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Wednesday, 2 May 2012
Connecting with the past

This past weekend I took a short drive out to the Chancellorsville Battlefield Visitors Center to acknowledge the 149th anniversary of the Battle of Chancellorsville (May 1-3, 1863). In addition to running an excellent film on the engagement (written by our friend John Hennessy), the CBVC museum also features some wonderful artifacts, dioramas and exhibits.

This week also marks the 148th anniversary of the Battle of the Wilderness (May 5-7, 1864). As The Wilderness Battlefield does not have its own Visitors Center, the CBVC also doubles for it.

One of the new installations (also written by John and our film-friend Donald Pfanz) tells an exceptionally tragic story from the Wilderness. The central character, John Williams Patterson, was a colonel of the 102nd Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry who was killed May 5, 1864. According to the exhibit Patterson died the day after returning to camp from leave, and one day before his 29th birthday. He was shot as he led the regiment against attacking Confederates at the intersection of the Brock and Orange Plank roads. His body was left on the field as the regiment fell back, but was retrieved the next day.

Patterson was first buried at the 6th Corps field hospital. In 1865 his body was moved to Wilderness Cemetery No. 2, near where he received his fatal wound. In 1869, when the cemetery was emptied for transfer of the bodies to Fredericksburg, Patterson’s was taken north to Pennsylvania and reburied in the Southside Cemetery. (The preserved grave marker that is on display had also arrived in Pittsburgh with the body. The board reads, in black ink, “Col. Jno. W. Patterson, 102 Pa., Killed May 1864.”)

The exhibit is titled “A Family Shattered” and features photographs, letters and other items preserved by Patterson’s descendants. These include an 1861 recruiting poster; two flasks; a bullet that apparently passed through Patterson’s chest at the Battle of Fair Oaks and a poster from the Orphan’s Court, advertising the sale of the Patterson home when his death left his wife and children destitute.

The loss of Col. Patterson financially devastated his family, leaving them in near-poverty. His wife, Almira, had a widow’s pension of about $360 per year. Although Patterson had owned his house free and clear, the Allegheny County, Pa., Orphans’ Court compelled Almira to sell it in March 1865 to provide funds to support her and her three young children.

William A. Phillis III, a descendant of John Williams Patterson wrote an excellent study of his great-great grandfather that was published in the Wilderness Dispatch Vol. 8 No. 2 Summer 2003. In it he writes:

Colonel John Williams Patterson of the 102nd Pennsylvania Infantry (Wheaton’s Brigade, Getty’s Division of the VI Corps) was killed at the corner of Brock Road and Orange Plank Road on May 5th, 1864. Col. William H. Moody of the 139th Pennsylvania wrote of Col. Patterson’s death, "Col. John W. Patterson, of Pittsburgh, commanding the 102d, was shot dead on that day. Poor Patterson! I shook hands and spoke with him just before the advance was ordered, and a moment afterwards he received a bullet through the brains. May Heaven console his stricken widow and children. "‘After life’s fitful fever he sleeps well"‘.

Col. Patterson’s death was a disaster for his family. Almira Wendt Patterson, the widow of the colonel, was orphaned at age 12, widowed at 29 and her youngest child, Mary Richards Patterson, died of scarlet fever at the age of 6. Almira and John’s children, Fred Wendt Patterson (b. 1860) and Agnes Wendt Patterson (b. 1861) were made wards of the Orphans Court in Pittsburgh and the widow’s house and belongings were sold by the court. The widow lived on a Widow’s Pension until she died in 1908 and was buried in New Brighton, Pennsylvania in a grave marked "Almira Patterson, Wife of Colonel John W. Patterson". (More here)

On a side-note, my Revolutionary War readers may be interested to know that Patterson came from a long line of ancestors who had served the military in the Revolution, War of 1812 and the French and Indian War. (List here)

I am particularly taken with this display, not because there is a tie to my hometown, but due to the fact that this is an example of the kinds of exhibits that we need more of. Far too many museums feature ‘nameless’ photos of soldiers without the detailed story behind them. This exhibit allows the visitor to directly connect with the man in the image, as well as his family. We not only see what his experiences were in the war, but also the repercussions of his death on the home front and how it affected his wife and children. It magnifies the tragedy of the Civil War and gives us much to ponder during the Sesquicentennial.

I highly recommend making a visit to the Chancellorsville Battlefield Visitors Center to see this unique and touching exhibit. The Pattersons' story is one that was repeated thousands of times over the course of the Civil War. This is the history that we should labor to preserve and present. I also recommend visiting the FSNMPS blog Mysteries and Conundrums for more stories like that of John Williams Patterson.

