil War general Abner Doubleday invented our national sport around 1845, some 16 years before the Civil War started.

Too bad it isn't true.  (Probably).  But the story refuses to die.  And, in truth, the Civil War (1861-1865) helped to make baseball, which was a regional game enjoyed in the New York State area prior to the war into the sport it is today. 

New York soldiers serving in the war taught the game to their fellow soldiers.  In down times between battles, the game helped to pass the time.  The military leaders promoted the game among their troops.  The game then spread to prisoner of war camps on both sides of the war.  In some POW camps, towards the beginning of the war (before the horrors of Andersonville and Elmira, among others, got underway), baseball games were organized.  Sometimes, Union ballplayers even played Confederates.

It was sobering, seeing a championship game between a New York team and a team from the former Confederacy earlier this month, to realize that one of the few good and decent things that came out of the Civil War was baseball.

Even if Union General Abner Doubleday (probably) did not invent it.


  1. Interesting! Who would have known there could be a connection between the Civil War and baseball. Go figure! ;) <3

  2. Too bad the story isn't true.

  3. (hit enter too soon) - Meant to say, too bad the story isn't true ( as it does make for great story-telling!

  4. I often think games are the present-day examples of war. But your post reminds me that the reason for baseball's existence is to provide relief between skirmishes.

  5. I honestly had no idea that baseball came about this way...shame on me, because I love baseball! Loved this post! :)-Ashley

  6. What an awesome story, Alana, and it doesn't matter whether it's true or not. The "legend" lives on and it's a fabulous way of sharing a bit of history beyond the game! Baseball is a true American game. Thank you for this. HUGS <3


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