A match game of base ball was played on the Empire grounds yesterday. It was witnessed by a large crowd of interested spectators. The contestants were the Empire club, Capt. James Yule, and nine players elected from the city.
-Missouri Republican, September 27, 1861
This is a nice little Civil War-era game but the interesting thing is who was playing. For the Empires, you have some of the usual suspects like Yule, Duffy, Reynolds, Barrett and Fitzgerald. But it's that picked nine that really caught my attention. First, you have Edmund Tobias, a member of the Commercial Club and the greatest historian of 19th century St. Louis baseball. You also have Maurice Alexander who had been a member of the Cyclone Club. Robert and John Henry were members of the Morning Star Club. Edward Finney and J.P. Freeman were founding members of the Union Club. You basically have members of all of the major Pioneer-era St. Louis baseball clubs playing in this game. And that is pretty neat.
According to E.H. Tobias, "The original Union Club was composed of high school pupils who organized under the name in 1860 with Asa W. Smith, president; Robert Niggeman, vice-president; J.P. Freeman, secretary; E.F. Finney, treasurer...In the latter part of '61 the Union Club disbanded on account of the Civil War and did not reorganize until 1865. Of those who belonged to the original club Asa W. Smith, Wm. E. Greenleaf and J.P. Freeman were the promoters of the new organization." Now I have written on more than one occasion that the idea that the Union Club founders were high school students was an anachronism. I have argued that they, in fact, were actually students at St. Louis University and Washington University. However, while there is no doubt that many members of the Union Club went to SLU or Washington University, I was absolutely wrong in arguing that the club founders were not high school students because they were.
In the Eighteenth Annual Report of the Board of Directors of the St. Louis Public Schools for the Year Ending August 1, 1872, there is "a complete list of the graduates of the High School" from the time the school opened through 1872. Among the graduating class of 1861 was Asa W. Smith and Robert Niggeman. Members of the graduating class of 1862 included Edward Finney and J.P. Freeman. Other known members of the Union Club who graduated from the High School around the same time were Thaddeus Smith, Asa's brother and a member of the class of 1858, and Frank Billon and Joseph Carr, members of the class of 1863. Joseph Gamble, a member of the Cyclone Club, was a member of the class of 1860.
So I was absolutely wrong in my thinking about the origins of the Union Club and there is no doubt that the club was founded in 1860 by high school students. Tobias was correct in this and I (shockingly) was wrong. And the reason I was wrong was that I did not know enough about the antebellum St. Louis school system. I did not know that what would eventually become Central High School was founded in 1853. Without knowing anything about the subject, I had assumed the first high school didn't open in St. Louis until after the war. But that was only an assumption and, as it turns out, a wrong one. So I've been forced to educate myself a bit on the history of the St. Louis public school system and I guess I'm a better person because of that (or something).
But, in all seriousness, this is an important piece of information that corrects my erroneous thinking about the origins of one of the most important PIoneer-era St. Louis baseball clubs. It may contradict some things that I've written in the past but it doesn't matter if I look foolish or not, as long as we get the story correct.
Now, to make myself feel better, I will point out that Tobias was wrong in writing that the club disbanded in 1861, as there is sufficient evidence in the Missouri Republian showing that the club was very active throughout 1862. Tobias' entire timeline, when it came to the Union Club, was off by a year. He had them forming in 1859, playing the Empire Club for the first time in 1860 and then disbanding in 1861. I have evidence showing that the club formed in 1860 and played the Empire Club for the first time in 1861. Also, after 1862, I find nothing else about the club until the war is over. So, I have been arguing for some time now that Tobias, when it came to the Union Club, was simply off by a year. When you're writing history, these kinds of mistakes happen and I'm the perfect example of that.
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