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Baseball Soldiers

Soldiers and Base Ball: Some of the young soldier-baseball players in this picture,
were killed at Wounded Knee, shortly after this picture was taken.     

By Jeffrey Kittel

You are about to read about one of the most dramatic moments in St. Louis base ball history.  A base ball game is about to be played in the midst of the beginning of the American Civil War in St. Louis, where the loyalties of the citizenry are sharply divided between North and South, where Confederate flags of various sorts have been flying atop buildings amidst the Stars and Stripes, where tensions are running high and causing people to overreact to extremes, where there will soon be a struggle for the physical control of the city, where the future is uncertain, and where there will soon be great loss of life and limb.  A “friendly” game of base ball couldn’t have taken place at a more significant time.

In April of 1861, just days after the firing on Fort Sumter, and with tensions running high, the Empire Base Ball Club of St. Louis, some of whose players were members of both Union and Confederate armies, played a base ball game in celebration of the first anniversary of the founding of the club, with the probable intention that the game would transcend the hatred and hostilities of war.  The game, which pitted married club members against single members, was held at the Gamble Lawn grounds, located south of Gamble Avenue and West Twentieth Street, and which drew a large crowd of club members, women, children and members of the St. Louis base ball fraternity.  Near the playing field, the club had erected a large tent to be used as a changing room for the players, and as a place to keep ice water and refreshments ….. a common occurrence in the era before permanent base ball parks.  At the top of the center tent pole, flew a blue and gilt banner which had been presented to one of St. Louis’ volunteer fire companies by Colonel John McNeil, Commander of the 3rd Regiment, US Reserve Corps (USRC), Missouri Infantry Volunteers, a mostly German regiment, which had been organized in response to President Lincoln’s request for volunteers to “quell the rebellion”.  Incidentally, also serving as volunteer soldiers in this same regiment, were, among other future famous St. Louis businessmen, future beer barons, Eberhard Anheuser, Adolphus Busch and William J. Lemp.   The flag which Colonel McNeil had presented to the volunteer fire company, was later presented to the Empire Club, and was the flag flying atop the tent at the aforementioned anniversary game. 

Sometime during the middle innings of the game, a detachment from Colonel McNeil’s Home Guard regiment arrived unexpectedly at the Gamble Lawn grounds and quickly surrounded the playing field.  As the troops began to take the field, pandemonium broke out.  The shrieks and cries of the women and children could be heard as the crowd quickly broke up and fled the area.  The players seized bats, balls, bases and anything else they could use as a weapon and moved upon the troops in an effort to defend their field.  With the players threatening violence and yelling and jeering at the troops, the Home Guard readied to fire upon them.  However, just as bloodshed seemed imminent, Jeremiah “Jerry” Fruin, who played second base for the Empire Club and was a member of the Quartermaster Corp in the United States Army in St. Louis, jumped between the players and troops and ordered his teammates and fellow soldiers to stand down, bringing about a cessation of near hostilities and tragedy.  Fruin, born in Ireland, served as a Union soldier during the war, and came back to St. Louis after the war, and became the founder of the world-renowned international business firm,  Fru-Con Construction Corporation, still in existence today.

Merritt W. Griswold, a member of the Cyclone Base Ball Club of St. Louis, who was at the game at the invitation of the Empire Club, also stepped forward in an effort to help Fruin keep the peace.  Griswold, besides being a member of the St. Louis base ball fraternity, also happened to be the Captain and Commander of Company D of Colonel McNeil’s 3rd Regiment, US Reserve Corps (USRC), Missouri Infantry Volunteers, and while talking to the commanding officer of the troops on the scene [with whom, he was most probably acquainted, being a member of the same regiment], learned that the officer believed that the banner flying over the changing tent was a Secessionist flag, and that the officer was unaware of Colonel McNeil’s gift of the banner.  Although Griswold attempted to explain the origin of the banner and how the Empire Club came into possession of it, the officer refused to accept his explanation and ordered the banner removed from the tent pole, and confiscated it.

