Taking Old-Time Baseball Literally

On a day when our own beloved Tom McDonald highlights (and then waxes most interestingly upon) yesterday’s borderline unbelievable historical discovery, I’ve got my own little historical tidbit to share:

They found an old baseball. Really, really old.

During the War Between the States, the game was played on the battlefields and even in wartime prison camps. Baseball was, after all, portable, and even amid the horrors of war, soldiers sometimes found opportunities to play on the vast open fields where they needed only a bat, a ball, and a few willing participants.

This ball was found and retrieved in 1862 in Shiloh, in southwestern Tennessee, on the grounds of one of the Civil War’s bloodiest battles. The ball is inscribed: “Picked Up on the Battle Field at Shiloh by G.F. Hellum.” Giles Hellum was an African-American who worked as an orderly for the Union Army at Shiloh. He later enlisted as a soldier in the 69th Colored Infantry.

The artifact is a “lemon peel ball,” looser and softer than today’s baseballs, and it is hand-stitched in a figure 8 pattern with thick twine.

When I hear the term “old-timey baseball,” I tend to think “turn of the century.” But as this piece points out, the hallowed fingers of our national pastime reach a great deal further back into our past than that. Also, I’m ridiculously happy lemon peel baseballs exist(ed). Very, very cool.

HT to the inestimable Rob Neyer, whose post doubles as a “Fantastic New Blog” finder. Early estimates suggest that Slate’s “The Vault” will be sucking up the rest of my afternoon.  TheNationalPasttime.com doesn’t seem to be particularly lively at the moment, however, which is good. Estimates put the amount of time I could spend there at just a hair under the “Rest of My Life” mark. And that’s a bit conservative.

About Joseph Susanka

Joseph has been doing development work for institutions of Catholic higher education since graduating from Thomas Aquinas College in 1999. A grateful resident of Wyoming, he spends his free time exploring the beautiful Wind River Mountains, keeping track of his (currently) seven sons, and thanking his lucky stars for Netflix.


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