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Ora W. Harvey Letter

Identifier: MSN/CW 5026

Scope and Contents

References to baseball appear with some frequency in the letters and diaries of Civil War soldiers, though most are made in passing, and add little to our understanding of the game as a soldiers' recreation. The author of this particular letter, though, seems to have been an enthusiast; the document contains several observations on the game as it was played by Union troops at New Bern, North Carolina, in the spring of 1863. Pvt. Ora W. Harvey (1840-1921), was a native of Marlboro, Cheshire County, New Hampshire, who on 25 September 1862 was mustered in to Co. A, 46th Massachusetts Infantry, for nine months' service. The new regiment's destination was the coastal city of New Bern, captured by the Federals in March 1862 and occupied for the remainder of the war. Harvey's letter is addressed to a friend back in Marlboro, Fred Ward (b. 1840/1), who very likely shared an interest in baseball: the text of the letter certainly suggests that the two had played the game together, presumably in Marlboro. Informal stick-and-ball games had been played in America for generations, typically by children, but modern, codified versions of such games emerged only in the 1830s, 40s, and 50s, in the large cities of the Northeast. By the Civil War years one particular form of baseball, the "New York game" codified by Alexander Cartwright in the mid-1840s, was rapidly becoming ascendant, displacing, among other forms, the "Massachusetts game" previously dominant in New England. Harvey says that "We play the New York Game most. Mass Game som"—even if the units he mentions as fielding teams (the 25th, 46th, 44th, and 51st Massachusetts, the 5th Rhode Island, and the "Battarys," (a team of artillerymen, probably New Yorkers) were mostly from New England. The games played between these regimental teams were probably quite regulated, and the object of considerable fanfare. On the other hand, the game Harvey plays in the midst of writing his letter, won by his side 10 tallies to 7, seems to have been more in the nature of impromptu recreation. Officers tended to encourage baseball as a generally beneficial way of occupying men's idle hours, and the U.S. Sanitary Commission included it among its approved athletic pastimes. Harvey also mentions a number of other soldiers' recreations, including quoits, cards, dominos, climbing a greased pole, and chasing a greased pig.


  • Creation: 15 April 1863


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Conditions Governing Use

Copyright status for collection materials is unknown. Transmission or reproduction of materials protected by U.S. Copyright Law (Title 17, U.S.C.) beyond that allowed by fair use requires the written permission of the copyright owners. Works not in the public domain cannot be commercially exploited without permission of the copyright owners. Responsibility for any use rests exclusively with the user.


1 folder.

Language of Materials



A four-page letter written on 15 April 1863 by Civil War private Ora W. Harvey of the 46th Massachusetts Infantry, mostly discussing camp recreations, especially baseball.


Materials are in one folder.

Container List

Ora W. Harvey Letter
George Rugg
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Describing Archives: A Content Standard
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Repository Details

Part of the University of Notre Dame Rare Books & Special Collections Repository

102 Hesburgh Library
Notre Dame IN 46556