Tuesday, March 30, 2021

First Pitch – Baseball During Reconstruction

A look at baseball during its earliest years in Columbia including the city’s first organized game, the first games at the State Fair, and some of the early amateur teams in South Carolina’s capital city.

by Paul Armstrong

Prior to the Civil War, there was at least a basic awareness of baseball in South Carolina, and the newspapers around the state reported on the northern clubs playing the “national game”.1,26,47 However, those in the Palmetto State who had the time and resources primarily pursued other leisure activities such as marksmanship, archery, horse racing, fives (similar to handball), boxing, wrestling, etc. If baseball was played in the state before the war, it was probably in informal, pick-up games and not between organized teams.

The Civil War gave South Carolinians direct exposure to the game of baseball in several ways.13 Some soldiers from the state who were interned in Union POW camps learned the game from their captors and experienced it firsthand as part of their outdoor exercise routine.29 Others, who served as guards at certain Confederate prisons, witnessed the game being played by the northern soldiers held there.13 Also, South Carolina residents who lived in the Union occupied areas of Beaufort county observed regular matches between baseball clubs comprised of northern soldiers.27 But organized baseball did not come to the state capital until after the war was over. Contemporary newspaper articles indicate that the game arrived here in response to a challenge by northern troops occupying Columbia during Reconstruction.

Union Prisoners Playing Baseball at Salisbury, NC
Drawing by Otto Boetticher
Image Courtesy of Library of Congress

 

According to the Daily Phoenix, the city’s primary newspaper during Reconstruction, the first baseball game between organized clubs in Columbia took place late in the summer of 1867.8 The 5th US Artillery arrived from Fort Monroe, VA in June of 1867 and joined the occupation forces garrisoned in Columbia.14 A baseball team, named the Phil Sheridan Base Ball Club, was formed within the artillery unit’s ranks and practiced regularly on the University Green which was also being used at the time as a military parade ground.  This club placed an ad in the Daily Phoenix inviting the men of Columbia to play friendly games of baseball.5 In response, four adult baseball clubs were formed in Columbia that year by local citizens. These were the Chicora Base Ball Club, Columbia Base Ball Club, Palmetto Base Ball Club, and University Base Ball Club.2,6,7

The newspaper reported that “the maiden game of base ball in Columbia” was played between the Phil Sheridan and Chicora clubs on September 9 from 2:15 to 6:15 PM on the University Green. The military club won by a score of 82 runs to 29.8,44 The lopsided score apparently did not discourage the Chicoras who agreed to future contests versus the Phil Sheridans. Over the next two months, the Phil Sheridan and Chicora clubs played a series of five games with the military club winning all but one.30,10,11,45 The Chicoras finally achieved a victory over the military team in the fourth matchup on October 31 by a decisive score of 89-51.11

Box Score of Columbia's First Baseball Game
The Daily Phoenix, September 10, 1867, page 2, column 6

 Other games were played that year among the local teams on at least three baseball fields around the city.  The Phil Sheridan and University Clubs used the University Green along Green Street as home field, while the Columbia Club’s home ground was near the Charlotte and South Carolina Railroad Depot in the northeastern part of the city.  The Chicora Club maintained a field behind the South Carolina Railroad Depot on Gervais Street. The fact that these were organized clubs is evidenced by the facts that they were managed by officers and directors and held regular off-field meetings.2,3,7,16,18,32

University Green
Red oval on this map excerpt shows field where many early baseball games were played.
1872 Bird's Eye View Map of Columbia by Camille N. Drie

 
Also in 1867, Columbia’s first two youth baseball teams were formed. These were the Richland and Columbia, Jr. clubs who played their first game against each other on October 22.  This first ‘little league’ game was won by Columbia Jr. by a margin of four runs.4

Beyond 1867, baseball continued to grow in popularity among players and fans. Additional teams were formed, and games became more common in subsequent years especially during holidays and special events. Fourth of July celebrations began to feature baseball games along with the traditional picnics and fireworks.15,28,48 Other events also began to include baseball games in their activities.

The 1871 South Carolina State Fair featured two baseball games played on the infield of the racetrack adjacent to the fairgrounds on Upper Street (now Elmwood Avenue).  The first was played at 11:00 AM on Wednesday, November 8, by two local teams, the R. E. Lee and Alert Baseball Clubs. By a score of 23-14, the Alerts won what was possibly the first team sport contest featured at the State Fair.49 The second game, between the local Palmetto Club and the Mutual Club of the military garrison, began at 11:00 AM on Thursday and was halted after five innings by a rainstorm.50 It was completed on Friday and the Mutuals were victorious.  The winning club in each game was awarded a $10 prize by the fair association.42

The sport continued to grow during the Reconstruction Era as local and military clubs continued to be formed while some came and went. At least six military clubs, eight local adult clubs, and three youth clubs existed at various times between 1867 and 1877. Local Columbia clubs also began to host and travel for games against teams in other towns and cities around the state. Some of these intercity games were against teams like the Orange of Orangeburg, the Klu Klux of Winnsboro, the Athletics of Aiken, the Etiwans of Charleston, and others. This intercity competition continued beyond Reconstruction into the 1880s and 1890s but on an inconsistent basis. These teams and competitions waxed and waned depending on several factors such as financial means, player commitment, inconsistent management, etc.

Columbia’s local teams were primarily amateur and were composed of part-time players who held other means of livelihood. There were, however, some occasional semi-professional exceptions where a team would compensate one or two players. The primarily amateur nature of the game continued until 1892 when the Columbia Baseball Association formed Columbia’s first professional team and led the effort to start the first minor league involving South Carolina clubs. 


