Friday, May 18, 2012

July 4, 1863

There will be an interesting game of Base Ball during the afternoon of the 4th, on the grounds of the Commercial Club, in Lafayette Park.  We understand the game is to be composed of representatives from the various Clubs of the city, and will undoubtedly be an exciting one.  
-Missouri Democrat, July 3, 1863

I looked high and low for more information about this game but, sadly, couldn't find anything.  I really want the box score from this game.  I want to know who played in the game and what clubs were represented.  I want to know how big the crowd was.  I want to know everything there is to know about this game.

Because this game took place on one of the most extraordinary days in the history of the United States.  Gettysburg ended with a Union victory the day before and Vicksburg surrendered that day.  Two days earlier, the outcome of the Civil War was still in doubt.  But, by the Fourth of July, 1863, as St. Louis celebrated the holiday by watching a baseball game in Lafayette Park, the war had reached its turning point and the Union would move surely, although slowly and with great cost, onward to victory.

What continues to amaze me about baseball in St. Louis during the Civil War is that these great and terrible events transpire in parallel to the commonplace.  It's things like this game taking place the day after Pickett's Charge and the day of the fall of Vicksburg.  It's the Empire Club having to postpone their anniversary game in 1865 because of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln.  It's a game being played in St. Louis the day Stonewall Jackson died.  You study the Civil War and ready the histories and spend decades of your life trying to learn about and understand the events of the era but it's almost impossible to understand what life was truly like for the people who lived through it.  You can read the diaries and memoirs and still never come close to understanding what life was like during the Civil War.

For me, that's why the study of 19th century baseball is so important.  It's the common, everyday stuff of life that we can all relate to and understand.  We use baseball, something that we love and understand, as a conduit into the lives of people that are so far removed from us.  Baseball is the common ground and the common language that we can use to try, just a bit, to understand what life was like in 1863.  We really can't understand what people felt upon hearing the news about Gettysburg and Vicksburg but I know what it's like to play in a baseball game on the Fourth of July.  I know what it's like to watch a game on the Fourth.  And in that sense, I can put myself in the place of the people who played in and watched the game at Lafayette Park on July 4, 1863.  In that sense, I can get a bit closer in understanding what their life was like.  


Ted Yemm said...

Awesome post. I hope you don't mind, but I quoted it in its entirety to the GSLHBBS email group as a reminder of why we should be playing vintage base ball.

Jeffrey Kittel said...

That's very cool. I'm glad you liked it and hope they do to.