The game of "base ball" was played regularly in the New York area in the 1820s. The first team to play baseball under modern rules were the New York Knickerbockers, who wrote the rules. They organized as an amateur team--a social club-- in September 1845. An American game to begin with, and one to become America's "national pasttime," baseball got off to a slow start. In the mid-1850s the New York papers still gave more coverage to cricket than to baseball. But baseball continued to grow in popularity, with 16 New York teams forming the National Association of Base Ball Players (NABBP) in 1857.
Civil War Spreads Baseball
Prisoners of war held during the Civil War lived in relatively humane conditions in the first years of the Civil War. They were allowed to participate in recreational activities, including fishing and playing baseball. Union soldiers introduced Southerners and Westerners to baseball throughout the Civil War.
The baseball game pictured in this print was played at Salisbury Confederate Prison in North Carolina. Prisoners noted in their diaries in 1862 that baseball games were played nearly every day the weather allowed.
Between December 9, 1861 and February 17, 1865, the prison housed 10,000-15,000 Union prisoners of war and other assorted detainees. (The prison held mostly Southern political prisoners and war dissenters in 1863 and 1864.) Soldiers who returned home from these Civil War prisons spread the game of baseball and soon the sport truly became a national one.
To learn more about baseball in general and this lithograph in particular, see the National Museum of American History blog entry for Civil War Baseball.
see also: Abraham Lincoln on Baseball Cards