President Lincoln had learned and loved the game prior to his election campaign in 1860. A popular newspaper even published a political cartoon showing him batting against his opponents in his campaign. During his war of aggression against the South, Lincoln even had a baseball field constructed on the White House lawn. There are stories that he was often late for meetings because he was on the lawn playing baseball. Once, when he was being summoned for a war council meeting, he said," They will just have to wait. It is almost my turn at bat."
At that time when the war began, it certainly wasn't the national pastime, and in fact was known as a "gentleman's game." But in 1861, well lets just say that began to change. Despite the political and social grievances that resulted in the separation of the North and South, both sides shared some common interests. One of them was playing baseball.
So how did the War Between the States change the game of baseball from a "gentleman's game" to the national pastime? Well, for one thing, during the war, there were long periods of encampments waiting for the next battle. Soldiers drilled and drilled and became bored resulting in low morale. So the "gentlemen" would break the boredom by teaching their compatriots the game of baseball. The soldiers loved it and played it as often as they could. Generals on both sides actually sent reports saying promote baseball activities in your camps. It promotes good health and keeps the mind off of the war.
The game also exploded in the prison camps of both sides. Prisoners would form teams and play each other. Prison guards would form teams and play the prisoners.
The mass concentration of young men in army camps and prisons eventually converted the sport formerly reserved for "gentlemen" into a recreational pastime that could be enjoyed by people from all backgrounds. Unlike other recreational activities, when playing baseball, both officers and enlisted men played side by side and soldiers earned their places on the team because of their athletic talents, not their military rank or social standing.
After long details at camp, it eased the boredom and created team spirit among the men. Often, the teamwork displayed on the baseball diamond often translated into teamwork on the battlefield. Many times, soldiers would write of these games in letters home as they were much more pleasant to recall than the hardship of battle.
- Private Alpheris B. Parker of the 10th Massachusetts wrote:
- The parade ground has been a busy place for a week or so past, ball-playing having become a mania in camp. Officer and men forget, for a time, the differences in rank and indulge in the invigorating sport with a schoolboy's ardor.
A Virginia Private, writing to his family back home recalled:
- It is astonishing how indifferent a person can become to danger. The report of musketry is heard but a very little distance from us...yet over there on the other side of the road most of our company, playing bat ball and perhaps in less than half an hour, they may be called to play a Ball game of a more serious nature.
Sometimes, games would be interrupted by the call of battle:
- Suddenly there was a scattering of fire, which three outfielders caught the brunt; the centerfield was hit and was captured, left and right field managed to get back to our lines. The attack...was repelled without serious difficulty, but we had lost not only our centerfield, but...the only baseball in Alexandria, Texas.
Next week, I will have a short article about blacks and baseball. And how the Southern blacks took the game of baseball to a whole new level.
THIS WEEK IN THE WBTS
Confederate Lieutenant General John Bell Hood surrendered to Federal authorities at Natchez, Mississippi and was immediately paroled.
In Galveston, Texas, Confederate General E. Kirby Smith officially accepted the surrender terms as agreed upon in New Orleans the previous week.
Confederate naval forces on the Red River officially surrendered.
With the war between the North States and Southern Confederacy winding down, the United States Army began to focus its attention on Indians in the West. The 11th Kansas Cavalry, under command of Colonel Preston Plumb, engaged in a skirmish with approximately 60 Indians near modern-day Casper, Wyoming in the Battle of Dry Creek. One Indian was killed and five were wounded, while Plumb's command sustained two fatalities.
The notorious Confederate, William Clarke Quantrill, died in Louisville, Kentucky of wounds sustained in a shootout on May 10. He was 27 years of age.
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