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Baseball in Blue and Gray: The National Pastime during the Civil War Paperback – February 11, 2007

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Editorial Reviews


"Kirsch examines the emerging organizational sophistication of urban and collegiate baseball on the home front, and he sketches out the social and racial contours of what was already often seen as the national game. . . . A careful scholar, he savors using evidence to demolish myth."--Choice

"The book is a pleasure to read, and deserves numerous votes for the current literary All-Star Game."--David Wee, American Historical Review

"George P. Kirsch has written an interesting, readable book about the sport's growth during the Civil War that teaches readers how the game evolved into the national pastime."--Jeff Diamant, Newark Star-Ledger

"Although baseball shares the public stage with other sports nowadays, it is still the professional sport most prominent in American historical consciousness. George B. Kirsch's book offers an intriguing look at the very early years of baseball, which were intertwined with the crucible of the Civil War. . . . Overall, this is a solid examination of the subject and will be of interest to sports and baseball historians, in particular, but also those scholars and general readers interested in the social history of the Civil War."--John Sickels, Civil War History

From the Inside Flap

"This fine social history tells a very powerful story, and one that will stir a lot of interest. It is full of lively analysis and overflowing with fascinating research. The author has done a splendid job of putting his material into an enticing format that draws the reader into an absorbing narrative. He makes a compelling case that the stories of baseball and the epic of the Civil War were inextricably bound."--Catherine Clinton, author of Fanny Kembel's Civil Wars

"This book, written in a straightforward and accessible style, is clearly the most complete book on baseball in the Civil War era yet written."--Jules Tygiel, author of Past Time: Baseball as History

"This is an impressive work on Civil War baseball that shows a sport developing and growing even as war raged--a testament to the popularity of the game. Kirsch recounts the stories of the early players who answered the call for service, does a fine and honest job of discussing the baseball-in-prison issue, and covers the early history of the game itself in a pleasing manner."--Randy Roberts, author of John Wayne America --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 168 pages
  • Publisher: Princeton University Press (February 11, 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0691130434
  • ISBN-13: 978-0691130439
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 6 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #489,062 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

I was born in Manhattan, spent the first three years of my life in the Bronx, and have been a professor of history at Manhattan College in the Riverdale corner of that borough for more than forty years. Yet in my heart of hearts my allegiance lies across the Hudson River, to the much maligned Garden State, New Jersey. That's because I grew up and now reside in Hackensack and lived in Montclair and Glen Ridge with my wife Susan (sadly, now deceased) for thirty-five years. We raised our son, Adam, in Glen Ridge.

I am a proud graduate of Hackensack High School, class of 1963. My most recent book, "Six Guys from Hackensack: Coming of Age in the Real New Jersey,"
is a memoir of friendship and a social history of that Bergen County town during the post-world War II era. Our group of six buddies met in elementary school and remain close to this day--largely because of the impact of our hometown and our shared experiences during our youth in the conformist 1950s and our adolescence and young adulthood during the cultural and political turmoil of the 1960s. Our stories provide a long overdue realty check for readers whose ideas about New Jersey come from lame New Jersey jokes or "The Sopranos," "Boardwalk Empire," and "Jersey Shore."

After graduating from Hackensack High School I went to Cornell for my B.A., and then earned an M.A. and Ph.D. in History at Columbia. I have taught history at Manhattan College since 1972, where I am a professor of history. At Columbia my doctoral dissertation was a biography of Jeremy Belknap, a Revolutionary War Patriot minister and historian. My first field of expertise was colonial and revolutionary America, but after I was safely tenured in 1978 I switched to the new and exciting field of sports history. Over the past three decades I have authored "Baseball and Cricket: The Creation of American Team Sports, 1838-72"; "Baseball in Blue and Gray: The National Pastime during the Civil War"; and "Golf in America." I also edited two volumes of "Sports in North America: A Documentary History," and was the lead editor of "The Encyclopedia of Ethnicity and Sports in the United States." I was also a consultant for Major League Baseball and for Ken Burns's PBS series, Baseball. I have published dozens of book reviews, scholarly articles, and newspaper and magazine pieces, and I have been a guest speaker at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum in Cooperstown, NY and the Museum of the United States Golf Association in Far Hills, NJ. Today I can say (with some immodesty) that I am recognized as one of the leading sports historians in the United States.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

7 of 7 people found the following review helpful By Michael J. Sopher on July 24, 2005
Format: Hardcover
America's favorite pastime existed in the Civil War? As a Civil War historian it never crossed my mind that baseball existed in the mid nineteenth century. But it did and it was popular! This book not only relates baseball to the Civil War but also presents the roots of America's favorite pastime. While many baseball and sports historians claim that Abner Doubleday, a Union general in the Civil War, was instrumental in creating the baseball we know today, Kirsch shows evidence that the game was actually developed in the 1840's and 1850's.