With the supposed “Secesh” banner in hand, the Home Guard took several of the Empire Club players as prisoners and marched them to their headquarters at Turner Hall on Tenth and Walnut streets.  In command of the troops at Turner Hall was, of course, the aforementioned Colonel McNeil and he quickly recognized the Empire Club flag as the one that he had given as a gift.  McNeil, realizing that the situation was nothing more than a misunderstanding, released the prisoners and returned the flag to the club.  The base ball game, however, was never resumed.  These types of incidences in the early days of the war on the part of the Federal Army, such as at the Camp Jackson Affair, which would occur incidentally a few weeks after the ball game, is what drove many conditional Union men into the Confederacy.

While the Empire Club’s annual anniversary game would become a St. Louis base ball tradition, no other future game was able to match the excitement of this first game that took place in the first few weeks of the beginning of the American Civil War.  In many ways, it symbolized the difficulties which the young game of base ball had to endure as it attempted to gain a foothold in St. Louis.  Against the backdrop of a city that was divided politically, that would endure violence, that would send its finest young men to war, and that would find itself under martial law, base ball came to Missouri, to St. Louis.  Thus, during one of the darkest periods of the nation’s and the city’s history, St. Louis became a base ball town.

Edmund Tobias, a member of the Empire Club and a chronicler of the early history of St. Louis base ball, wrote that “St. Louis was one of the first of Western cities to ‘take up’ the sport and assume a prominence in the fraternity…”  The “sport” that Tobias mentions was, of course, base ball, a game that had evolved during the 19th century from earlier forms of bat and ball games.  While bat and ball games have been played throughout the entire history of humankind, baseball traces its ancestry to a number of games that were played in Medieval Europe and made their way to America along with the first colonists.  Games such as stool ball, trap ball, cat and English base ball….. all influenced the development of an American bat and ball, safe-haven game that would come to be known by a variety of names, and played by various sets of rules, depending upon the region of the country in which it was played.  By the beginning of the 19th century, this game, which was most generally called town ball, round ball or base ball, was a common past time, and by the 1840’s, it was popular enough to be mentioned in newspapers across the country.

The game that is today known here in America as “baseball” (spelled as “base ball” in the past), is nothing more than a variant of this early game of American base ball.  This variant, which would eventually go on to replace all other forms of the game, was first played in New York City in the early 1840s and has been called “the New York game” in order to distinguish it from other forms of the game that were popular at the time.  The rules of the New York game were developed by the Knickerbocker Club of New York and were first formally adopted in 1845.  Concepts such as nine men per side, three outs per side, nine innings a game, tag outs and force outs were all part of the Knickerbocker rules and, while not a radical departure from other forms of American base ball, these local variants were sufficient to distinguish the New York game from other regional forms of the game. 

In the 1850s, for numerous reasons, this game exploded from its small confines in the New York City area, and was soon played all across the United States, which forced out the other regional forms of the game.  Specifically, technical advances in transportation and communication, demographic trends in urbanization, and general aspects of the game-play, led to the growth in popularity of the New York game throughout the country.  By 1856, the rules of the game made their way into print, and the following year the game’s first national governing body, the National Association of Base Ball Players, was founded.  The New York variant of American base ball had transformed, in the fifteen years prior to the Civil War, into a nationally popular, regulated game.  And by 1859, this New York version of the game was being played in St. Louis. 

Prior to the introduction of the New York or Regulation Game, St. Louis had had a long history and tradition of bat and ball games being played in the area.  Both cricket and a St. Louis variant of American base ball were being played, and clubs were formed around those games.  Tobias wrote that “Cricket had long had a strong hold on lovers of outdoor sports and St. Louis possessed several good clubs.”  There are contemporary newspaper reports of cricket matches involving the Jackson Cricket Club and the Mound City Cricket Club in the 1850s (“Mound City” was one of the nicknames St. Louis had acquired, because of the Indian burial mounds which have existed in the area since ancient times).  It is also known that the Gamble Lawn grounds, one of the earliest base ball grounds in St. Louis, was first used as a cricket ground.  Tobias also mentions the popularity of a St. Louis variant of American base ball that he called “town ball”.  At least two clubs, the Morning Stars and the Excelsiors, are known to have played this game in St. Louis in the 1850s.  In Alton, Illinois (across the Mississippi River from St. Louis) the game was known simply as base ball and, in 1858, there is a record of a match game between the Alton Base Ball Club and the Upper Alton Base Ball Club.  This tradition of bat and ball games and clubs is significant, because when the New York game was introduced in St. Louis in 1859, there was already an infrastructure of playing grounds in place, as well as an accepted culture of social clubs organized around the playing of bat and ball games that made it easier for the New York game to take hold.  When baseball came to St. Louis, it found a fertile field already plowed by cricket and American base ball. 

