Posts Tagged ‘Abraham Lincoln’

The War Hero and the Legend

August 29, 2012

General and Mrs. Doubleday

We all know this story. Abner Doubleday, West Point cadet, is in Cooperstown, New York when he sets out the first baseball diamond and invents Babe Ruth, Willie Mays, and Derek Jeter. It’s a great story. It’s utter nonsense, but it is a great story. I decided it was time to introduce you to the man who is supposed to have invented baseball all by himself one pleasant afternoon.

Doubleday was born in New York in 1819, son of a War of 1812 veteran and a two term Congressman. He moved to Cooperstown, living with an uncle. He spent time as a surveyor and then entered West Point in 1838. He graduated in 1842, 24th in a class of 56. That got him a commission in the United States Artillery.

That led to a fairly typical military career (at least until 1860). He served in coastal fortress garrisons, saw service in the Mexican War, and in 1858 found himself assigned to the garrison at Charleston, South Carolina. By 1860 he was second-in-command to Robert Anderson. With the move to Fort Sumter in December 1860, Doubleday assumed status as the executive officer of the garrison in the fort and was tasked with commanding the gun that fired the first return shot when Confederate artillery fired on the fort in 1861. Hence, in some ways he can be given credit for firing (or at least ordering) the first Northern shot in the Civil War.

After the surrender of Sumter, Doubleday commanded artillery and later infantry in defense of Washington. By August 1862 he was a brigade commander in the Army of Virginia and fought at the Second Battle of Bull Run. He took temporary command of his division on the final day of the battle and served well as commander of the rear guard. At South Mountain in September 1862, his division commander was wounded and Doubleday again took command of the division. He fought at Antietam, being wounded (along with a lot of other men on the bloodiest day in US military history). Upon his return to duty he retained command of the division serving at both Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville (his division was not engaged at either battle).

In July 1863 he took temporary command of I Corps of the Army of the Potomac at Gettysburg when his corps commander (John Reynolds) was killed. Doubleday did well enough but  wasreplaced on the last day of the battle. Apparently army commander George Meade didn’t like Doubleday at all. He spent the remainder of the Civil War as part of the garrison of Washington, DC, generally serving on courts-martial boards. While in DC he became friends with Abraham Lincoln and was one of the officers chosen to accompany the President to Gettysburg when Lincoln gave his famous speech (although I’m not sure his service at the battle didn’t have more weight than his friendship with the President on this occasion).

Doubleday Monument at Gettysburg

Following the Civil War, Doubleday was assigned regimental command. He later served in San Francisco where he patented the cable car system that still runs there. He ended his military career commanding the 24th Infantry, an all black regiment.  He retired first to New York, then to New Jersey. He wrote three works (one not found among his papers until years after his death) and died in 1893. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia.

And no where in all of that is there any mention of baseball. Doubleday never claimed to have invented the game, never mentioned it in any of his papers or published works, and as far as I know never saw a game. I’ve read his published works and they’re not a bad read. No where in them does he mention that he invented baseball. By his death in 1893 professional baseball was a growing concern. The National League ruled the sport, the popularity of the game was growing. It seems to me that if he had invented the sport, he’d want to take credit for it at some point. He never did.

Abner Doubleday was something of a minor American hero in the period after the Civil War. He was certainly the most famous figure from Cooperstown in the post bellum era. Maybe it was natural that someone would claim for him the title of creator of baseball. It certainly made a better story than claiming a lawyer (William Wheaton), a doctor (Daniel Adams), an insurance man (Duncan Curry), and a bookseller (Alexander Cartwright) did it.  But Doubleday didn’t do it. Having said that, he’s still an interesting character to know about.

Doubleday’s grave

The Mighty Atlantic

January 14, 2011

1860 game between Atlantic and Excelsior at Excelsior Grounds

Since its beginnings, baseball has been dominated by great teams. Back in the Deadball Era there were the Cubs and Athletics. Since 1920 the Yankees have dominated. In the 1880s, there were the Browns. And before any of these, all the way back in the 1850s and 1860s there were the Atlantic.

