In the encamped fields stretching from north to south, soldier in the civil war were looking to pass their time. Spending time in tents, writing letters to home and sitting around the camp fire with other men doing the same could drive a man crazy. The sport of baseball was quickly evolved in these wide open spaces. Most men had their own variation of the rules depending on what part of the country they were from. Some rules included players being able to throw the ball at the run to get him out. Baseball was an established sport by the time the War broke out.  A variation a cricket, the first official baseball game was played in Hoboken, New Jersey in the 1840s.[1]  Many of the men had played or seen a game as a boy.  “Some men took their baseball equipment to war with them, but when proper equipment was not available, soldiers improvised with fence posts, barrel staves or tree limbs for bats and yarn or rag-wrapped walnuts or lumps of cork for balls.”[2] Gloves were not used. The balls were stitched differently and were softer. Now they may be harder but made out of similar materials. Taking a cover off a modern day baseball will expose a tight wound ball of string. As it is pulled off the middle may be one of two things, a bouncy ball or like in the 1850s and 60s, a cork.Baseball

Prior to the Civil War, baseball was considered a “gentleman’s game.” Residents at Lee-Fendall, Cazenove’s may have enjoyed watching a local team play. There was no heckling, or arguments. Everyone played be the gentleman’s rules. After the War, baseball started becoming more organized into leagues around the country. Teams from different towns would play each other.  Fans would heckle the umpires and calls would be disputed.  During this time fans started getting charged to watch a game.  The average cost? 10 cents.

Baseball was reuniting Americans. They had common ground with baseball; the sport was just missing one thing, stats.  Henry Chadwick, an English immigrant, influenced the game in the 19th century changed the rules of the game. He believed baseball should be more scientific, each man should be judge on their ability; pitchers should be judge on if the other team is hitting every pitch they throw. Because of this the amount of balls allowed during an at bat was reduced from 5 to 4. He was one of the first promoters and sportswriters in America. Henry gets complete credit for starting the modern scoring system also. He used letters to show players positions and a “K” to show a strike eventually numbers replaced the letters for player positions. This new way of scoring led to box score. Today, scoring a game and box scores are very similar to the way Henry Chadwick originally arranged it in the 1860s.[3]

City by city teams were being formed. Players were being scouted by team owners, who were willing to pay men to play the game.  Eventually being split into two leagues, the National league and American league, baseball continued to strive in America even after two World Wars. It was the one sport that kept Americans united. With baseball season in full swing, and our home town Nationals not doing as well as we would all like, remember the origins of our pastime. The soldiers that used it as their pastime in encampments and POW camps, the men the help shape the game like Henry Chadwick and the historic stars of the game like Cy Young, Ty Cobb, and Babe Ruth.

-Karen Fossum, Museum Assistant

[1] Evans, Christopher Hodge, and William R. Herzog. The Faith of Fifty Million: Baseball, Religion, and American Culture. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2002. Print.

[2] “Civil War Baseball | Fort Ward Museum & Historic Site | City of Alexandria, VA.” Civil War Baseball | Fort Ward Museum & Historic Site | City of Alexandria, VA

[3] Tygiel, Jules. Past Time: Baseball as History. Oxford [England: Oxford UP, 2001. Print.