It’s October, and I’m feeling a resurgence of baseball interest with the major league playoffs about to begin. I played baseball as a kid, and, after overcoming fear of failure, managed to gain confidence, if not athletic competence, on the Little League fields of Snohomish, Wash., home of Baseball Hall of Famer Earl Averill and a half-dozen other big-league players. Farther from home, my wife’s paternal grandfather and two other relatives played pro baseball in the early 1900s, and I’ve uncovered evidence linking her Irish immigrant great-great grandfather John Dolan to the national pastime as far back as 1861.
Records confirm that Pvt. John Dolan did two tours in the Union Army during the American Civil War, the first a three-month stretch in Company H of the 10th Pennsylvania Volunteers, which was mustered less than two weeks after the war’s opening shots at Fort Sumter on April 12. 1861. That’s about the same time of year that baseball season traditionally begins.
Known as the Allegheny Guards, the 10th became part of a 16,000-man force under Maj. Gen. Robert Patterson, ordered to occupy a force of Gen. Joe Johnston’s Confederates in the Shenandoah Valley in the vicinity of Harper’s Ferry and Winchester, Va., while the main part of the Union Army under Maj. Gen. Irwin McDowell attacked the main Confederate forces under Gen. P.G.T. Beauregard at Bull Run outside Washington. The idea was to keep Johnston from reinforcing Beauregard, but we all know that didn’t happen and Johnston’s arrival at Bull Run saved the day for the rebels and sparked a rout of the federals.
A regimental history of the 10th from Samuel P. Bates’ “History of Pennsylvania Volunteers” suggests the Allegheny Guards went through spring training with the Yankees but saw little live pitching until confronted by an occupied toll house near the Potomac River.
According to Bates: “On Monday, the 24thof June, Capt. Doubleday, having completed an earth work, placed in the battery one smooth-bore 24-pounder and one 8-inch howitzer, and opened on the toll house, a stone building situated about 1 mile from the river on the Martinsburg Pike and occupied by rebel
scouts. The first shot struck the corner of the building, driving out a party of about 20 of the enemy, who were just then preparing to partake of a bountiful supper. Unwilling to leave the savory dishes, prepared with much care, the party halted some distance from the house to consider the situation. But a well-timed shell from the howitzer brought the conference to a sudden conclusion, scattering the party in all directions, amidst the cheers of thousands of Union soldiers who witnessed the scene from the Maryland shore. On entering the house on the following day, the supper was found undisturbed.”
I love this story, because Capt. Doubleday was Abner Doubleday, mythically portrayed as the inventor of baseball in 1832 but more accurately perceived as the man who fired the first shots for the Union at Fort Sumter, where he was second in command to Maj. Robert Anderson.
After an “0-fer” day batting leadoff at Sumter, these might’ve been Doubleday’s first hits of the war.
Imagine the rebel scouting report from the toll house: “Watch yourselves, they’ve got a cannon out there in center.”
Or consider the lingering banter from the Union side, perhaps by Pvt. Dolan himself:
“Ah, Cap’n, those were a fine couple o’ balls ya pitched at ’em the other day. The first one might’ve been a wee high, but ya sure knocked dem buggers off da plate.”