How and exactly when the New York game came to St. Louis is a matter of some debate, and there is evidence that supports various explanations.  However, the best evidence suggests that base ball was brought to St. Louis by the aforementioned Merritt W. Griswold, a native of Brooklyn who had played with several base ball clubs of that city in 1857 and 1858.  In 1859, Griswold came to St. Louis, where he had relatives, and began working for the Missouri Glass Company.  That summer he founded the Cyclone Base Ball Club of St. Louis along with Edward Bredel, Jr. (the two founders would later fight on opposing sides during the Civil War).  The club began playing games at Lafayette Park, published the rules of the game in The Missouri Democrat in April of 1860, and on July 9, 1860 played a match game against the Morning Star Club, a game that has been described in the contemporary press as the first match game played west of the Mississippi River according to the rules of the National Association. 

In the year between the founding of the Cyclone Club (1859) and the first match game (1860), several other base ball clubs were organized, several of which claimed to have been the first in St. Louis.  Richard Perry, a member of the Morning Star Club, stated that his club was the first formed in St. Louis and that it had started playing base ball after it had sent away for the rules of the game.  Tobias writes that the Union Club may have been the first club formed and was playing match games in 1859.  Other sources claim that the Empire Club was the first club.  Certainly all of these clubs were playing base ball by the summer of 1860 and there is contemporary evidence of clubs other than the Cyclones in existence by September of 1859.  However, in a letter to Alfred H. “Al” Spink* written in 1911, Griswold wrote in detail about bringing the New York game to St. Louis and about his founding of the Cyclone Club.  Most of the statements made by Griswold in this historic letter to Spink, have been verified by contemporary sources, giving great credence to his claims.  At the same time, none of the claims made on behalf of the Morning Star, Union or Empire Clubs have been verified and most have been debunked.  The strength of the evidence supports Griswold’s claim to have introduced the New York game to St. Louis in 1859, two years before the Civil War. 

Regardless of how the game was introduced, by the summer of 1860, St. Louis had an active base ball scene with at least eight clubs playing games and matches.  Besides the Cyclones, Morning Stars, Unions, and Empires, other antebellum clubs included the Commercials, the Lone Stars, the Resolutes and the Excelsiors.  In addition to the match game between the Cyclones and Morning Stars, other known match games during the period included four games between the Empires and the Unions, two between the Unions and the Lone Stars, a match between the Unions and the Excelsiors, and, in the spring of 1861, one between the Empires and Morning Stars, umpired by Merritt Griswold.  The Commercial Club also played matches against the Empires, the Unions, and the Cyclones.  While this may not seem like a great deal of activity, these are only the match games for which evidence exists and one must assume that there are others, whose documentation has not yet been discovered.  Also, it must be remembered that each club met several times a week to play games amongst themselves.  It is likely that in the summer of 1860, there were base ball games being played almost daily in St. Louis.

The outbreak of the Civil War in 1861 brings almost all of this activity to an abrupt end.  While there were at least eight baseball clubs in St. Louis during the 1860 season, by the summer of 1861 only the Empire Club remained active.  Merritt Griswold wrote that the Cyclones broke up when the war started.  In 1895, the St. Louis Republic stated that a “coldness began to creep in” among members of the club due to partisan feelings at the onset of the war and that the club officially broke up when Union General A.J. Smith seized the club’s playing grounds at Lafayette Park to use as a camp for his troops.  Richard Perry wrote that the Morning Star Club broke up when most of its members joined “the Union Army under Major [Charles] Zagonyi, [an Hungarian immigrant] in command of [General John C.] ‘Fremont’s Body Guard’…”  The Commercial Club broke up after its president, William W. Sanford, took a commission as a Union officer (Major, later Colonel) with the 48th Illinois Infantry.  Tobias stated that the Union Club disbanded specifically because of the war.

