Cautious generals, the 19th Illinois, and the beginnings of Tennessee baseball

In the late winter and spring of 1863, Union general William S. Rosecrans was well dug in at Murfreesboro, having held off Braxton Bragg at the Battle of Stones River. Unwilling to move quickly and take advantage of Bragg’s retreat southeast, Rosecrans instead decided to construct a large earthen fortress, consolidate his position, and wait for spring. On his part, Bragg had moved his Army of Tennessee to the hills of Tullahoma, blocking the Army of the Cumberland’s advance to Chattanooga. Secure at Murfreesboro, Rosecrans would wait until June to advance on Bragg, giving both armies nearly six months of preparation for the inevitable confrontation.

So what do encamped armies do, when they’re not parading, polishing boots, or digging trenches? Why, they play ball of course, and these armies were no different. There are a great many references to Civil War soldiers playing “ball,” but the nature of the evidence makes it difficult to reconstruct the circumstances of their games. Most of these games are only evidenced in diaries and letters back home, and these documents lack many crucial details about the nature of these ball games that were so popular in camp.

While ballplaying during battle was not entirely unknown, the best opportunities for organized games were while the soldiers were at rest, either while in training, while waiting for orders, or in prison camps. Circumstances at Murfreesboro were no different, as the endless wait provided endless chances for recreation. Private E.L. Tabler of the 51st Illinois wrote on March 25, 1863 that “the boys enjoy themselves very well playing at Ball & piching horseshoes.” Tabler doesn’t name the game further, and it could have been baseball, town ball, or another form of the game.

At the very same time the Confederates, 45 miles away at Tullahoma, were also playing ball. As Jonathan Sheppard documents in his By the Noble Daring of her Sons: the Florida Brigade of the Army of Tennessee (searchable at Google Books), town ball was a popular diversion in Bragg’s army as well. While several soldiers write about playing “ball,” and Roddie Shaw wrote a letter home specifying “town-ball,” little is known about the precise rules of these games. Nonetheless, Sheppard presumes that they would all have been playing town ball, which is reasonable given baseball’s limited popularity in the South.

As popular as town ball was, if either one of these armies had been playing the true, New York-style game of base ball, it would be one of the very first of these matches ever played in Tennessee. And as it turns out, we do have some later evidence that this may have indeed happened at Fortress Rosecrans (as the Murfreesboro encampment came to be known). In a February 25, 1879 letter to the editor of the Cincinnati Inquirer, an anonymous Union veteran recalls a proper baseball match being played by the 19th Illinois infantry against the 69th Ohio infantry in Murfreesboro in the spring of 1863.

According to this letter, the 19th Illinois (natives of Chicago) were already well-acquainted with baseball, but the 69th Ohio needed to send away for the New York rules, as they were more accustomed to the “old-style town-ball.” Details of the match itself are lacking, as the writer is unclear about the score and can remember only the victor (the 19th) and the name of one of the men taking part (Major Guthrie).

Although human memory is notoriously inaccurate, and those related to war and baseball doubly so, this account rings true on several levels. Both regiments were present at Fort Rosecrans, with Colonel Turchin indeed being the commander of the 19th Illinois. Major James V. Guthrie was also a member of the 19th, so the units do not seem to have been conflated with other regiments. I haven’t been able to corroborate the exact locations of the various headquarters and parade grounds, but the details otherwise ring true. The circumstances of the match are below.

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Adding to the plausibility of this recollection is the formation in 1864 of the 19th Illinois’ “Turchin Base Ball Club,” named after the regiment’s charismatic leader, Russian-born Colonel Basil Turchin. On April 18th, 1864 the Turchin Club published a letter in the Chicago Tribune challenging  the championship club of Chicago to a match. The letter also announced the gift of a sample of chestnut wood–collected from the battlefield at Chickamauga–sent to Chicago to be fashioned into a trophy for the city champion. The Turchin Club was even scheduled to play–presumably for that very bat–at Chicago’s Prairie Cricket Grounds on June 28,1864, but I’ve not been able to find the results of that match. That bat eventually came into the possession of the Excelsior Club of Chicago, and more about the history of that club and a description of the bat can be found in Peter Morris’ Base Ball Pioneers 1850-1870.

While I’ve found no further historical mention of the Turchin Club, at least four veterans of the 19th Illinois infantry would go on to participate in amateur or professional baseball after the war. Two of these men returned to Chicago to participate in the birth of professional baseball in that city. Norman T. Gassette was president of the Chicago White Stockings (now the Chicago Cub) in 1870 and 1871. Journalist James Henry Haynie was an umpire for the Forest City Club of Chicago and also the traveling secretary for the National Association in 1871.

