DECEMBER 25, 1862 | HILTON HEAD, SOUTH CAROLINA – Sports was not yet a popular pastime, let alone a spectator event in the mid-19th century, when, according to several sources, 40,000 people showed up on Christmas Day in 1862 in Hilton Head, South Carolina during the Civil War to watch a baseball game. The 165th New York Volunteer Regiment played a game against a team of men from other Union regiments. It was an unheard of gathering of spectators for any event, and hyperbole cannot be ruled out. But did 40,000 really attend a game 1862?
University of California-Berkley history professor Gunther Barth wrote in his book City People in 1980 that the report of 40,000 fans attending a game during the Civil War came from A. G. Mills who was a big part of creating the myth of Abner Doubleday. A committee chaired by Mills agreed upon the Doubleday myth after “studying” the issue. Mills went on to become president of the National League in 1907.
While the number of spectators at that Christmas Day game is debatable, even Barth agrees Civil War contests spread the popularity of baseball beyond the Northeast. Is 40,000 people attending a game in 1862 for real?
City People: The rise of modern city culture in 19th century America, by Gunther Barth, 1980, Oxford University Press
Civil War baseball