Saturday, April 21, 2012

The Civil War Reminiscences Of General Basil W. Duke, C.S.A.: Part One

At the beginning of the Civil War I was a citizen of Missouri and resident of St. Louis, and first did service in the cause of the South, or, as our opponents termed it, gave aid to the rebellion, in that city.  If I had needed other excuse for such action than the approval of my own judgment and conscience, I might have found it in the character of my associates; for no men were ever influenced by sincerer convictions or impelled by more unselfish motives.  I may add with pardonable pride that many of my comrades of that period, the majority of whom were very young men, subsequently won enviable reputation in the Confederate army; but the daring courage and adventurous spirit which distinguished them as soldiers were never more conspicuously shown than in that exciting novitiate in St. Louis.
-The Civil War Reminiscences of General Basil W. Duke, C.S.A.

I've been reading through Basil Duke's memoirs again and thought I'd share some of it with you.  I know that I've posted the above quote about "the character of my associates" in the past because it made me think of some of Duke's fellow Cyclone Club members, specifically Ed Bredell and Ferdinand Garesche, and I also know that I've mentioned some of Duke's war exploits in the past but I have a few reasons to want to go back into Duke's reminiscences here.

The first reason I'm doing this is that I got a new copy of Duke's memoirs.  It's a nice edition put out by Cooper Square Press and I picked it up new at a very fair price.  Second, I have to do something to break up all the Maroons' stuff.  That's a project that has run on way to long and, honestly, there's no end in sight.  The 1884 season was much more complicated than I thought and I'm only looking at it from the Maroons' perspective.  But I need a little break from Lucas' pets and Duke gives me that.  Also, I want to give you Duke's story in his own words without an editorial from me or anyone else.  I have difficulty in looking at Duke as something other than an unsympathetic figure, simply because he fought for the "wrong" side in the Civil War.  That's not fair or rational but it's the truth.  And it's a bit strange because I see Ed Bredell, who also fought for the South, as a romantic and tragic figure while I tend to see Duke as a bit of a villain.  So I'm aware of my own biases and I'm aware that Duke tells his story differently than I would.  Finally, Duke's activities at the outbreak of the war make for a great story.  Before he even joins up with Morgan's Raiders, the man was involved in some extraordinary exploits.  Regardless of what one may think of Duke's political beliefs, he was a many of courageous action and he certainly lived a full life that is interesting to look back upon.

The true significance of Duke's memoir, as far as this blog is concerned, is that it gives historical context to the beginnings of the pioneer baseball era in St. Louis.  The game came to St. Louis, was established in St. Louis and began to flourish in St. Louis as the Civil War was breaking out in the United States.  On can not separate the the origins of baseball in St. Louis from the history of the Civil War.  Also of significance is the fact that these are the memoirs not just of someone who was in St. Louis as the pioneer era began but who played an important role in the establishment of baseball in the city.  Basil Duke was a member of the first baseball club in St. Louis history and a participant in the first games played in St. Louis using the New York rules.  He's a significant figure in the history of St. Louis baseball and his memoirs, while not specifically mentioning the game, are a significant document.     


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