Posts Tagged ‘American Civil War’

Gone South

August 28, 2013
Excelsior of Brooklyn 1860 team photo

Excelsior of Brooklyn 1860 team photo

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.

Put Down that Bat and Join the Cavalry

January 20, 2011

Amazing the number of people who’ve wandered into a baseball uniform, isn’t it? I have. Most of my friends have. Some very famous, or infamous, people have also done it. There have been a handful of peripheral historical figures who’ve played a little baseball in their spare time. You never know where you’re going to find one of those. Take, for instance, Fred Benteen.

Frederick Benteen was born in Petersburg, Virginia in 1834. In 1849 the family moved to St. Louis, Missouri where Benteen became a painter (house variety, not portrait variety). He also developed an interest in baseball. By 1860 he was a member of the Cyclones of St. Louis, an amateur team that was considered both one of the finest teams in St. Louis, and also one of the finest in the entire area west of the Mississippi River. Benteen was a hitter with some power (for the day) and considered one of the best players on the team. Marrying a local woman in 1860, he seemed content to spend his life in St. Louis painting and playing ball.

Of course the next year the American Civil War broke out. Benteen, despite his Southern heritage, joined the Union cause (at some expense to his relations with his birth family), enlisting in the 10th Missouri Cavalry. He also brought his love of the game to the army. During the Civil War, Benteen fought in several major engagements in the West, notably Pea Ridge, Vicksburg, and Pleasant Hill. He won promotion to Captain in 1861, Major in 1862, and Colonel in 1864 (the latter two Brevets). He also ran the unit baseball team which was known to be the best in whichever command it was stationed.

After the war, Benteen, deciding he liked military life, remained in the army, being sent to Dakota Territory as a Captain (the Brevet made the ranks of Major and Colonel temporary). Assigned to Company H of the 7th Cavalry, he brought his game with him. He organized a company baseball team that won game after game against other teams at various posts in the American West. By the end of 1875, he was having trouble finding games against other service teams. It seemed by early 1876 that he was going to be known more for his baseball team than for his military service.

Then the Great Sioux Uprising of 1876 made him a national figure, if only for a short time. Commander of one of the three columns of the 7th Cavalry on the Little Bighorn, his unit suffered major casualties while his commander, George Custer, had his column massacred in what’s become known as “Custer’s Last Stand”. Unlike the commander of the third column, Major Marcus Reno, who was court martialed, Benteen managed to escape blame for the massacre and continued his army career. But after 1876, his career seemed to run aground at various times. I’m not a qualified shrink, but it seems he never quite got over his role in the Custer fiasco. He had a few run-ins with the authorities, including a drunk and disorderly complaint that cost him rank, but he managed to survive the incident and  stay under the radar until his retirement in 1888, never again appearing in the national spotlight. After his retirement he was Breveted Brigadier General (another temporary rank) and died in 1898 in Atlanta. He is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

I was looking for information on something totally unrelated to baseball when I found a reference to the Cyclones of St. Louis. There was the name Benteen and I knew it from somewhere. A quick search told me where I’d heard it, and of course it had nothing to do with baseball. One of the joys of this blog is being able to pass along strange bits of info like this to readers. Who’d have thought that one of the major players in Custer’s Last Stand would be a ball player?

Benteen in 1865