Monday, March 24, 2014

Disarmed, but not disabled

Base ball articles in 1860's northern New Jersey newspapers suggest a basic pattern for the game's spread and development throughout the state during both the war and the post war periods.  In urban and rural areas alike, there was little, less or no activity during the war years, followed by some match play (increased or initial) in 1865, dramatic growth in 1866 and 1867 and a drop off or at least a slowdown during the last three years of the decade.  Some of the decline may have been more perceived than real as newspaper editors devoted less of their limited space to base ball news.  There is, however, clear contemporary confirmation of an abatement in the post war surge.  To date the only significant variation seen from this pattern occurred in Jersey City and Hudson County, directly across the river from Manhattan.  Compilation of the newspaper accounts continues, but the sheer volume of game accounts confirms a high level of base ball activity through 1870.

Evening Journal - February 4, 1869

As noted in earlier posts, post war base ball matches included not just club contests, but also games between members of various non-base ball organizations or groups.  Matches between the employees of various businesses were especially popular in Newark, while in Hudson County there was little reported corporate competition, but frequent games between teams of policemen, firemen and ferry workers.  As widespread as this non-club competition became, however, only one instance has been found of G.A.R. Post members taking to the ball field.  This one exception occurred in Hudson County  towards the end of the decade when Joseph Hooker G.A.R. Post Number 3 of Bergen played at least one match per year from 1868 to 1870.   Although it was incorporated into Jersey City in 1870, the city of Bergen was originally an independent municipality making up the southern part of Journal Square and southern portions of modern Jersey City.

New Jersey State G.A.R. Flag

The Joseph Hooker post was one of the hundreds of Union veterans organizations that sprung up in the north throughout the post war period under the national umbrella of the Grand Army of the Republic or G.A.R.  According to Stuart McConnell in Glorious Contentment: The Grand Army of the Republic 1865-1900, the organization's public mission was to promote fraternity, charity and loyalty among Union veterans, but it also had a more private, political agenda.  According to McConnell, the G.A.R. "worked effectively for the Grant-Colfax ticket during the campaign of 1868" and continued to support Republican candidates for the rest of the century.  The organization's political clout is demonstrated by the fact that from 1868 to 1900 only one person achieved the presidency without being G.A.R. member.

G.A.R. Medal

Although playing base ball was not part of their mission, the members of the Hooker Post apparently didn't want to be left out of the base ball excitement in Hudson County so they played what appear to have been planned as "muffin" matches at least once a year.  Muffin matches were games between teams of inexperienced and inferior players who were more likely to "muff" the ball than catch it.  The Hooker Post's first such encounter was in July of 1868 against what was called the Unique Literary Society of Bergen, but may actually have been a regular base ball club.  Subsequent "muffin" matches in 1869 and 1870 were played against the Bergen Sons of Temperance and the Taylor Zouaves, not exactly base ball household names.  What is of interest about the Hooker Post's matches, however, is not the level of competition, but their lineup which had two players with only one arm.

Frederick Boorman, George Sipp, Gustavus Jackson, Charles Knoeller and Charles Bowers all appear to have been members of Hooker Post No. 3 and played in the 1868 and 1869 base ball matches

The July 28, 1868 edition of the Jersey City Daily Times gave a fairly detailed account of the match with the Unique Club where the G.A.R. boys apparently "expected to meet a muffin nine."  Accounts of other clearly designated New Jersey muffin matches suggest that such contests were played as much for laughs and socializing as for competitive purposes.  Apparently expecting something similar, the veterans supposedly "made up their minds to excel in 'muffinism" with a lineup of three one-armed veterans, another "with but one eye" and one with a "wooden understanding."  If the descriptions seem of questionable taste, the paper took it to another level (a lower level) reporting that "the wooden-legged man, however, failed to walk to the ground and the one-eyed fellow appeared not to be able to 'see it."  Regardless of how accurate this was, when play was called the G.A.R. team did, in fact, have two, one-armed men in their line-up, Frederick Boorman and John Rome.  Although the reporter made another tasteless comment about both men having trouble in the field because they were "short-handed," he was forced to conclude their play was "excellent."  Rome played center field and scored two runs while Boorman, not only pitched, but some how hit the game's only home run.  A little over a year later, both men also played in the Sons of Temperance match with Rome scoring six runs and Boorman seven in the G.A.R. team's 69-63 triumph in a game that clearly won no points for style.

