Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The Top Twenty Games In 19th Century St. Louis Baseball History: # 15

15. August 22, 1861: Empire Club vs. Empire Club

St. Louis - May 10, 1861

The Match Game of Base Ball Interrupted--The match game of base ball, on Gamble avenue, yesterday, was brought to a somewhat abrupt termination.  While the game was in progress a German Home Guard came upon the field and persisted in remaining in the way of the players.  After having been asked two or three times to retire behind the line he was then taken by the arm by the person appointed to keep the field clear, when he (the Home Guard) attempted to strike him.  The blow was returned, the German going down.  He then went away, and in about half an hour afterwards a detachment of Home Guards came and surrounded the whole field, creating quite a panic among a number of ladies and gentlemen who were assembled to witness the game.  The order was given to take all the players to Turners' Hall as prisoners, but Mr. Griswold (formerly a captain in the Home Guards) and a few others persuaded the acting captain of the Home Guards to withdraw his men from the field.  The Guards were withdrawn.
-Missouri Republican, August 23, 1861

This is one of my favorite games in the history of St. Louis baseball and it's a significant event in the history of Civil War St. Louis. 

E.H. Tobias' version of what happened in this game is much more interesting than the account given in the Republican.  Tobias, while he had some of the details of the game wrong, wrote that the Empire Club was playing a game between the single and married members of the club and had set up a tent on the grounds for refreshments and for the playing members to use to change into their uniforms.  Above the tent, they raised a banner that had been given to the club by Col. John McNeil, who had received it from one of the St. Louis' old volunteer fire companies.  The St. Louis Home Guard, which had been federalized by Nathaniel Lyons prior to the attack on Camp Jackson, believed that the banner was a secessionist flag, surrounded the grounds and demanded that the flag be taken down. 

At that point, all hell broke loose.  According to Tobias, the Home Guard "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. [Empire Club captain Jeremiah ] Fruin sprung to the front of the soldiers, ordered the ball players back and caused a suspension of hostilities." 

Things were a bit more serious than Tobias let on.  On May 10, 1861, following the attack on Camp Jackson, Union forces opened fire on a crowd in St. Louis, killing several people.  There was the very real possibility of violence here.  If Fruin had not restrained his players, it's entirely likely that the Home Guards would have opened fire on them.  Merritt Griswold, who was the umpire for the game and an officer in the Home Guard, also played a prominent role in calming things down.

Now the Republican mentions nothing about the flag and blames the incident on one unruly member of the Home Guard.  This is entirely possible, although no reason is given for the soldier's behavior.  It's possible that he was the one who mistakenly believed that the Empire Club was flying a rebel banner and that's what set him off.  That is, of course, speculative but one of the reasons I believe Tobias' version of events is because of the fact that Basil Duke had almost caused a riot in March 1861 by doing exactly what the Empire Club was accused of doing.  In fact, the Empire Club banner that Tobias described was rather similar to the banner flown by Duke.

Martial law had been declared in St. Louis on August 14, 1861, just over a week before the Empire Club's match, and things were rather tense in the city.  Nathaniel Lyons had been killed in action on August 10th at the Battle of Wilson's Creek.  The fate of Missouri and St. Louis was still up in the air.  The Civil War was very real and very close to home to the people of St. Louis.  The idea that the United States military would break up a baseball game and come close to shooting ballplayers seems alien to us but that was the reality that the citizens of St. Louis were dealing with during the first summer of the war.  As I mentioned, civilians had already been shot upon and killed by U.S. forces in St. Louis.  The Civil War was not an abstract idea to these people.  It was very much a daily matter of life and death.  And this game is the perfect example of that.             

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