Battlefields and Baseball: Affirmations of the All-American Identity

McKenna White ’25

It is no secret that one can find all manner of oddities in the shops of Gettysburg; however, located in a small basket on the floor of the Civil War Store’s back room is perhaps the last thing one would expect to find: A baseball. This baseball, pictured above, is covered with important battle dates and painted images of Civil War battlefields and generals. It even includes the signatures of Generals Robert E. Lee and Ulysses S. Grant.

Though these two things, baseball and the Gettysburg battlefield, seem mutually exclusive, they have both become staples of the all-American identity. Throughout the years, citizens of the United States have engaged in activities and practices that affirm their Americanness and affirm their patriotism to themselves and others. Baseball has become so entwined with American identity that it is commonly called America’s pastime and is the national sport of the United States. Players of the sport have also been regularly immortalized in trading cards and other related memorabilia.

In the same line of thinking, every year thousands of people from around the country make the pilgrimage to Gettysburg, the so-called “High-Water Mark of the Confederacy,” “turning point of the Civil War,” and site of  “America’s Bloodiest Battle”.  Therefore, it makes perfect sense that any “true” American citizen would want to possess an object that doubly re-affirms their patriotism, allowing them to remember, or in some cases prove, their visit to one of America’s most important historic sites while participating in the commercial culture of America’s favorite game.

Yet, the placement of these baseballs in the shop is also quite telling. First and foremost, they are located in one of the back rooms, situated amongst the novelty name keychains, plastic figurines and toy guns. Their location, combined with their placement on the floor and the fact that, although they commemorate some of the bloodiest battles in American History, these baseballs have no images of blood or gore, support the idea that the sale of these baseballs is targeted towards children, particularly young boys.

Imagine an 8-year-old boy walking into the shop during his family’s trip to Gettysburg. He drags his parents towards the room with all the toys and is immediately enthralled with the plastic rifles and miniature figurines; however, when he goes to take a closer look at the products, he notices a basket of Civil War baseballs that have pictures of battles and generals. He picks one up, thinking of how cool he will look showing it to his friends back home because it has not one, but two signatures of Civil War Generals, much like the baseball cards they’ve been collecting, or the baseball they might have taken to a game on which to collect signatures of their favorite players. Alternately, he might be thinking of how much fun he will have playing catch with his dad (what could be more American than that?). His parents agree to buy the baseball, simply happy he is “engaging” with the history around him.

For many, visiting Gettysburg is a rite of passage. Hundreds of thousands of Americans and their families visit the small Pennsylvania town every year, with tourist groups ranging from middle school class trips to Boy Scout Troops, to Veterans Associations. For some, it is their first taste of the history constituting what some scholars have termed “America’s only all-American conflict;” for others it is merely an assertion of their all-American identity—a pilgrimage to (arguably) their nation’s most famous “shrine.” For everyone, it is a unique experience that they want to remember and continue to engage with, in some form, well after their visit. How better to do so than by purchasing a Gettysburg-themed keepsake imbued with a jointly iconic symbolism of the United States: The baseball.

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