I came across George B. Kirsch’s Baseball in Blue and Gray under unusual circumstances this summer when my girlfriend and I visited Fort Pulaski as part of our summer road trip.
We walked around the National Park Service visitor center when we arrived at the fort, located on Cockspur Island, and we watched a film produced by the National Park Service about the history of the site. The 20 minute film was informative, but my attention was grabbed sometime during the last few minutes of the film when the narrator mentioned that the only known photograph of a baseball game being played during the Civil War was taken at Fort Pulaski in 1862 or 1863.
I left the film energized and headed to the closest park ranger to ask for more information about the history of baseball at the fort and she directed me to a Kirsch’s book in the gift shop, as she spoke about how soldiers from New York played baseball there during the nineteenth century.
I breezed through the six chapters in the book while I was on vacation because its contents challenged my understanding of the origins of baseball and it described how the popularity of the game was affected by the Civil War.
Readers will be surprised to learn that baseball was likely formed as a variation to another sport called town ball in 1831, rather than having been created by Abner Doubleday. The book explains how there were three different sets of rules for baseball in the three areas where it was most popular. Kirsch describes some of the nuances of the game. Pitches were thrown underhanded to batters under the New York rules. The rules in Massachusetts dictated that games were played to 25 runs. In Philadelphia, all batters batted in the two or 11 inning games.
Kirsch explains how the New York rules evolved during the Antebellum period and the sport began to increase in popularity and become increasingly associated in reporting alongside symbols of patriotism like politicians and American flags as it developed.
Readers may also find it surprising to learn about how the sport flourished during the Civil War at both Union and Confederate camps. Kirsch also describes the types of intercity tournaments that took place during the second half of the war among civilians that led to the sport’s increased popularity.
The final chapter of the book is designated to the war’s legacy especially as it relates to the nationalism. Washington Nationals fans will appreciate a story about how the owner of the Nationals invited President Andrew Johnson to be an honorary member of the club in 1866 when the Mutuals of New York traveled to Washington.
The Nationals and other teams from New York would also help grow the game by playing games beyond the Alleghenies.
Baseball in Blue and Gray was published in 2003 and is available on Amazon.com at bargain prices. Pick up a copy to learn more about how baseball became our national pastime.