In advance of the launch of TheNationalPastime.com, an online historical archive that goes live on Opening Day in several weeks, Slate got a sneak peek at one of the many cool offerings that’ll be featured.
Below is a baseball recovered from a Civil War battlefield in Tennessee in 1862. The inscription reads, “Picked Up on the Battle Field at Shiloh by G.F. Hellum.” According to Slate, Hellum was an African-American orderly with the Army who later enlisted with the 69th United States Colored Infantry based in Arkansas and Tennessee.
You can’t tell by looking at the picture, but the twine is actually stitched around the ball hide in a figure-8 pattern. It’s also worth remembering that baseball back then, though similar in many respects, with bases 90 feet apart and so forth, was still extremely primitive. Batters, for examples, had to draw nine balls for a walk, and hitters were called out when a fielder caught a ball on the bounce. (This particular rule was soon deemed too weird even for its own time and was abolished after the 1863 season.)