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“Baseball and the military?” Many people are nearly shocked to learn about the game of baseball’s common history with the U.S. Armed Forces. In fact, the game’s genesis coincides with the foundation and establishment and development of our nation’s fighting force during the struggle for independence. Researching military journals and correspondence reveals that as far back as 1779, just weeks following George Rogers Clark‘s victory over the British at the frontier fort (Sackville) located in present-day Vincennes, Indiana, Colonel Henry Dearborn was leading an expedition through North Central Pennsylvania in an effort to thwart attacks from the British-allied Iroquois Indians. In April, Colonel Dearborn made two journal entries that were not of a military nature:

  • April 3: “all the Officers of the Brigade turn’d out & Play’d a game at ball the first we have had this yeare. — “
  • April 17: “we are oblige’d to walk 4 miles to day to find a place leavel enough to play ball.”

John Thorn, a baseball historian for the National Baseball Hall of Fame expands upon Dearborn’s mention of the game of “ball” and how this may be more indicative of the game’s beginnings than with the long-standing Abner Doubleday invention of the game in 1839 (see: “A Place Leavel Enough to Play Ball”: Baseball and Baseball-type Games in the Colonial Era, Revolutionary War, and Early American Republic). As the nation was forming and maturing, the armed forces also experienced maturation and solidification in the years following the British surrender at Yorktown. The game of baseball was blossoming in parallel with the military. While there is much debate and disagreement over the actual inventors of the game and its exact origins, we do know that the first published rules were written by the members of the New York Knickerbocker Baseball Club (which was established in 1845). By the Civil War, the game was being played within the ranks of both the Union and Confederate armies (see: Baseball in Washington During the Civil War).

Union soldiers play baseball while confined at Salisbury Prison in North Carolina where Captain Otto Boetticher (of the 68th NY Regiment) was held as a prisoner of war in 1862. This print was created in 1863 showing great detail of the game and surrounding camp (source: Reynold House Museum of American Art).

The game’s popularity grew in the decades after Lee’s surrender at Appomattox leading up and through the Great War. The game’s popularity among the nation was reaching its apex before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. Throughout both of the global wars in the first half of the 20th Century, the game was integral as both a training device (building dexterity, coordination and agility in concert with team unity and esprit de corps) and a relief and respite mechanism.

This site was created for the purpose of shedding light on the interwoven histories of the game and the armed forces through the artifacts that remain from those earlier times. Through research and passion for both the game and military history, this site will strive to provide accurate information and resources surrounding the objects, unit histories and the personalities connected to both the game and the armed forces.

 

 

 

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