Two more of these soldiers had a hand in the founding of amateur baseball here in Tennessee, where they settled after the war. Newspaper publisher William J. Ramage was a founding member and officer of Tennessee’s first club, the Lookouts of Chattanooga in 1865. And remember the 19th Illinois’ Turchin Club? The president of that club, Charles Theodore Flagg, moved to Nashville in 1866 and pitched for the Rock City Club in what was perhaps the first official baseball match in Tennessee history.

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Did Herman Sandhouse bring baseball to Nashville?

I seem to spend a lot of my time searching the internet for terms like “Cumberland Club of Nashville,” in the off-chance that somewhere, someone has already written the book I want to read. I don’t suppose this surprises anyone, but unfortunately, it often has the same effect as staring blankly at my computer screen.

Following this (occasionally successful) strategy, I recently came across a passing reference to that club in an online version of Don Cusic’s Baseball and Country Music, which credits a man named Herman Sandhouse for introducing baseball to Nashville after the Civil War. According to Cusic, Sandhouse learned the game as a college student in Philadelphia and brought it back to Tennessee. I had never heard of Sandhouse and could find no other corroboration of this story, but thankfully Cusick’s original source–the Oct. 30, 1932 Nashville Banner–is readily available. (I’ve included the original clipping below.)

Sandhouse’s claim seems to have originated from 84-year-old Tom Lusty, who recalls having attended the first Nashville baseball match after the Civil War. This game was played “near the present grounds of Fisk University,” which corresponds to location of the field used by the Cumberland and other Nashville clubs of the time. Lusty also remembers Nashville’s first ballplayers as primarily Northerners, which also seems to have been the case.

Nonetheless, Lusty’s claim of the Pontiacs as the first amateur club in Nashville is demonstrably false. Although we do have records of the Pontiac Club playing in the fall of 1866, the newspaper record makes it clear they followed the Rock City, Cumberland, and perhaps other clubs. It’s possible that Herman Sandhouse was a member of this club, but we don’t yet have any box scores for the Pontiac Club. But we do have the box score for the May 12, 1866 Cumberland/Rock City match, and Sandhouse’s name appears nowhere.

But even if Sandhouse didn’t introduce the game to Nashville, is it possible he was one of its many midwives in the city? A look at census and other Nashville records of the late 19th century tell us more about him. Herman Sandhouse (sometimes spelled “Sandhaus”) was born in 1850 to German immigrants in Nashville, and in the spring of 1866 Sandhouse would have been just 16 years old. His father was a successful tailor and owner of a retail clothing store, and as an adult Herman Sandhouse also worked in retail clothing. But by 1900 he was a farmer in Dickson County, Tennessee, and there’s no indication he received a college education, in Tennessee or elsewhere.

But even if Sandhouse wasn’t the father of Nashville baseball, he was still an urban teenage boy in 1866, and there’s no reason to think he wouldn’t have played the game. And since he died in 1940, perhaps he saw the 1932 newspaper article and replied to the Banner with his own version of events. Such a response has yet to be discovered.

As for Lusty’s claim that the Louisville club visited Nashville to face his North Nashville club, this is true. The Louisville Grays finished fifth in the league in 1876, and second in 1877 before a gambling scandal caused the club to fold. But in October of 1876 they did visit Nashville to play both the Linck club and a combined Linck/North Nashville team. Thomas Lusty was secretary of the North Nashvilles in 1876 and the Louisville club won every Nashville match handily. (See Nashville Daily American, Sept. 7, 1876; Memphis Daily Appeal, Oct. 22, 1876).

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Chattanooga Lookouts stake their claim (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this post, I looked at an account of a March 1866 intrasquad scrimmage of the Lookout Club of Chattanooga. If the Lookouts were in fact organized in 1865–as implied by that article–they would be the first Tennessee club organized that year, and the only one organized before 1866.* But newspapers are unreliable, and the only way to verify the 1865 date is through more newspapers.

Unfortunately, my source for the New York  Clipper–the University of Illinois’ Digital Newspaper Collections–seemed to come up short, so I tried another database of old newspapers, Old Fulton New York Postcards. After searching some odd combinations of club and players’ names, I discovered a report of an apparent scrimmage from 1865. But that page image from the Clipper was blurry and undated, so I went back to the Illinois newspaper site to find the original by page number. The issue with that page was missing! So I went to the Internet Archive and finally found what I was looking for. Thank goodness for three separate online versions of the Clipper.