The great hotbed of 1850s and 1860s baseball was Brooklyn. At this time Brooklyn was an independent city, not one of the boroughs of New York. It had its own civic pride, its own commercial district, and more great baseball teams than anywhere else. The best of these were the Atlantic. The singular form of the word is  correct, but as it sounds absolutely goofy to the modern ear, I’ll begin calling them the Atlantics. They were occasionally known as the Atlantic of Brooklyn and they were far and away the best of the era.

The Atlantics were founded in 1855 and joined the newly formed National Association of Base Ball Players that same season. BTW Base Ball as two words is correct for this era. The modern Baseball comes later. They were a typical club of the period, all amateurs (at least officially), men who worked a day job and used baseball as a hobby and medium for exercise. I’m not sure of the initial roster, but I was able to find the following list of players for the 21 October 1855 game, so let’s celebrate them:  Caleb Sniffen (P), Willet P. Whitson (C), Thomas Powers (1B), Tice Hamilton (2B), Isaac Loper (3B), William Babcock (SS), William Bliss (LF), John Holder (CF), and Andrew Gildersleeve (RF). The Atlantic defeated the Harmony (of Brooklyn) club 24-22 that day. Can you imagine a “Harmony” team in this day and age?

The Association  was a consortium of teams and players that met to create a uniform set of rules, and ultimately to choose a winner for the league. They did not crown a champion from 1855 through 1858, but the Atlantics did well, producing a 7-1-1 record in 1857 and going 11-1 in 1858. Beginning in 1859, the Association decided to determine a champion and did so through 1869. In those 11 years, the Atlantics won seven titles: 1859, 1860, 1861, 1864, 1865, 1866, and 1869. No other team won more than two (Brooklyn Eckfords).

In their seven titles, the Atlantics never played more than 21 championship caliber games prior to 1868, so they are dominant over a small sample of contests and thus it’s difficult to gauge their true abilities. Another problem is the rapid turnover of players. By the first championship team of 1859, not one player from the 1855 team was still around. It seems that’s true to a great degree for most teams of the era. It’s not exactly “free agency”, after all no one is supposed to be paid, but it does appear that the clubs had very open membership and that good players tended to gravitate toward the better teams. This begins to change in the early 1860s when you begin seeing a lot of the same names on the same clubs. Here’s a picture of the 1865 Atlantcs:

1865 Atlantics

From left to right, the players are Frank Norton, Sid Smith, Dickey Pearce, Joe Start, Charlie Smith, John Chapman, Fred Crane, John Galvin, and Tom Pratt. The man in the middle in the civilian suit is manager Peter O’Brien. The association winning team of 1860 included Pearce, Charlie Smith, and Peter O’Brien as a player. In 1869 Pearce, Start, Chapman, and Charlie Smith were still around for the final championship team. Here’s another view of the 1865 team. If you click on it, it blows up so you can read who’s who:

1865 Atlantics

As the reigning league champions in 1869, the Atlantics drew the attention of the all professional Cincinnati Red Stockings team. They engaged in a match for the ages in 1870. It’s nicely detailed at Kevin’s excellent DMB Historic World Series Replay site (link in the blogroll), so I’m not going to go over it except to say the Atlantic won in 11 innings. It was their high point. In 1871 the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players was formed to play professional games. The Atlantic decided to set it out and most of the great players jumped to other teams in the new league. In 1872 the Atlantic joined the new league, but with all their good players gone, they floundered, never finishing higher than sixth (of eight). When the National League was formed in 1876, the woeful Atlantics were left out. They hung around trying to play good ball with little success. In 1882, the newly formed American Association wanted a team in Brooklyn. They chose the Bridegrooms. It was the end for the Atlantics. They folded, although the name hung around for a while as the Bridegrooms were informally know at the “Atlantics” for a number of years.

It was a sad end to a great team, but the Baseball God’s weren’t quite through with them yet. In looking for info on this team, I ran across a site dedicated to a modern team called the Atlantic that plays 1860s style Base Ball in honor of the old team. In the words of a contemporary of the old Atlantic, Abraham Lincoln, “It is altogether fitting and proper” that they do this.