The Ball once struck off,
Away flies the Boy
To the next destin’d Post,
And then Home with Joy
Image from collection of the Reynolda House Museum of American Art
Baseball was popular enough that Union troops played it during the Civil War, helping spread the game around the country, including to the South as the Union prisoners played the game when they could. This print is stated as being as based on a drawing by Acting Major Otto Boetticher “from nature,” indicating he was perhaps a prisoner or at least a visitor. The camp looks quite clean and the players and spectators look quite relaxed.
By the end of the war, Charles Peverelly wrote:
The game of Base Ball has now become beyond question the leading feature of the out-door sports of the United States. (Book of American Pastimes, 1866)
The popularity of the game inspired Currier & Ives, “America’s Printmakers,” to decide to produce one of their top quality, expensive, large-folio prints. “American National Game of Base Ball: Grand Match for Championship at the Elysian Fields, Hoboken, N.J.” A notice in an 1860 edition of New York Sunday Mercury reported, concerning a game between the Excelsior and the Atlantic teams for the championship, that:
Messrs. Currier & Ives, the well-known print publishers, had a corps of artists on the ground last Thursday, taking elaborate sketches of the immense field, and of the players. They propose publishing a handsome colored lithograph, which will present an accurate view of the interesting scene.
Likely because of the war, Currier & Ives didn’t produce the print until 1866, when they revisited the idea, using some of the 1860 sketches as well as later photographs, to produced this terrific print. [An excellent analysis of the print and the game it was meant to represent can be found on the “Our Game” blog.