21 December 2012

Baseball on Christmas Day, 1862


How it was spent here, at Beaufort and the Navy—Christmas Dinners—Games and Sports—Minstrels—&c. &c.

Christmas day opened as warm and sunny as a June day at the North,—but a little cooler weather would have been welcomed as more in accordance with our Northern notions of the season. Here the day was spent in feasting and merriment and by both officers and men was made the occasion of quiet social enjoyment.[sic] The invitations to dine given and accepted were numerous and many a camp table groaned beneath a weight of substantial fare that would have clone [done] honor to Metropolitan mahogany. In all the camps the day was observed in various ways and more or less fun and frolic prevailed. Below we give a few of the more prominent incidents of the day, which afford a fair sample of how it was spent.

In the morning the Fire Department, under the direction of the Chief, Mr. Smith, had a trial of the engines in Union Square and satisfied themselves of the power and capacity of the new apparatus. In the camp of the 47th Regiment New York Vol-unteers the day was made the occasion of a flag raising at which the 2d Battalion of Duryea Zouaves, under command of Lt. Col. Abel Smith, assisted. Previous to the ceremony of raising the flag the Zouaves were reviewed by Col. Frazer of the Forty-seventh. The flag was raised by Mrs. Col. Frazer and upon reaching the top of the staff was greeted with hearty cheers by the soldiers. After an eloquent prayer from the Rev. Mr. Butts, Chap-lain of the Forty-seventh the officers betook them-selves to Major Van Brunt s [sic] quarters when they partook of an excellent dinner.

At the Provost Marshal's Quarters there were absurd and laughable sports among the men, and a ball match between the "Van Brunt" and the " Frazer' Base ball clubs, which resulted in a victory for the latter; and in the evening the Provost, Guard Minstrels entertained a large audience with songs and dances. The Rhode Island Minstrels also gave a concert which was exceedingly good, and pronounced to be the feature of the evening in the way of amusements. In the New York Volunteer Engineers, a German company observed the day in their national manner with a Christmas tree very prettily got up.


At Beaufort the day passed in the same quiet and social manner as here. In the Camp of the 6th Connecticut regiment a grand complimentary dinner was given by the officers of' the regiment to their many friends. The table presented an elegant appearance, and was spread with a profusion and variety which reflected credit upon Messrs. Cooley & Harvey, sutlers of the regiment, who supplied the good cheer. Music was furnished during the repast, by the hand of the 8th Maine regiment. In the camp of the 1st U. S. Artillery, the day was marked by ludicrous and amusing games and feats of dexterity and horseman-ship. Climbing a greased pole, wheelbarrow races, meal feats, &c., were followed by artillery practice, pistol firing at a target by horsemen at full gallop, riding over hurdles, &c. These sports, requiring both skill and agility, proved very interesting. After the games came feasting and jollity and abundance of good cheer was consumed in honor of old St. Nicholas. In the camp of the 4th New Hampshire Col. Bell gave a dinner to his officers, at which mirth and hilarity prevailed. Admiral Du Pont and Gen. Seymour spent the day at Beaufort, the guests of Gen. Saxton.


Our friends of the Wabash gave their grand Concert Christmas evening. It was a very creditable affair, the singing good, and their delineation of the negro character excellent, well meriting the applause it received. The crowning piece of the evening was the '' Magic Postage Stamp," in which all the humorous characters of negro acting was brought out and shone to advantrge. [sic] The scenery, (designed and painted on board the Wabash,) was artistic, both in design and execution. Our blue jackets, we perceive, continue to shine either in fun or fighting; may we not hope that they will repeat the concert on New Year's eve.

The day was not allowed to pass unheeded by our soldiers stationed on the different islands, but was duly celebrated. By the Ninety-seventh Pennsylvania, stationed on St. Helena Island, it was made a gala, and the soldiers enjoyed themselves hugely with all sorts of fun and frolic. Take it altogether, we think that no fault can be found with the sensible manner in which we spent our Christmas in the South.

It affords us pleasure to add that everything passed off harmoniously, and without an accident to mar the pleasure, of the day.

Valerie Josephson, a historian of baseball, disputes the accuracy of the fabled 10,000 people in attendance at this Christmas Day baseball game as the math does not add up. On the basis of the research which our resources helped her to do, she writes:

The description of the ball game seems a bit tame as there were reported to be 10,000 in attendance ....... but I think they played it down due to the fact that it was a religious holiday.

The “world series” of Hilton Head, played on December 25, 1862, in which an estimated 10,000 people packed onto the fort walls to view this championship game.  Although this battle has achieved mythic status among Civil War baseball aficionados, there is no record of who won and what the score was. A published record appears in the History of the Second Battalion, Duryee: Zouaves, 165th New York Volunteer Infantry, in which the regiment’s adjutant states, “The men had quite a time in a game of ball with other troops here; A.G. Mills and George E. Cogswell of Co. B played in this game which was witnessed by 10,000 soldiers.”  The 165th,, bound for New Orleans,  stopped at Hilton Head for restocking and repairs.  A.G. Mills came to war with a bat and ball.  He was to become the fourth President of the National League.   Sgt. Cogswell died four months later of disease at Fort Parapet, Carrolton, New Orleans The size of the audience  is often stated as 40,000 but that is not supported by available data.  A modern comparison may be made with the new Yankee Stadium which has 50,000 seats. There were only 10 full and partial regiments on the island.   The scarcity of personal reports may be due to the fact that the game was played on Christmas Day and soldiers were perhaps reluctant to write home about such frivolity on a religious holiday.  Despite an exhaustive search of all 10 regiments collected letters, by this author, we remain scoreless.

For those who really love baseball and/or Civil War regimental histories, the regimental history of the 165th New York is online at http://dmna.ny.gov/historic/reghist/civil/infantry/165thInf/165thInfMain.htm

Another great source for baseball and/or Civil War fans to read is "Hurry Up and Wait and Play Ball," an article by George B. Kirsch, author of Baseball in Blue and Gray: The National Pastime During the Civil War. 

For the true baseball wonk, visit the Society for American Baseball Research http://www.sabr.org.  

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