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Baseball in Blue and Gray: The National Pastime during the Civil War Paperback – February 11, 2007
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"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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To be sure, it had its moments, but just not enough of them. It was interesting to read that some more well-to-do northern men paid others to take their places in the war and then stayed home and played baseball. I would've enjoyed more than a sentence or two about this.
In fact, the subtitle is "the national pastime during the Civil War," that is, this is a history of baseball at the time the Civil War just happened to be taking place. Only two chapters out of six (and the far shorter two chapters) are actually devoted to the Civil War. One chapter is called "Battleground" and it talks about how prisoners of war played the game, at least during the first year or two of the war. Another chapter focuses on the legacy of the Civil War on baseball, which was interesting, especially as to how baseball helped to reunite the country after the war.
Besides not being what I expected, the writer's style is dry, to say the least. In other words, I thought this book was pretty dull (and it didn't need to be that way).
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.
The writer credits the Civil War for the spread of baseball. As the North moved South, the game followed. Games in the prisoners camps and during lull in fighting helped spread the game. One case where a star of one of the NY teams joined the Union as a surgeon and then switched to the Confederacy helped spread the game to Richmond.
A fun read. Well researched.
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. Baseball was easing the tensions of a dividing nation while slowly improving the racial relations of blacks and whites. Baseball was not considered America's favorite pastime in 1850 or 1865 but it was growing in popularity. Games became meaningful and the attendance began to rise. Local clubs became national teams and soon people in Chicago were interested in how a New York team was doing. Baseball was soon to be our nation's pastime.