Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Memorial Day 2013 - Base Ball and the Union Dead

This past Monday, the Neshanock made one of their shortest out of state trips to visit Newtown, Pennsylvania for the annual Memorial Day match with the Newtown Strakes.  Memorial Day is, of course, set aside to honor and commemorate the sacrifices of those who lost their lives in our nation's military service.  The night before, Carol and I watched a Memorial Day concert, televised from the mall in Washington, D.C.  While appropriate tribute was paid to the dead from 20th and 21st century conflicts, I was disappointed no mention at all was made of the Civil War especially during the Sesquicentennial of that crucial period in American History.

Decoration Day Parade - 1896

Memorial Day, originally called Decoration Day, began as a means of honoring the Union dead by decorating their graves with flowers.  Union fatalities alone topped 360,000 (recent analysis suggests the actual numbers were higher), not far off total U. S. combat deaths in World War II.  One of the many fascinating things about the Union army is the extent to which it was made up of volunteers compared to the armies of the two World Wars.  In New Jersey, for example, of the over 70,000 men who served in the military, less than 1000 were drafted.  I recognize that a number of those "volunteers" were actually substitutes, hired by drafted men as means of avoiding military service, but that doesn't change the reality that most Union soldiers chose to serve.

The extent to which early base ball players made that choice remains an open question.  I've written before about how, in spite of contemporary newspaper claims to the contrary, Brooklyn and New Jersey clubs had most of their rosters intact for the 1861 season.  One of my long term research projects is to develop a data base of at least 100 New Jersey antebellum base ball players (from senior clubs only) to analyze the extent of military service.  Today, though I want to add one more name to the small number of New Jersey ball players known to have made the ultimate sacrifice in the Civil War.

Newark Daily Advertiser - August 11, 1863

To date the list consisted of only four names, James Conklin and Horace Smith of the Newark Club and  Arthur Merry and William Evans of the Camden Club.  The Camden Club played Philadelphia town ball, not the New York game, but I still want to include them.  Recently while researching something else in the Newark Daily Advertiser  of August 11, 1863, I found an account of the July 28th death of  Sgt Theodore Mandeville of the 1st New York Engineer Regiment at Fort Wagner, South Carolina.  Fort Wagner was the locale of the final scenes of the move, "Glory," about the 54th Massachusetts, the first all African-American regiment.  Although Mandeville was serving in a New York regiment, the article said he was born in Newark and the name rang a vague bell from one of the early Newark clubs.

Theodore Mandeville

More precisely what rang a bell was the last name, Mandeville, which meant once again facing the challenge of identifying a ball player from box scores, which usually only give last names.  I found a Mandeville in the 1855 line up of the Empire Club, one of Newark's charter teams and mercifully, one box score even gave first initials, listing a T. Mandeville.  Better still was an April, 5, 1859 news account that one Theo. Mandeville had been elected Vice President of the Empire Club.  As such his primary role was to help disband the club as there is no record of the Empire Club playing any 1859 matches and later that year, Mandeville was playing for the Newark Club, apparently with some success.

Newark Daily Mercury - September 13, 1859

On October 4, 1861, Mandeville enlisted in Company E of the 1st New York Engineers.  I was a little surprised he chose a New York regiment, but the 1st New York's regimental history states that Company E was recruited in multiple communities including Newark.  The former ball player must have been a good soldier as he quickly gained promotion to Corporal and then Sergeant, after only six months of service.  Mandeville had just turned 29 at the time of his death and left grieving parents and other family members in Newark.   Thus Theodore Mandeville is the fifth antebellum New Jersey base ball player confirmed to have made the ultimate sacrifice for the Union cause.  I'm glad to have identified him particularly around a time of year when it is "altogether fitting and proper" to remember and honor the Union dead.

Theodore Mandeville's Grave Marker 

Each of the Neshanock's Memorial Day matches with the Newtown Strakes (assembled annually for this game) have been competitive and this year was no exception.  Newtown scored once in the top of the first, but Flemington quickly responded with three runs to take a lead it would never relinquish.  Although the margin grew to 10-3 after six innings, Newtown closed the gap to 10-6 heading to the ninth.  Fortunately Bobby "Melky" Ritter set down the Strakes in order in the ninth, completing a solid pitching performance.  Flemington's offense was led by Mark "Peaches" Rubini who not only had a clear score, but also scored all three times.  Defensively Chris "Wheels" Nunn had  fine day behind the plate, recording seven outs on foul flies and bounds.  The win puts the Neshanock at 8-7 moving into the New Jersey portion of the schedule with six straight weekends of matches within the bounds of the Garden State.

1 comment:

  1. Richard HershbergerJune 1, 2013 at 9:34 AM

    I am very skeptical of the notion that baseball players were any more likely to enlist than would the general population of the same age cohort within the same geographic region and social class. The claim fails the smell test. What characteristic would make a person both more likely to join a baseball club and to enlist? This is never really stated. At the same time, the claim dovetails suspiciously well with the contemporary obsession with establishing that baseball is a manly activity.

    Really testing the claim would be difficult. You would have to determine the enlistment rates of both the ball players and the comparable group of non-ball players. This is probably possible, but a lot of work. I am not persuaded that the payoff would be worth it.