The Civil War hurt baseball for obvious reasons- the first being that several of its key players choose to drop their bats and pick up the rifle. The second explanation for baseball's decline during the early stages of war was the shift of focus from baseball to the war front. American nationalism was high and baseball took a back seat to the war effort, at least for the first couple of years. Baseball fans became more interested in how there country was doing rather than who won the local ball game. But as Kirsch explains, the game did not die with the Civil War, but rather came stronger as it progressed. Games in 1864 and 1865 were popular, especially in the bigger cities such as Philadelphia and New York City. Soldiers in the camps and prisons used baseball as a form of entertainment. The game was beginning to show its true popularity.

As Kirsch says, his book shows that American nationalism and baseball really came of age at the end of the Civil War. As the death toll for both armies began to mount, the people looked for ways to entertain themselves and perhaps escape the realities of being at war. Going to theaters, band concerts, and other forms of entertainment were essential to ease the pain.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Jack Maybrick on September 23, 2004
Format: Hardcover
George Kirsch's book about baseball during the middle of the 19th century, particularly the Civil War years, is a little too scholarly and a little too detailed to be considered light reading, in spite of its fairly small size.

But it's still a very engaging book, which will inform and entertain reasonably literate baseball fans (yes, I know these often seem scarce).

The Abner Doubleday legend was put to bed long ago, as was the myth that Lincoln, on his deathbed, begged Doubleday to keep baseball alive (with a bullet lodged 6 inches in his brain, Lincoln never regained consciousness after being shot).

Still, traditionalists will find much to cheer, for in place of these legends, and in a relatively short space, Kirsch provides a wealth of information that actually does establish baseball as a uniquely American activity.

The traditionally English pastime of rounders is of distant ancestry to American baseball, more so than cricket, but as Kirsch notes - citing Henry Chadwick - baseball modified and improved in the United States to an extent almost to deprive it of any or its original features beyond the mere groundwork of the game.

Chadwick's name comes up frequently in this volume, and Kirsch provides information justifying the present-day consensus that the English-born American-raised Chadwick was the "father" of modern-day baseball - having extensively promoted the game, worked assiduously in an effort to keep it free of corruptive elements such as gambling, and invented the first set of statistics and box scores to record and summarize the action.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By J. McFarland on December 19, 2010
Format: Paperback
As other reviewers have said, the title is somewhat misleading. I bought it at the Gettysburg battlefield. Being a Civil War buff and a baseball buff, I thought it would be an interesting way to combine two of my interests. I expected (based on the title) to read about baseball being played by soldiers on both sides of the war.

There is very little of that, however. Rather, the book focuses on the origins of the game and how it blossomed into what it is today during the Civil War years. In other words, it should have been entitled, "Baseball's 19th Century Roots" or something similar.

That said, the author did an outstanding job researching and documenting his findings. When questions remain unanswered or sources are ambiguous, he says so -- a mark of a true historian. Lesser historians try to justify their predispositions or biases, but Kirsch does not.

Like another reviewer said, I would not consider this light afternoon reading. Buy this book if you are interested in baseball's origins and its history, especially during the middle and late 19th century. Do not buy it if you are simply a Civil War buff with no interest in baseball history looking for a change of pace.
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8 of 10 people found the following review helpful By Theo Logos on January 20, 2005
Format: Hardcover
The title of George B. Kirsch's book Baseball in Blue & Gray is a tad misleading. It implies that the book is a history of baseball as played by soldiers in the American Civil War. Though one chapter, titled battlefront, is devoted to baseball as it was played in the military and prison camps of that war, the remainder of the book is best captured by its sub-title - The National Pastime During the Civil War. As a history of how baseball developed, progressed, and grew into the American National Pastime during the first half of the 1860s, this book does a fine job. If, however, you are looking for a book full of Civil War baseball antidotes, you will find this book a disappointment.
Kirsch begins with a quick history lesson on the origins of baseball. He claims that the game is distantly related to the English game of rounders, not the more famous English bat and ball game cricket. Rounders underwent a major transformation in America, and emerged as the game of townball, a unique American version of the game that was widely played throughout the country in the antebellum years. In the 1840s, a New York club, the Knickerbockers, developed rules of play for townball that qualified it as the earliest form of baseball. This New York style of play became quickly popular, and by the 1850s had spread all over the region and beyond. Kirsch claims that the soldiers in the Civil War helped to spread the new form of the game around the country, but has little more than antidotal evidence for this claim.
The real virtue of Baseball in Blue & Gray is not its Civil War tie in, put the wealth of knowledge on the early development of baseball in the days before professional leagues.
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