As an example of the stresses that the onset of the war brought to a club, and the St. Louis baseball fraternity’s response to it, one only has to look at the Cyclone Base Ball Club.  Club founder Merritt Griswold stated that at the onset of the war, the club broke up, with its members taking part on one side or the other during the tragic national conflict.  This was, without a doubt, a bit of an understatement.  Like St. Louis itself, the club was divided between extreme partisans.  As noted previously, Griswold was a Union officer (Captain) with the St. Louis German Home Guard, which grew out of a pro-Union, paramilitary organization called the Wide Awakes. 

Cyclone Club co-founder Edward Bredel, Jr. was a member of a slave-owning family with Southern sympathies.  At the outbreak of the Civil War, Bredel joined the Confederate army as a staff officer [Lieutenant, Adjutant and Aide De Camp, 2nd Regiment Infantry, Missouri Volunteers, CSA] but later resigned his commission and joined Mosby’s Rangers as a private.  On November 16, 1864 [the day that General Sherman began his “march to the sea”], Bredel was killed in  battle at Whiting’s House [Loudoun County, Virginia].  .  In Reminiscences of a Mosby Guerilla, John William Munson wrote that  “[on] the day of the fight the boys laid [Bredell] to rest where he fell, but afterwards we brought his body over to our side of the mountain and buried it near Oak Hill.  Before the war ended, young Bredell’s father came down to Virginia and took his dead son’s body home.  When he reached St. Louis, owing to bitter feelings there towards Southerners, he was informed that the body could not be buried in any of the cemeteries.  He thereupon had a grave dug in his own handsome grounds, and his son’s body found its final rest in the shadow of his old home.” 

Orville Matthews, another Cyclone Club member, graduated from the Naval Academy in 1855 and his family encouraged him to resign his commission rather than fight in the war.  Refusing to do so, he took part in several naval engagements during the war including one that resulted in the capture of the forts at Hatteras Inlet in 1861.  In December of 1864, Matthews, serving with a detachment of Marines, took part in the assault on Tullafinny Crossroads. 

Basil W. Duke was one of the leaders of the pro-Southern St. Louisans and a Captain in Company C, 2nd Regiment of the St. Louis Minute Men, the Southern sympathizers answer to the Wide Awakes.  Duke went on to become a Brigadier General in the Confederate Army and one of the commanders of John Hunt Morgan’s Raiders.   He was twice wounded in battle and, after being captured during a raid on the Indiana-Ohio border, escaped from a military prison to rejoin his unit.  After the war, Duke wrote several histories of the conflict, including a memoir.

Basil W. Duke

Basil W. Duke, ca. 1861
Missouri Historical Society Photograph and Print Collection

Joseph Scott Fullerton was appointed by President Lincoln to a committee that oversaw the military affairs of the Department of the West in the fall of 1861 [this committee was established to investigate General John C. Fremont] and Fullerton later rose to the rank of Brigadier General while participating in battles at Franklin, Shelbyville, Chickamauga, Missionary Ridge, Pine-Top Mountain, Kennesaw Mountain, Peach-Tree Creek, Atlanta, Jonesborough, Lovejoy Station, Columbia, Spring Hill, and Nashville.

Joseph Scott Fullerton
Joseph Scott Fullerton

Gratz A. Moses was a physician who served as a surgeon with the Confederate Army.

John Riggin, Jr. was a Union staff officer (Colonel and Aide de Camp) in General Ulysses S. Grant’s army.  In 1862, Grant put Riggin in charge of the military telegraph and gave him the title “Military Superintendent of Telegraphs”.  This attempt to gain more efficient control over the telegraph corp, and Riggin’s orders regarding telegraph usage, caused a great deal of confusion and tension between Grant’s army and the War Department, who demanded that Riggin not interfere with their telegraph communications.  Despite raising the ire of the Secretary of War, Riggin was promoted to Brigadier General in May of 1865.       (Picture below)
John Riggin, Jr.

