Civil War History in Cooperstown
The National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum is so much more than a shrine to baseball’s best players, managers, executives and umpires. As a Museum, we preserve and share baseball’s history each and every day. That history includes the storied past of the major leagues, but it also reaches beyond that.
Baseball has a unique cultural connection to our nation’s past, and our collection of nearly 40,000 artifacts allows us to show visitors the emotional connections with baseball that Americans have made for over 150 years.
Take for instance, this baseball – a fitting artifact to highlight given that today marks the 150th anniversary of the Battle of Antietam, the bloodiest day in American history and the event that led Abraham Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation. This ball was made by David E. Wheeler in the late 1850s. Born in Ohio, at a young age Wheeler moved with his family to Independence, Iowa. He was the eldest of three sons in the Wheeler family, and in August of 1862, at the age of 20, he enlisted in the 27th Regiment of Iowa Volunteers. Less than a year later, Wheeler died of disease at Camp Jackson, Tenn., on March 27, 1863.
David’s younger brother, Jonathon Judson Wheeler, kept this baseball as a keepsake of his older brother, whom he idolized. J.J. placed a handwritten note on the ball that reads: “This Ball was made by David Edgerton Wheeler, the last one he made and used the last term of school he attended.” The younger Wheeler died in 1938, but the baseball remained with the family and part of the family’s lore. That same family lore tells us that David was gregarious, intelligent, and also a highly talented athlete.
In 2008, the great-grandson of Jonathon Judson Wheeler donated the baseball to the Museum. Today, this baseball allows us to reflect on how generations of families bonded together with baseball. It also reminds us of the tremendous sacrifices made by young soldiers during a challenging time in our nation’s history.
Steve Light is the manager of public programs at the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum