The New York Times May 9, 2014
This is one of the earliest photographs ever taken of a baseball game, and it happened by accident. The photographer, Henry P. Moore, of Concord, N.H., was focusing on the well-uniformed Union soldiers of the 48th New York State Volunteer Infantry, but he also captured their baseball-playing comrades in the background.
The “hurler” (as pitchers were called), wearing a white shirt, is tossing underhand (by the rules of the day) to a “striker” (batter), with bent knee. At the time, baseball had yet to achieve anything like the level of importance it later attained; for Moore, it was just something that got into your picture frame when you were trying to photograph soldiers on display.
It was the second year of the Civil War, and the scene was Fort Pulaski, Ga., which stood on an island at the mouth of the Savannah River. After falling to the Confederacy in 1861, the fortress had been bombarded for 30 hours and seized back in April 1862, preventing the rebels from using the vital port of Savannah. Like an increasing number of both rebel and Union soldiers, Pulaski’s warriors were encouraged to divert themselves from time to time by turning to baseball.
By combining the Civil War and baseball, Moore’s photograph merges two of the most important elements of the American historical experience, both of which, to this day, have deep emotional resonance. Baseball did not became the “national pastime” until long after Appomattox, but Americans came to feel so passionately about the game that some mythmakers tried to embellish the historical record by exaggerating its importance during the time the Union fought the South.
For instance, Abner Doubleday (1819-1893) — revered as the Union’s second in command at Fort Sumter, S.C., who, in April 1861, had fired the first shot defending the beleaguered federal garrison — was posthumously claimed to be the “inventor” of baseball. This was although Doubleday had made no such assertion for himself, left no evidence of it in his papers, and, at the time he was supposed to have fashioned the game in Cooperstown, N.Y., (now home of the Baseball Hall of Fame), was studying at West Point. To this day, some baseball fans insist (inaccurately) that home plate was designed to resemble the five-sided Fort Sumter, recognizing Doubleday’s “contribution” to the game.
Others exaggerated baseball’s place in the life of the greatest Civil War figure of all.
As a lawyer, and maybe as president, Abraham Lincoln may have picked up a bat in an early version of the game called “town ball”; he almost certainly viewed games on what is now the Ellipse, south of the White House. But later fabulists insisted that he was such a baseball fanatic that, when about to be notified by a Republican delegation of his nomination for President in 1860, Lincoln, playing baseball in Springfield, said, “They’ll have to wait a few minutes, until I make another hit.”
Of another, more ludicrous, made-up scene, you can agree with the moral of the story without accepting that it happened. This had the grievously wounded president on his deathbed in April 1865, regaining consciousness long enough to utter final words to Abner Doubleday: “Keep baseball going. The country needs it!”