Ferdinand L. Garesche was with the pro-Confederate Missouri State Militia at Camp Jackson when it was captured.  Ironically, Griswold’s Home Guard unit [Co. D, 3rd Regiment, US Reserve Corps, Missouri Infantry Volunteers] was involved in the capture of Camp Jackson when his fellow club member Garesche was captured and taken prisoner.  Under the terms of his pardon, Garesche´ promised not to take up arms against the United States, and he honorably abided by these terms.  His brother Alexander, who was also at Camp Jackson, claimed that neither he nor Ferdinand were Secessionists, but rather were Democrats who were opposed to the war and the Federal policies that they believed started the conflict. 

Frederick W. Benteen, against the wishes of his pro-Southern family, became a 1st Lieutenant in Company C, 9th and10th Regiment Cavalry, Missouri Volunteers (later promoted to Lt. Colonel).  He began a life-long military career in July of 1861 when he was put in charge of training soldiers at the St. Louis Arsenal.  He later fought with the Union Army at Wilson’s Creek, Dutch Hollow, Pea Ridge, and Vicksburg.  In 1865, his Cavalry unit was involved in a baseball game on the Solomon Fork of the Republican River in Kansas against another Cavalry unit, and Benteen named his team the Cyclones in honor of his former club.  His family, who was originally from Virginia, had Southern sympathies and, after Benteen joined the Union army, his father stated that he hoped his son would be killed by the first bullet fired at him. Benteen later gained additional notoriety, by being involved with Custer’s Last Stand at The Little Big Horn.


Fred Benteen

Fred Benteen: About 1865

General Benteen

Fred Benteen, in this later picture, as General Benteen

-Willis Walker was a member of the 1st Missouri Light Artillery Battery (Union) and was also involved in the capture of Camp Jackson.

Griff Prather was a Lieutenant-Colonel with the 5th Regimental Missouri Militia.

Cyclone Club member Alexander Crossman, like Orville Matthews, was another graduate of the US Naval Academy.  He commanded the Union’s USS Commodore M’Donough in the South Atlantic Blockading Squadron, primarily off the coast of South Carolina.  Under Crossman’s command, the USS Commodore McDonough also cruised inland up the many rivers of South Carolina to bombard shore installations and the forts around Charleston, covered the landing of troops, engaged Confederate batteries, and performed reconnaissance.  Crossman was in command of the USS Kansas at the time of his death.  He was eaten by sharks.
USS Comodore

In light of such divided sympathies, what is amazing, was not that the Cyclone Club broke up in 1861, but rather, the fact that, as the national crisis developed, the Cyclone Club was even able to remain unified and active during the previous 1860 season.

USS Kansas
USS Kansas

Many other members of the various teams of the St. Louis baseball fraternity are known to have taken part in the Civil War. 

Members of the Morning Star Club who fought in the war include Henry H. Franklin, a private in Company D, Searcy’s Battalion of Missouri Sharpshooters (Confederate); Joseph Franklin, a member of Company B, 1st Regiment, Missouri State Militia Infantry (Union).  He died May 17, 1862 and is buried at Jefferson Barracks National Cemetery; Robert Henry, Private, Company A, 49th Regiment,  Missouri Infantry (Union).  He died Nov 18, 1864 in the hospital in Jefferson City, MO where he is buried; and William H. Henry, Private, Company D,  1st Regiment Missouri Calvary (Union), organized at Jefferson Barracks.  Martin Burke, who was the club’s pitcher, was a Captain, and the commanding officer of Company A, 1st Regiment, The St. Louis Greys (Confederate), the oldest volunteer militia unit in St. Louis.  Burke, along with the rest of his unit, was captured at Camp Jackson and imprisoned.  Following his pardon, he served as an officer in the Confederate Army with the 1st Missouri Infantry and died of wounds received early in the war, possibly at Wilson’s Creek. 

While most of the members of the Union Club were students at St. Louis University and Washington University and continued with their studies, there were some who fought in the war.  Union Club member William C. Steigers joined Company A (later transferred to Company K) 8th Missouri Volunteer Infantry (Union) at the age of fifteen (said he was 18), and later served with the Signal Corps in various locations around the country.  Steigers participated in the siege of Vicksburg and, while traveling from that city to Jacksonville, Tennessee, he became seriously ill with an unknown ailment, spending three months in a military hospital.  He was discharged back in St. Louis in 1863, due to disability.  Fellow Union Club member Thaddius S. Smith became a 1st Lieutenant, Company G, 13th Regiment Missouri Calvary Volunteers (Union), and was engaged in anti-guerilla activities in the northwestern part of Missouri.  Smith was the older brother of Union Club founder Asa Smith. 