 Sources
  1. “The American Game of Base Ball.” The Charleston Daily Courier, April 19, 1859, page 1, column 7.
  2. “Attention, Palmetto Base Ball Club.” The Daily Phoenix, November 3, 1867, page 2, column 3.
  3. "Attention, Alert Base Ball Club." The Daily Phoenix, June 3, 1868, page 2, column 5.
  4. “Base Ball Among the Little Folks.” The Daily Phoenix, October 23, 1867, page 2, column 6.
  5. “Base Ball.” The Daily Phoenix, July 23, 1867, page 2, column 6.
  6. “Base Ball.” The Daily Phoenix, August 11, 1867, page 2, column 6.
  7. “Base Ball.” The Daily Phoenix, August 30, 1867, page 2, column 6.
  8. “Base Ball.” The Daily Phoenix, September 10, 1867, page2, column 5.
  9. “Base Ball.” The Daily Phoenix, September 29, 1867, page 2, column 6.
  10. “Base Ball.” The Daily Phoenix, October 17, 1867, page 2, column 5.
  11. “Base Ball.” The Daily Phoenix, November 1, 1867, page 2, column 5.
  12. “Base Ball.” The Daily Phoenix, November 28, 1867, page 2, column 4.
  13. Brown, Zachary. “Baseball and the Civil War.” US History Scene, 26 Nov. 2016.
  14. Bush, James C. “Fifth Regiment of Artillery.” US Army Center of Military History.
  15. “The Celebration of the Fourth.” The Daily Phoenix, July 6, 1871, page 2, column 5.
  16. “Chicora Base Ball Club.” The Daily Phoenix, August 18, 1867, page 2, column 4.
  17. “Chicora Base Ball Club.” The Daily Phoenix, September 29, page 2, column 3.
  18. “City Matters.” The Daily Phoenix, Aug 16, 1874, page 2, column 6.
  19. "City Matters." The Daily Phoenix, Aug 19, 1874, page 2, column 5.
  20. "City Matters." The Daily Phoenix, Aug 25, 1874, page 2, column 5.
  21. "City Matters." The Daily Phoenix, Aug 28, 1874, page 2, column 5.
  22. “City Matters.” The Daily Phoenix, Mar 18, 1875, page 2, column 5.
  23. “City Matters.” The Daily Phoenix, Mar 23, 1875, page 2, column 5.
  24. “City Matters.” The Daily Phoenix, Apr 6, 1875, page 2, column 4.
  25. “Columbia Base Ball Club.” The Daily Phoenix, August 16, 1867, page 2, column 6.
  26. “Correspondence of the Courier.” The Charleston Daily Courier, July 19, 1858, page 2, column 2.
  27. “How it was spent here, at Beaufort and the Navy.” The New South (Port Royal, SC), December 27, 1862, page 3, column 2.
  28. “The Late Game of Base Ball.” The Newberry Weekly Herald, July 19, 1871, page 2 column 4.
  29. “Letter from Asa Hartz.” The Camden Confederate, July 6, 1864, page 2, column 1.
  30. “Local Items.” The Daily Phoenix, October 1, 1867, page 2, column 6.
  31. "Local Items." The Daily Phoenix, November 7, 1867, page 2, column 5.
  32. “Local Items.” The Daily Phoenix, January 11, 1868, page 2, column 5.
  33. "Local Items." The Daily Phoenix, November 26, 1868, page 2, column 6.
  34. “Local Items.” The Daily Phoenix, July 20, 1871, page 2 column 6.
  35. “Local Items.” The Daily Phoenix, July 22, 1871, page 2, column 5.
  36. "Local Items." The Daily Phoenix, July 28, 1871, page 2, column 5.
  37. "Local Items." The Daily Phoenix, July 29, 1871, page 2, column 5.
  38. "Local Items." The Daily Phoenix, August 4, 1871, page 2, column 6.
  39. "Local Items." The Daily Phoenix, August 9, 1871, page 2, column 6.
  40. "Local Items." The Daily Phoenix, August 18, 1871, page 2, column 5.
  41. "Local Items." The Daily Phoenix, September 13, 1871, page 2, column 5.
  42. "Local Items." The Daily Phoenix, November 3, 1871, page 2, column 6.
  43. "Local Items." The Daily Phoenix, November 6, 1872, page 2, column 5.
  44. “Match Game of Base Ball.” The Daily Phoenix, September 8, 1867, page 2, column 6.
  45. “Match Game of Base Ball.” The Daily Phoenix, November 8, 1867, page 2, column 6.
  46. “Our New York Correspondence.” The Charleston Mercury, August 27, 1860, page 1, column 5.
  47. “Out-Door Sports and Pastimes.” The Abbeville Press and Banner, August 13, 1858, page 5, column 4.
  48. “Scraps.” The Newberry Weekly Herald, July 5, 1871, page 2, column 5.
  49. “The State Fair.” The Daily Phoenix, November 9, 1871, page 2, column 3.
  50. "The State Fair." The Daily Phoenix, November 10, 1871, page 2, column 2.
  51. “Tribute of Respect.” The Daily Phoenix, October 8, 1867, page 3, column 2.


2 comments:

  1. Paul -

    Your research never disappoints! Thank you for delving into this fascinating aspect of Columbia's past-just in time for the season!

    ReplyDelete