Photos: National Park Service 

Posted by ny5/pinstripepress at 11:06 AM EDT
Updated: Thursday, 3 May 2012 11:00 AM EDT
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Monday, 23 April 2012
It's here!

You Stink! proves there is crying in baseball.

It’s been several years since I’ve had the opportunity to announce the arrival of a new book. Therefore it is with a great sense of pride (and gratitude) that I can finally say that You Stink! Major League Baseball’s Terrible Teams and Pathetic Players is now available!

This particular title is extra-special to me for a few reasons. First, I got to co-write it with my friend Eric Wittenberg, an exceptional historian who I have always had the greatest respect for (see his announcement post here). Second, this book took a REALLY long time to come to fruition. In fact, it’s been 38 years since Eric first dreamed up the concept and well over 4 years since we initially penned the first draft. Third, we got the coolest mascot in the history of the game to write our Foreword: Dave Raymond, the original Phillie Phanatic.

Although the finished product has exceeded all of our expectations, there was a time when we weren’t sure if the book would ever see the light of day. Our original manuscript (6 chapters longer) was turned down by multiple publishers who all loved the idea, but also felt that sports books were too much of a gamble in today’s fickle book market. Thankfully, The Kent State University Press folks believed in our vision and helped us to streamline the final draft. Looking back, I’m glad we took the long way around as we could not have asked for a better publisher.

This book, like all books, represents the work of many folks. Peer-reviewers, editors, proofreaders, designers and publicists all contribute to the final product and we were very blessed to have KSUP’s all-star team working with us. We also had the assistance and support of some excellent organizations like Baseball-Almanac, the National Baseball Hall of Fame and the Associated Press, who patiently assisted us as we researched the statistics, photographs and illustrations that complement our narrative. (The final count is 350 pages w/ 54 photographs and 50 stats tables). Of course our families also deserve a thank you as this casual “side-project” ultimately became an obsession for Eric and me. In fact, I would say that we probably spent more time tweaking this manuscript than any other. My father deserves a special shout out as he proofread this monster...twice. Thanks dad!

Now that the finished book has reached the shelves, our work begins again. No doubt we’ll be doing lots of press, speaking engagements, and signings on this one. Some special events and appearances are already in the works and don’t be surprised if you see or hear us on some of your favorite sports talk shows. This book is special and I am very thankful to have been a part of it. Needless to say my blogging attentions will be primarily focused on this release in the near-term, so be sure to follow us over on the official You Stink! blog and Facebook page. I will likely be posting more frequently over there.

You can order the book from multiple places online including direct from the publisher, or at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. It will also be on the shelves in most traditional bookstores and we are hoping to get it in the gift shops of some baseball venues and museums. Stay tuned for more announcements and be sure to buy a copy! Thanks.

Posted by ny5/pinstripepress at 11:34 AM EDT
Updated: Tuesday, 24 April 2012 8:09 AM EDT
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Thursday, 19 April 2012
Hamilton essay published in The G&LR

An excerpted version of my essay on the speculation surrounding Alexander Hamilton’s sexuality is appearing in the May-June issue of The Gay and Lesbian Review/Worldwide. Titled “Alexander Hamilton’s Smoking Gun,” this 3-page feature presents Hamilton’s rumored homosexuality and includes several curious letters written by Hamilton to his friend and confidant John Laurens.

This is my first piece to be published in The (G&LR), which is a highly respected historical journal. The Mission of the publication is to “...provide a forum for enlightened discussion of issues and ideas.” As this is not one of the usual publications that I write for, I am excited about the opportunity to reach a whole new audience with my study into the lives and legacies of the Founding Fathers and I would like to thank Richard Schneider, Jr., Ph.D. who is the editor and chief of the publication for peer reviewing and selecting my essay for publication.

You can view a hi-res PDF of the printed article here. For related topics on history, politics and culture, visit The (G&LR) website.

