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Civil War Soldiers’ Baseball Heading to Auction

Heritage Auctions will sell what it calls “the most thoroughly documented Civil War soldiers game used baseball in the hobby” during its upcoming winter auction. 

The ball was reportedly used by Union soldiers who had taken up the game and were encamped at Decatur, AL in 1864.

Lemon peel baseball Civil WarThe lemon peel-style ball was the star attraction at a dinner in Los Angeles more than 102 years ago that was attended by James France, who had been a captain in the Seventeenth New York Regiment and brought it home from the war.  The ball comes with a 1911 newspaper article which chronicled the ball’s journey from battlefield to banquet

The soldiers had ordered the ball and bat and commenced playing games during down time, according to the article which reads:

“Captain France was a member of the Seventeenth New York zouaves, who were attached to the Sixteenth corps under the command of N.S. Granger. There were a number of good ballplayers in the Seventeenth and when, in May ’64, the corps was encamped at Decatur, Ala., the baseball enthusiasts conceived the plan of sending to Nashville, 130 miles north, for a ball and bat.

NewsarticleThe plan was executed and many a hot game of baseball was played on the parade grounds. When the call for dress parade came and a game was in progress, it was customary for the man having the ball in his hand at the time to keep it until the next game was played.

In this manner the ball was carried on Sherman’s march to the sea, through the Atlanta campaign, its siege and capture, then through the Carolinas campaign to Raleigh, Richmond and finally to Washington. At Washington, while the soldiers were waiting to be mustered out, the last game of ball was played. When it was over Lieutenant Barnett was walking off the field with Captain France. ‘Here, France,’ he called, and gave the ball an underhand toss into France’s waiting hands.”

Also accompanying the ball is an old handwritten letter from Charles Pease, a Captain with the 17th New York Veteran Volunteers (Zouaves) who served with Captain France and was close enough to give his son the middle name of ‘France’. He writes:

“This ball was used by the Officers of the 17th N.Y. at Decatur, Ala in ’62 during the ocupation (sic) by Federal troops and when the 17th received marching orders to go to the front at Atlanta Ga it was in possession of Capt. James S. France who kept it long after the war and finally gave it to my son Harry France Pease in 1915.”

The ball bears handwritten block-lettered text that reads, “Zouave B.B.C.” and “Officers 17th N.Y.V.V.I.”

Despite deep toning, the ball looks to be in good shape.

Printed transcripts of Captain Pease’s letters home from the war and a 2011 letter of appraisal from noted Civil War historian Will Gorges are shown in the lot description. The ball is consigned by the great-great grandson of Capt. Charles H. Pease, with his letter of provenance. 

There was no immediate word on a pre-sale estimate.

The auction is scheduled to open in early February and conclude February 22-23.

About Rich Mueller

Rich is the editor and founder of Sports Collectors Daily. A broadcaster and writer for more than 30 years and a collector for even longer than that, he's usually typing something somewhere. Type him back at [email protected].

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