It should also be noted that one of the most notorious soldiers of the war, received an honorary membership from the Union Club.  In 1874, William Tecumseh Sherman, then Commanding General of the United States Army, moved his headquarters to St. Louis.  While living in the city, Sherman was known to frequent base ball games with his friend Colonel Alton Easton, the father of Union Club member Archie Easton and the man whom Alton, Illinois was named after.  Orrick Bishop, the secretary of the Union Club, noticed this and had the General elected as an honorary member of the club.  In response, Sherman sent the club a letter which thanked them for the honor which they had conferred upon him. 

Another honorary member of the Union Club was General John Wesley Turner who moved to St. Louis after leaving the army in 1871.  Turner became a prominent St. Louis businessman, who would later serve as Superintendent of Streets in St. Louis for eleven years.  Turner was an 1855 graduate of West Point and served as a staff officer under General David Hunter and later Benjamin Butler.  He was promoted to General in 1865 and commanded a division at Petersburg, and was involved in the pursuit of the Confederate Army during the Appomattox campaign.  After the war, he was the military administrator of Richmond, Virginia, and was transferred to St. Louis in October of 1866, serving in purchasing and depot commissary, before leaving the army in 1871.

General John Wesley Turner
General John Wesley Turner

Leon Bogy, a member of the Commercial Club, was a 1st Lieutenant, Company K, 47th Missouri Infantry (Union).                 

The Empire Club, throughout the war years, had, as mentioned before, enough members to continue playing, and, as the only St. Louis club that was active during the war, they used those four years of play to create a ball club that would dominate St. Louis base ball during the postwar years.  Interestingly, Henry Clay Sexton, who was first elected president of the Empire Club in 1864, was removed as Chief of the St. Louis Fire Department in 1862 and confined to the Gratiot Street Prison under suspicion of having Southern sympathies.  It may say something about the club, that a formerly-imprisoned, suspected Southern-sympathizer served as club president while the Civil War was still ongoing and the fate of the Union in doubt.  

Members of the Empire Club who are known to have served in the war, include long-time base ball field captain Jeremiah Fruin (mentioned earlier), who was a member of the Quartermaster Corp in St. Louis, and his brother Richard, who was a member of the 67th New York Infantry, and who was wounded at the Battle of Seven Pines on May 31, 1862.  Empire Club member George Gleason, who had served in the Mexican War as a youth, was a Major in the Union Army and, in 1864 and 1865, served as the Inspector-General of the St. Louis Military District.   There is also evidence that John O’Connell, one of the original members of the club, served in the Confederate Army for a short period.   

Mention must be made of an obscure Empire Club member who played a probable role as a co-founder of the club.  Joseph Hollenback (sometimes spelled as Hollenbeck) was born around 1836 in New York where he played base ball.  He came to St. Louis some time before 1860, and was working as a Constable for Captain Dan Manning in St. Louis.   He was 24 years old, single, and was living at Mrs. Boston’s Boarding House.  He was involved in the founding of the Empire Base Ball Club of St. Louis, and served as it’s first secretary, at least, that’s the belief of Edmund Tobias.  He probably served in one of the Home Guard units early in the war, and later served as a member of Company A of the 10th Regiment, Enrolled Missouri Militia.   Because of his early death at age 30 in 1866, not much else is known about him.  At least Tobias gives him credit for being a co- founder of one of the most successful pioneer amateur base ball clubs in St. Louis.

Not all of the base ball players in St. Louis went off to war though.  Leonard Matthews, the president of the Cyclone Club, stated in his biography that the war was “very inconvenient for me” and hired a substitute to serve for him.  One can assume that there were others that did the same. 

The Civil War had a profoundly negative effect on the growth and development of base ball in St. Louis and in the United States in general.  While many have written of the positive effect the war had on the spread of the game, specifically speaking about soldiers who learned the New York game during the war, and took it home with them, and helped bring about the great baseball boom of the postwar era … evidence suggests that this is, at best, a generalization as well as an attempt to cloak the game in the flag, and align it with postwar nationalism. 

