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Baseball in Blue and Gray: The National Pastime during the Civil War Paperback – February 11, 2007
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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.Read more ›
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.Read more ›
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.
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).
Most Recent Customer Reviews
A fun book that combines 2 of my passions-baseball and history. This explores the history of baseball from the early 1800's to around 1870. Read morePublished on February 24, 2014 by Glenn D. Robinson