The Empire Club Celebrates Their Anniversary

Monday, March 3, 2008


Illustrative of the discipline maintained (by Jeremiah Fruin) is an incident that occurred soon after the Home Guards were put into service throughout the city. The Empire Club was celebrating the anniversary of its organization by a match game between the married and single men on Gamble Lawn, and as usual had erected their tent at a convenient spot for the safe keeping and change of clothing, ice water, and other refreshments. From the tent pole was suspended a blue and gilt banner that originally had been presented by Col. John McNeil to one of the old volunteer fire companies from whom it was inherited by the Empire Club. About the middle of the game when the large attendance, composed mostly of ladies and children, was getting at fever heat interest, it was suddenly discovered that the grounds were almost completely surrounded by detachments of Home Guards, a squad of whom marched straight to the middle of the field surprising the players and causing such consternation among the audience that it quickly dispersed amid the shrieks and cries of the terrorized women and children, and to the deep indignation of the members of the club, some few of whom giving way to their anger, seized on bats, bases (they were movable in those days) and anything with which they could make a fight. Fruin sprung to the front of the soldiers, ordered the ball players back and caused a suspension of hostilities. Among the players, as an invited guest, was Capt. Griswold, an officer in the Home Guards and a member of the Cyclone Club, who accounded Fruin's peace-preserving efforts by addressing himself to the officer of the intruders, a somewhat fresh importation, from whom it was soon learned that they had been informed and so believed that the banner was a secession flag and the gathering was one of rebels. It was impossible to make the officer understand the truth of the situation. His "Dutch was up" owing to the imprecations and jeers that had been hurled upon him and his men and he would not be appeased without taking several players prisoners to headquarters at Turner Hall on Tenth street just South of Market. As further proof of his prowess the officer also took along that much despised and tear provoking "Secesh" banner. At Turner Hall, Col. John McNeil was in command. He quickly recognized his own old banner and understood the situation by at once liberating the prisoners. It was owing mainly to Fruin's ready action and control of his men that no actual conflict took place on the ball field, for one over-act on the part of a ball player would have doubtless caused an indiscriminate firing from the Home Guards, wherein the women and children would have suffered and perhaps another chapter of the "Slaughter of the Innocents" added to the history of those dark and troubled days.
-E. H. Tobias, writing in The Sporting News, November 2, 1895




While Tobias doesn't give a date for this game, the implication is that it took place in 1861. Al Spink writes in The National Game that the Empire Club was founded on April 16, 1860 so this game was marking the first anniversary of the club's founding and most likely took place during one of the most chaotic periods in the history of St. Louis. If the game was being played in the middle to late April of 1861, it takes place as the struggle for control of the city between Union and Secessionist forces is coming to a head.

In March of 1861, the Missouri Constitutional Convention votes to stay in the Union but not to supply military aid to the Federal government. On April 12, Confederate forces fire on Fort Sumter. On April 20, pro-Confederate forces seize the arsenal at Liberty, Missouri. On April 29, Nathaniel Lyons seizes the arsenal at St. Louis for the Union. On May 1, Gov. Jackson calls out the Missouri Militia. And on May 10, Lyon seizes Camp Jackson.

In the middle of all of this, the Empire Base Ball Club celebrated their anniversary by playing a game.

Note: The picture at the top of the post is of the St. Louis arsenal. The second photo is of the Nathaniel Lyons monument in St. Louis. The arsenal can be seen in the background.

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