There is much better evidence of a cross-country dissolution of clubs during the war, that helped end the amateur, pioneer baseball era.  The pioneer clubs lost players to the war, and cities lost clubs to the war, and so match games became much more difficult to schedule.  The momentum that base ball had established in the 1850’s, was lost to the war.    The clubs that broke up as a result of the war, for the most part, never reformed and the new clubs that helped bring about the postwar boom, did so with a younger generation of players ….. younger men who were not active participants in the civil conflict.  There are very few contemporary descriptions of clubs formed in the postwar years by the earlier pioneer players, or by men who were Civil War veterans.  The war helped bring about a generational shift in baseball, as those who helped form the pioneer clubs moved on to new endeavors, and younger players took their place. 

During the postwar period, a new era of base ball was born.  Within five years of the end of the war, there were openly professional clubs, and the organization of a league for these professional clubs to compete in.  The amateur, social clubs that met to play base ball as recreation and exercise were quickly replaced in the postwar era by professional clubs whose purpose was to win games and championships. 

In St. Louis, Asa Smith, of the reformed Union Club, helped lead the city’s base ball fraternity into this new era, which locally, saw the construction of permanent ballparks, the charging of admission to the parks, the creation of a Missouri state base ball association, the organization of state championship play, membership in the National Association, and financial compensation for players.  In 1875, just a decade after the war ended, Smith’s efforts came to fruition, as the first openly professional clubs [St. Louis Brown Stockings, to mention one] in St. Louis history began competing for a championship on a national level.  By then, the antebellum pioneer era of baseball in St. Louis, which had been swept away by the tide of the Civil War, was only a fading memory, and a new era of base ball had begun.

*(Of note: Alfred H. Spink was born in Canada and his family later moved to Chicago when he was still a young boy. He was 7 years old when the Civil War began. As a youngster, he fell in love with base ball and would spend the rest of his life involved in the game, as a player, a club organizer and as a writer. In 1875, ten years after the Civil War, Spink’s older brother William became sporting editor for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat newspaper, and convinced 21 year old Alfred to also move to St. Louis. In St. Louis, Al got a job, also as a sports writer, for the Missouri Republican, which later became the St. Louis Republican newspaper. At this time, baseball was experiencing a surge in popularity in post-Civil War St. Louis, which lead to two professional clubs joining the National Association and, in 1876, one club joining the newly formed National League. When St. Louis’ League club, the St. Louis Brown Stockings, was dissolved after the 1877 season, partially as a result of a gambling scandal unearthed by William Spink, professional baseball struggled as a viable business in the city. It was through the efforts of Al Spink and his brother William that the professional game was kept alive in St. Louis. During the late 1870s and early 1880s, the brothers, with the help of Ned Cuthbert, August Solari and Chris Von der Ahe, renovated the old Grand Avenue Base Ball Grounds, organized a new professional St. Louis Brown Stockings club and formed the Sportsman’s Park and Club Association to oversee the running of both club and ballpark. In 1882, with a successful club on the field and a new ballpark, the “Browns”, now under the firm control of Von der Ahe, entered a new professional baseball league, the American Association, and over the course of the decade would become one of the most successful and famous clubs in the country. Four years later in 1886, Al Spink founded The Sporting News (TSN), which, by the time of World War I, became the only weekly national baseball newspaper and was, until late in the twentieth century, one of the most influential sporting publications in the United States. In 1910, Spink wrote one of the first histories of baseball in a book entitled The National Game, with a second and more comprehensive edition being published the following year. A section of the book is dedicated to his adopted city, and is entitled “The Game in St. Louis.” The early editions of The Sporting News and Spink’s book are two of the most important sources of information regarding 19th century St. Louis baseball. Al Spink has earned a place in baseball history not only as the founder of The Baseball Bible, but also as one of the most important chroniclers of the game in St. Louis.)