6th New Jersey Battle Flag

Both Boorman and Rome, it turns out, have interesting stories with Boorman's being the easier to trace.  A New Jersey native and a clerk prior to the Civil War, Boorman joined many of his peers in answering Abraham Lincoln's call for 75,000 volunteers after the Confederate attack on Fort Sumter.  After that 90 days of service was over, Boorman wasted no time re-enlisting, joining the 6th New Jersey less than a month after his return from Virginia.  Assigned to the 2nd New Jersey Brigade, the 6th was part of the Army of the Potomac's long, hot march in pursuit of the Confederate forces invading Pennsylvania in June and July of 1863.  Finally arriving at Gettysburg about 9:00 a.m. on July 2nd, the Brigade was divided up piecemeal to reinforce other Union units defending against the multiple Confederate assaults on the Union left.  The 6th ended up near Devil's Den, supporting the 4th New York Artillery, "fighting like tigers, exposed to terrific fire of musketry," before being forced to withdraw.

6th New Jersey's monument at Gettysburg

Most likely during this time, Frederick Boorman was wounded in the right arm which was amputated in keeping with standard medical practice. The wounded warrior was discharged in September and returned to Hudson County where he would live for most of the rest of his long life until his death in 1914.  Boorman's membership in the Hooker post was only the beginning of what was apparently a lifelong involvement in G.A.R. affairs.  He later became Commander of G. Van Houten Post No. 3 in Jersey City and even held statewide office as the Junior Vice Commander in 1889, representing New Jersey at the National Encampment.  Boorman worked at a number of post war occupations, ultimately moving to Bayonne where he became the postmaster.

Battle of Vera Cruz - Mexican-American War

John Rome's story, on the other hand, was harder to trace and, is certainly more unique, if not more interesting, as he was actually a G.A.R. member without serving in the Civil War, no mean achievement.  Born in Germany in 1833, Rome's family came to the United States when he was only four years old.  On November 11, 1845, apparently along with his elder brother, the 12 year-old, enlisted as a musician in the United States Artillery and saw service in the Mexican-American War.  No details have been found, but on March 11, 1847, Rome was wounded at Vera Cruz and lost his left arm.  After his May 1847 discharge, Rome moved around a lot, but in the late 1860's was in Jersey City, working as a "huckster" or peddler.  Somehow the Hooker Post's pitcher must developed important political connections as by the late 1870's, he was in Washington, D.C., working as a messenger in the House of Representatives.  Ultimately this second wounded warrior became a door-keeper at the House, a position, he appears to have held until his death on November 6, 1922 at the ripe old age of 89.  Rome is buried in Arlington National Cemetery, one veteran at least who was not forgotten by his country.

 House of Representatives Report for 1893 showing John Rome (7th from top) as a messenger - soldier's roll
Two unanswered, and probably unanswerable questions, are how did Boorman and Rome play base ball and why did they do it.  On the how side, the more difficult question is how they managed to "strike" or bat with one arm well enough to get on base and, in Boorman's case, hit a home run.  The article states only that Boorman batted left-handed because he had lost his right arm while Rome did the opposite for the same reason.  There is no was of knowing, of course, how much of the amputated arm they lost, obviously the more of the arm that was saved, the greater the ability to help hold or support the bat.  Perhaps some kind of accommodation was made in terms of how the ball was pitched in order to give them a chance to make contact.  Interesting as this may be, of greater interest, at least to me, is why they did it.   Given that Rome lost his arm in 1847, it's unlikely he ever played the New York game before his injury.  Boorman is more likely to have played at some level, but his name does not appear in any Hudson County box score prior to his wounding in 1863.  Boorman's motivation may simply have been to show he could still play base ball, while Rome was taking on something he had never had the opportunity to do.   What seems clear though is that fear of embarrassing themselves was outweighed by their desire to show that although they were disarmed, they weren't disabled - more power to them.  

No comments:

Post a Comment