Wednesday, February 6, 2013

A Baseball From Shiloh Battlefield

The game of baseball has been an American tradition for much longer than most Americans realize.  We have not always called it baseball, however.  It has been known as "rounders," "town ball" and other names but the basics were the same. Some scholars believe it had it origin in games brought to North America in the 17th and 18th centuries.  The game gained in popularity in the decades before the Civil War.  Soldiers, North and South took the game with them when they marched off to war.

After the Battle of Shiloh, Tennessee in April 1862, an African-American orderly in the Union Army found a baseball among the debris of that horrendous fight.  No one knows if its former owner wore blue or gray, or if he was one of the 23,000 Americans who were killed or wounded during those two days of hell.

Giles Hellum inscribed the ball: “Picked Up on the Battle Field at Shiloh by G.F. Hellum.”  Hellum later became a soldier himself  in the 69th United States Colored Infantry.  The 69th U.S.C.T. was recruited around Pine Bluff and DeValls Bluff Arkansas, and spent its enlistment serving in eastern Arkansas.

Baseball found on the battlefield of Shiloh by Giles Hellum
According to an new on-line baseball museum the artifact is a “lemon peel ball,” much looser and softer than today’s baseballs, and it is hand-stitched in a figure 8 pattern with thick twine.  I've reproduced these balls in the past for playing rounders at Civil War living history events.  They took some amazing punishment, but we never split a seem or tore the leather on a lemon peel ball.
Along with other artifacts, this rare ball will be unveiled on Opening Day this year at the new online baseball museum and archive.


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