Early Baseball in Nashville

The Republican Banner insert on Wednesday, July 25, 1860 states simply but with ample explanation to a new indulgence in the fair southern city of Nashville, Tennessee: 

     Base Ball. – This healthful and exciting exercise was very generally popular last fall, especially in the Northern States, and we hope it will be introduced here as soon as the heated term passes off.  We noticed the other evening a party engaged in Base Ball on the Edgefield side of the river, all apparently enjoying themselves.  The early closing of the stores gives a fine opportunity to the young men engaged in mercantile pursuits.

The Civil War had not yet begun, but storms were brewing.  Nonetheless, acknowledgement of exercise and fun, with credit given to the “Northern States”, is a telling tribute as regards Nashville’s sentiment towards the impending war.  Tennessee was the last state to secede from the Union.[1]

Young men had taken up some fashion of an organized game utilizing a bat and ball, and the game was so interesting that merchants closed stores so that they and others could give full attention to it.

The Republican Banner article goes on to say:

     No better exercise can be indulged in.  The difference between Base Ball and the exercises of the gymnasium is so obvious that we need scarcely mention it.  In the former, not only every muscle of the body is brought into active play, but the desire to win produces a healthy excitement of the mental faculties, without which any sort of physical exercise is not only useless but positively injurious.  On the other hand, in ordinary gymnastic exercises, the mental incentive is entirely wanting, and the so-called gymnastic exercise is simply reduced to ox-labor.

Comparing baseball played outdoors to indoor gymnasiums seem to call young men to play for the exercise and fresh air, but the description almost becomes an appeal for all citizenry to watch and enjoy the new game as the Republican Banner article closes:

     Let us have Base Ball Clubs organized, then, and the fun commenced.

And commence they did.  Linck’s Hotel, Phoenix, Burns, Flynn, Nashville Athletic Club, and the East Nashville Deppens would eventually become new teams.

By 1862 Nashville had the second-largest contingent of the Union army, next to Atlanta, and surely the Yankee soldiers taught the locals how to play their version of base ball.[2] Generals Buell, Rosseau, Negley, Rosencrans, and Grant, as commander-in-chief of the Army of the Cumberlands, had all set up headquarters in Nashville.[3]

In prison camps in both the north and south, games were organized as a way to give players and spectators opportunity to divest themselves of the perils and weariness of war – if even only for a few hours.[4]

The local teams were then on their way to playing the “gentlemen’s game”.  Herman Sandhouse, who had attended college in Philadelphia where he most likely learned the game, was instrumental in teaching the northern brand of ball in Nashville and is often credited with organizing the first team.[5]

John Dickins, who became a trusted umpire after the Civil War where he had spent nearly a year in Confederate prison camps[6], organized the Cumberlands, a team which hosted a club from Louisville on July 31, 1866.  Viewed by 2,000 the game was won by the Louisvilles 39-23.[7]  Dickins’ wife Emma was the scorekeeper.[8]

Scheduled as a best two-out-of-three series, the second game was played in Louisville on August 16.  The Louisvilles once again bested the Cumberlands, this time by a score of 72-11 and the reporter for the Louisville Daily Democrat hailed the Kentucky team as “entitled to the proud CHAMPIONSHIP OF THE SOUTH” and “the equal of any in the country.”[9]

In Nashville the Republican Banner often named Edgefield as a location for play, and for a game played on September 24, 1867 uses a one-line description of the teams and score:

     The Phoenix nine is victorious over the Nashville base ball club 25-20 at the Phoenix team’s home grounds in Edgefield.

A field near Fisk University was also a popular spot.  But the city grounds near the Cumberland River would become the traditional site for organized games.

Referred to as Sulphur Springs Bottom, then Athletic Park, then Sulphur Springs Dell and ultimately known as Sulphur Dell, visiting teams from Cincinnati, Louisville, New Orleans, Atlanta, and St. Louis would play match games against local teams.

In 1885 the first Nashville professional baseball team was organized and known as the Americans, primarily because the Nashville American newspaper gave detailed coverage to the games.  The team was formed as a member of the newly-organized Southern League.  Eight teams constituted the league:  Atlanta, Augusta, Birmingham, Chattanooga, Columbus, Macon, Memphis, and Nashville.[10]  The home field for Nashville continued to be AthleticPark and until Sulphur Dell was demolished in 1969 was the oldest ballpark in the United States.

Not a successful venture for the last fifteen years of the 19th century, subsequent entries into each reorganized Southern League through 1895 were the Nashville Blues, Tigers, and Seraphs.

The Nashville Maroons was one of may amateur teams organized in 1886, but may have been the most famous as it quickly became one of the most recognized teams in the area.[11]  Robert S. Corbitt and Ed Mrzena were members of the team of the original team.  Corbitt pitched, and Mrzena was the catcher even though each team member learned to play every position.[12]

For more than ten years the Maroons played local teams and one of the rival teams was the Nashville Deppens[13].  Both teams would venture outside of the Nashville area as each would play teams in Hopkinsville, Louisville, Henderson, and Maysville, Kentucky along with clubs in Clarksville and Tullahoma.[14]

As Nashville grew as a cultural and economic center, baseball fans supported professional and amateur baseball.  Negro league, minor league, city league, and youth league teams in the area can lay claim to the beginnings of the early game of baseball in the mid-1800s.  The foundations of Nashville’s storied baseball traditions are there.

© 2013 by Skip Nipper. All Rights Reserved.


[1] Unkown.  Daily National Intelligencer (Washington, D.C.). June 18, 1861.  Retrieved May 8, 2013 from http://www.newsinhistory.com/blog/tennessee-secedes-last-state-join-confederacy.

[2] Schiff, Andrew J. (2008) The Father Of Baseball: A Biography Of Henry Chadwick, p. 88.  Jefferson, North Carolina and London:  Mcfarland & Company, Inc.

[3] Clarke, Ida Clyde Gallagher (1912)  All about Nashville: A Complete Historical Guide Book to the City, p 22. Nashville, Tennessee:  Marshall & Bruce Company.

[4] Kirsch, George. America’s Pastime, Behind Bars. The New York Times, April 2, 2013.

[5] Don Cusic (2003).  Baseball and Country Music.  Madison, Wisconsin:  Popular Press.

[6] Peter Morris.  John Dickins. Retrieved May 13, 2013, from http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/f4bd13cc.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Marshall D. Wright (2002). The Southern Association in Baseball 1885-1961. Jefferson, North Carolina and London:  Mcfarland & Company, Inc.

[11] Unknown.  Hopkinsville Kentuckian., June 21, 1895. Retrieved May 15, 2013 from http://newspaperarchive.com

[12] Grimsely, Will.  Maroons Think They’re Oldest Living Battery.  The Nashville Tennessean, December 9, 1938.

[13] Unknown.  Kentucky New Era, May 20, 1895.  Retrieved May 18, 2013 from http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=266&dat=18950520&id=I9kyAAAAIBAJ&sjid=HfAFAAAAIBAJ&pg=4394,2950365

[14] Unkown.  Hopkinsville Kentuckian, September 17, 1895.  Retrieved May 15, 2013 from http://newspaperarchive.com

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