Posted by ny5/pinstripepress at 11:20 PM EDT
Updated: Wednesday, 9 May 2012 11:59 AM EDT
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Thursday, 12 April 2012
Battlefield Baseball

This photograph is believed to be one of the only ones in existence to have
captured a military baseball game during the Civil War. It features soldiers of
Company G, 48th New York State Volunteers playing a game at Fort Pulaski,
Georgia. (Courtesy of Fort Pulaski Military Park)

As I’m in a fully-focused baseball state-of-mind in preparation for the release of You Stink! Major League Baseball’s Terrible Teams and Pathetic Players I thought that I would share an article on the game of baseball during the Civil War. I originally wrote a much shorter form of this piece for Baseball-Almanac and later penned an expanded feature-length version for Civil War Historian magazine. My early work as a baseball historian was actually what led to me becoming a published author. I am now in the process of developing a talk based on You Stink! as my co-author Eric Wittenberg and I plan to do speaking engagements together (whenever possible) as well as apart. Enjoy...

It is considered America’s National Pastime, but far more than just a mere sporting event, baseball has become a major part of the American consciousness. In their book “The Pictorial History of Baseball,” John S. Bowman and Joel Zoss stated, “As part of the fabric of American culture, baseball is the common social ground between strangers, a world of possibilities and of chance, where ‘it’s never over till it’s over.’” Rooted in the American Spirit, rich in legends, folklore and history, it is ultimately a timeless tradition where every game is a new nine-inning chapter and every participant has the chance to be a hero.

One of the simplest and best explanations of the game’s impact on society was penned in 1866 when Charles A. Peverelly wrote, “The game of baseball has now become beyond question the leading feature of the outdoor sports of the United States ... It is a game which is peculiarly suited to the American temperament and disposition; ... in short, the pastime suits the people, and the people suit the pastime.”

During war, following natural disaster, or in the midst of economic hardship, this “game” has always provided an emotional escape for people from every race, religion and background who can collectively find solace at the ballpark. Therefore, it somehow seems fitting that the origins of modern baseball can be traced back to a divided America, when the country was in the midst of a great Civil War. Despite the political and social grievances that resulted in the separation of the North and South, both sides shared some common interests, such as playing baseball.

Although a primitive form of baseball was somewhat popular in larger communities on both sides of the Mason Dixon line, it did not achieve widespread popularity until after the start of the war. The mass concentration of young men in army camps and prisons eventually converted the sport formerly reserved for “gentlemen” into a recreational pastime that could be enjoyed by people from all backgrounds. For instance, both officers and enlisted men played side by side and soldiers earned their places on the team because of their athletic talents, not their military rank or social standing.

[NOTE: In 1857, a convention of amateur ball clubs was called to discuss rules and other issues. Twenty five teams from the northeast sent delegates. The following year, they formed the National Association of Base Ball Players, the first organized baseball league. The league’s annual convention in 1868 drew delegates from over 100 clubs. As the league grew, so did the expenses of playing. Charging admission to games started to become more common, and teams often had to seek out donations or sponsors to make trips.]

Both Union and Confederate officers endorsed baseball as a much-needed morale builder that also provided both mental and physical conditioning. After long details at camp, it eased the boredom and created team spirit among the men. Some soldiers actually took baseball equipment to war with them. When proper equipment was not available they often improvised with fence posts, barrel staves or tree branches for bats and yarn or rag-wrapped walnuts or lumps of cork for balls.

To this day, casualties from the American Civil War (620,000+) still exceed our country’s losses in all other military conflicts. It is estimated that the Union armies had from 2,500,000 to 2,750,000 men. The Confederate strength, known less accurately because of missing records, was from 750,000 to 1,250,000. From 1861 to 1865, both armies suffered tremendous losses and the subsequent damage to the country’s infrastructure cost millions to rebuild.

One of the most widely credited (and criticized) participants in the destruction was Union General William Tecumseh Sherman, who put it best when he said, “War is all Hell.” Confederate commander General Robert E. Lee echoed that sentiment when he stated that, “It is well that war is so terrible -- lest we should grow too fond of it.” Perhaps if either side could have foreseen the tragedy that would befall them, a compromise may have been offered in place of musket fire.

Unfortunately, a magnanimous and peaceful conclusion was not meant to be. For four years, a horrific conflict of epic proportions scarred the country’s land and traumatized her citizens. When it finally ended, nearly 2% of the country’s population was dead and millions of dollars in damage had devastated the country’s infrastructure.

Therefore, despite being a welcome distraction while on campaign, baseball was played on some of the most sacred and hallowed of soil that was baptized in the blood of thousands. In addition to the camps, forts and battlefields, contests were also held within the walls of some of the most despicable prison camps one could imagine. These “detention centers” were often death sentences in themselves, as soldiers died from starvation, exposure, disease and dysentery. Without a doubt, these “ballparks on battlefields” were the worst fields whose history goes far beyond that of the game.