The Pioneer Base Ball Era in St. Louis and the Civil War


Books, Newspapers, Periodicals, and Articles

Tobias, Edmund; series of articles on early St. Louis baseball history published in The              Sporting News, October 1895-February 1896.
Spink, Al; The National Game
Morris, Peter; But Didn’t We Have Fun
Kirsch, George; Baseball in Blue & Gray
Goldstein, Warren; A History of Early Baseball: Playing for Keeps, 1857-1876
Block, David; Baseball Before We Knew It
Matthews, Leonard; A Long Life In Review
Gerteis, Louis; Civil War St. Louis
Primm, James Neal; Lion of the Valley
Pearson, Charles E. and Thomas C.C. Birchett; The History and Archaeology of Two Civil War Steamboats
The Bench and Bar of St. Louis, Kansas City, Jefferson City, and Other Missouri Cities
Reavis, L.U.; Saint Louis: The Future Great City of the World
Biographical and Historical Catalogue of Washington and Jefferson College
Snow, Marshall Solomon; History of the Development of Missouri: And Particularly of Saint Louis
Conard, Howard Louis; Encyclopedia of the History of Missouri
Taylor, Jacob N.; Sketch Book of St. Louis
Marquis, Albert Nelson; The Book of St. Louisans
Cox, James; Notable St. Louisans in 1900
Duke, Basil Wilson; Reminiscences of General Basil W. Duke
Anderson, Galusha; The Story of a Border City During the Civil War
Garesche´, Louis; Biography of Lieut. Col. Julius P. Garesche´
Bickham, William Denison; Rosencrans’ Campaign with the Fourteenth Army Corps
Castro, Ivan A.; 100 Hispanics You Should Know
Scott, John; Partisan Life with Col. John S. Mosby
Munson, John W.; Reminiscences of a Mosby Guerilla
Bay, William Van Ness; Reminiscences of the Bench and Bar of Missouri
Heitman, Francis Bernard; Historical Register of the United States Army
Brinton, John Hill; Personal Memoirs of John H. Brinton, Major and Surgeon U.S.V., 1861-1865
Dacus, Joseph A. and James William Buel; A Tour of St. Louis
Darby, John Fletcher; Personal Recollections of Many Prominent People Whom I Have Known
Violette, Eugene Morrow; A History of Missouri
Stevens, Walter Barlow; Centennial History of Missouri
Houck, Louis; A History of Missouri
Pittard, Homer; The Strange Death of Julius Peter Garesche
Wright, Marshall; The National Association of Base Ball Players, 1857-1870
Kelsoe, W.A.; A Newspaper Man’s Motion-Picture of the City
The Encyclopedia Americana
Leonard, John William and Alber Nelson Marquis; Who’s who in America
Kennedy’s 1860 St. Louis City Directory
Matthews, Gary Robert; Basil Wilson Duke, CSA: The Right Man in the Right Place
Peckham, James; General Nathaniel Lyon and Missouri in 1861
Monachello, Anthony; America’s Civil War: Struggle For St. Louis
Officers of the Volunteer Army and Navy who served in the Civil War
Stevens, Walter Barlow; Centennial History of Missouri
Houck, Louis; A History of Missouri
Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper
Lippincott’s Monthly Magazine
Missouri Republican
St. Louis Globe-Democrat
Alton Weekly Courier
St. Louis Republic
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Missouri Democrat
New York Times
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
The Bergan Evening Record
Salt Lake Tribune
Washington Post


This Game of Games
Neal and Garesche´ Ancestry
Arlington National Cemetery Website
Ancestry of Joseph Scott, M.D. (1781-1843)
Life in St. Louis: The Matthews Family Exhibit 1851-1933
Civil War St. Louis
Earl Fischer Database
Civil War Soldiers & Sailors System
Genealogy in St. Louis
University of Missouri Digital Library
Missouri Digital Heritage

Picture Sources

From the internet, from the author’s collection, and from MCWM collection.
Basil W. Duke picture from William C. Winter’s book The Civil War in St. Louis, A Guided Tour.

Jeffrey Kittel is a member of the Origins Committee of the Society of American Baseball Research and is the website curator for “This Game of Games” at http://thisgameofgames.blogspot.com/
a website dedicated to the history of 19th century St. Louis baseball.  Jeff is one of the co-authors of a forthcoming book about the pioneer baseball clubs of the 1850s and 1860s, which will be published by McFarland Publishing in the Spring of 2010.

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