If you study early baseball you’ve seen the picture above. It’s the Excelsior team of 1860. Over the years I’ve done short blogs on three of the men in the picture. On 20 October 2010 there was a post called The Original Ace that dealt with Asa Brainard, the next-to-last man on the right of the picture (the man holding the cap) who went on to star as the primary pitcher for the 1869-70 Cincinnati Red Stockings. I used a part of it in my last blog post to show you Henry Polhemus (he’s the tall man with the mutton chops fourth from the left). There was also, as noted in the previous post, a blog on Jim Creighton (third from the left, holding the ball). Although I promise not to go through the entire group of nine, I want to look at one more member of this team. This time I want to focus on the man in the middle of the picture (the man with the bat beside Polhemus). His name was Andrew Thurstin Pearsall and he was unique among the men in this picture.
Pearsall was the youngest of five children (one died in infancy). He was born in Bainbridge, New York in 1839 and by 1860 was listed as a merchant in Brooklyn (At his age I presume he worked in mercantile, rather than actually owned the place, but I’m not certain.). He was also attending medical school at the (College of Physicians and Surgeons of the City of New York (now part of Columbia University) and completed his degree in 1861. Along the way he picked up a wife, Mary Graves of Lowndes County, Alabama. He also enjoyed baseball. During the late 1850s he became the primary first baseman for the Excelsior and was considered, along with Polhemus, as one of their two best hitters. He helped them to victories is both their “national” tours (they went to upstate New York in one and as far as Baltimore in the other). He played through the 1861 season, then sometime in 1862 disappeared.
He surfaced again in 1863, this time in Virginia. He became a regimental surgeon (that’s a status and doesn’t mean necessarily he was attached to a particular regiment) in the Confederate Army. His initial appointment was from 14 December 1862. He seems to have served in both Virginia and Georgia seeing time in both a hospital and on frontline duty with the 9th Kentucky Cavalry (CSA). Legend has it that while on service with the Confederacy he attended members of his former team, asking about the health of other team members. Although there is no actual proof of that he attended members of his team, a story in the New York Clipper does indicate he met a member of the Excelsior (name unknown) who was a prisoner of war and asked that man about the team. A letter from the prisoner to his family is supposed to be how the team found out what Pearsall was doing with his time.
So, if you’re the Excelsior, what do you do when you find out one of your players is in the military of the enemy? Apparently it was an easy call. On the 4th of July 1863 (the day following the end of the battle of Gettysburg, in which Pearsall did not participate) the team met and voted unanimously to expel him from the team. He was never reinstated. As far as I can tell, he had no further attachment to baseball.
Following the Civil War, Pearsall remained in the South (Alabama specifically) as a doctor remaining into the 1870s (he’s in the 1870 census in Alabama), then moving to Oswego, New York (where he shows in the 1880 census). He returned to medical practice serving as surgeon for a railroad and for a while as the Oswego coroner. He died in Oswego in 1905.
Because most of the men involved in early baseball were from the North, the overwhelming majority of those who served in the Civil War did so in the Union Army. A handful with ties to the South went with the Confederacy. One source indicates that 91 members (and former members) of the Excelsior joined the Union Army. Apparently only one, Pearsall, joined the CSA.