The benefits of playing while at war went far beyond fitness, as often the teamwork displayed on the baseball diamond translated into a teamwork mentality on the battlefield. Many times, soldiers would write of these games in the letters sent home, as they were much more pleasant to recall than the hardship of battle. This was perhaps one of the earliest forms of sports journalism and the precursor to the “box-score beat writers” of the 20th-century.

Private Alpheris B. Parker of the 10th Massachusetts wrote, “The parade ground has been a busy place for a week or so past, ball-playing having become a mania in camp. Officers and men forget, for a time, the differences in rank and indulge in the invigorating sport with a schoolboy’s ardor.”

Another private writing home from Virginia recalled, “It is astonishing how indifferent a person can become to danger. The report of musketry is heard but a very little distance from us...yet over there on the other side of the road most of our company, playing bat ball and perhaps in less than half an hour, they may be called to play a Ball game of a more serious nature.”

Sometimes games would be interrupted by the call of battle. George Putnam, a Union soldier humorously wrote of a game that was “called-early” due to the surprise attack on their camp by Confederate infantry, “Suddenly there was a scattering of fire, which three outfielders caught the brunt; the centerfield was hit and was captured, left and right field managed to get back to our lines. The attack...was repelled without serious difficulty, but we had lost not only our centerfield, but...the only baseball in Alexandria, Texas.”

It has been disputed for decades whether Union General Abner Doubleday was in fact the “father of the modern game.” Many baseball historians still reject the notion that Doubleday designed the first baseball diamond and drew up the modern rules. Nothing in his personal writings corroborates this story, which was originally put forward by an elderly Civil War veteran, Abner Graves, who served under him. Still, the City of Cooperstown, NY dedicated Doubleday Field in 1920 as the “official” birthplace of organized baseball. Later, Cooperstown became the home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Doubleday was an 1842 graduate of West Point (graduating with A.P. Stewart, D.H. Hill, Earl Van Dorn and James Longstreet) and served in both the Mexican and Seminole Wars. In 1861, he was stationed at the garrison in Charleston Harbor. It is said that it was Doubleday, an artillery officer, who aimed the first Fort Sumter guns in response to the Confederate bombardment that initiated the war. Later he served in the Shenandoah region as a brigadier of volunteers and was assigned to a brigade of Irwin McDowell’s corps during the campaign of Second Manassas. He also commanded a division of the 1st Corps at Sharpsburg and Fredericksburg as well as Gettysburg, where he assumed the command of the 1st Corps after the fall of General John F. Reynolds, helping to repel “Pickett’s Charge.”

Strangely, Doubleday’s outstanding military service is often forgotten, yet his controversial baseball legacy lives on. A report published in 1908 by the Spalding Commission (appointed to research the origin of baseball) credited Union General Abner Doubleday as being the “father of the modern game.” It stated, “Baseball was invented in 1839 at Cooperstown, NY by Abner Doubleday-afterward General Doubleday, a hero of the battle of Gettysburg-and the foundation of this invention was an American children’s game called “One Old Cat.”

Since then, Alexander J. Cartwright, Jr., a descendent of a British sea captain, has been designated as the game’s principal founder. According to sources at the Fort Ward Museum, “In 1842, at the age of 22, Cartwright was among a group of men from New York City’s financial district who gathered at a vacant lot at 27th Street and 4th Avenue in Manhattan to play ‘baseball.’ In 1845, they organized themselves into the Knickerbockers Base Ball Club, restricting the membership to 40 males and assessed annual dues of five dollars. The following year, Cartwright devised new rules and regulations, instituting foul lines, nine players to a team, nine innings to a game and set up a square infield, known as the ‘diamond’ with 90-foot baselines to a side, bases in each corner. He also drew up guidelines for punctuality, designated the use of an umpire, determined that three strikes constituted an out, and that there would be three outs per side each inning.”

Cartwright left the New York area in 1849 to travel. He was drawn by the Gold Rush and stories of adventures in the West. Along the way, he taught the game to Native Americans and mountain men he encountered, spreading interest in the fledgling sport west of the Mississippi. Cartwright died in Hawaii in July of 1892. However, for decades to come, it was Doubleday who remained in the hearts and minds of enthusiasts everywhere as baseball’s father.

To his credit, the general is said to have always demurred on assertions by others that he was the founder of the national game. Yet the legend persisted decades after his death. Regardless of falsely being credited as the sole “inventor” of t