Below is an image from the November 18, 1865 Clipper, which unfortunately does not indicate the date of the scrimmage. But a similar notice (now that I know where to look) from the Nov. 18 edition of Wilkes’ Spirit of the Times is itself dated Nov. 7, which is the latest the game could have been played.

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Later this week I will hopefully look at some Chattanooga newspapers at around the date of the game and of the club’s formation. As of now, I don’t know much about the team, except that Ramage and Siegfried were both veterans of the US Army who had settled in Tennessee immediately after the war.

 

 

*As usual, I’m not counting the Hickory Club until I can find evidence of actual baseball.

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Chattanooga Lookouts stake their claim (Part 1)

Just as soon as I think I have a handle on the earliest instances of Tennessee baseball, there’s another entire archaeological layer to uncover. This time it’s the Lookout Club of Chattanooga, a club I had thought formed sometime in 1866. My last post mentioned a scheduled match on July 4, 1866, between the Cumberlands and the Lookouts, so I checked the Lookouts page on Protoball.org to see if that match had been added. It hadn’t, but someone had added a mention to a Lookouts article in the March 31,  1866 New York Clipper. See below for that article.

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This game was an intrasquad contest, so the May 12, 1866 game between the Cumberland and Rock City Clubs is still the earliest recorded match in the state. But several points jumped out at me as I read it.

  • Not only are the Lookouts now the earliest club in the state, but if they had been idle for “over three months,” they would have been formed in 1865. This is new to me.
  • If the play was “fully up to the standard of the previous season,” what does that mean? What kind of a “season” did the Lookout Club enjoy in 1865?
  • They opened their “spring campaign” with an intrasquad scrimmage featuring seven men to a side. If there was a second club in the Chattanooga area for them to play against, they decided not to do so.
  • The two squads combined for five home runs, but given the lack of a third outfielder, one would have expected a higher score than 24-20. If the rules were modified to accommodate fewer fielders, it is not mentioned.

In part two of this post, I’ll dig a little further and see what I can find about the 1865 Lookout season.

 

 

 

 

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Cumberlands Vs Rock Citys, Take Three

The hapless Rock City Club of Nashville, now 0-2 against crosstown rival Cumberland Club, hosted them once again on June 22, 1866. As on the two previous occasions, they dropped the game, this time by a relatively competitive score of 52-27.

“Match Game Base Ball–Cumberland Vs. Rock City.–This popular game which is eliciting much interest in our city, took place in Edgefield, Thursday. There was a large attendance–one that reflects credit on the organizations. The following are the results of the game: [box score]

“We understand that the Cumberland Club challenged the Lookout Club at Chattanooga some time since for a match game at that place, on the 4th of July, which has been accepted.”

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The Second Match Game in Nashville, 1866

After being roundly defeated by the Cumberlands on May 12, 1866, the Rock City club hosted the return match on May 19 at their Edgefield grounds near the suspension bridge (the vicinity of modern Woodland Ave. and 1st St.). Despite the comfort of their home field, the Rock Citys were once again soundly beaten by their rivals, this time 64-26.

According to the correspondent of the Nashville Press and Times (May 21, 1866), “[t]he playing was quite creditable to both parties; the large score obtained being the result of the roughness of the ground, rather than loose play on either side.” Though it must be noted that the score was not that much different than the previous match between the two clubs (66-15).

The “Silver Greys” mentioned in the text, who favored the “other things” kept under the tent, are described in this May 25 article from the Nashville Daily Union. And if you ever happen to come across an “elegant case” containing blue and white painted baseballs, think of the Cumberland Club and their gift from the Silver Greys.

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“Be gentlemen, gentlemen, even if you are defeated a thousand times”

Behold! An elusive, comprehensive, newspaper account of an early Nashville base ball match providing some context to the 1866 season and the landmark Cumberland/Rock City rivalry. This clipping from the October 1, 1866, Nashville Press and Times, provides us with several outstanding nuggets.

  • The two clubs played four and only four matches that season, at least by the time of this match. Now we know more about what not to look for.
  • Shortstop J.L. Sullivan of the Cumberlands played with a (presumed) case of cholera! He survived, but this was no ordinary illness. During the fall of 1866 several hundred Nashvillians a week died from this disease.
  • Fielding was very poor (not all that surprising).
  • John Dickins hit two home runs!
  • And of course the bit about gentlemanly conduct and “respecting the umpire.” This passage confirms our historical ideal of the gentlemanly ballplayer as well as the reality of heated amateur competition.

The city editor of the Press and Times, Capt. Edward Metcalf, was a founding member of the Rock City Club, although he seems by this time to have removed himself from active participation in the matches. In several previous games he acted as scorekeeper for his club.

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