Extra: The Civil War in the Pacific Northwest – Fort Vancouver

Living in Seattle doesn’t give me very much access to things like Civil War battlefields or history in general. Sometimes, however, I’ll luck onto something and, with a little stretching, I can dovetail it into the Civil War.

This past weekend, Sarah and I went to see a Vintage Base Ball game at Fort Vancouver, Washington. Baseball (or as it was called then, Base Ball) was around at the time of the War and enjoyed by soldiers on both sides. During the war, the rules became solidified and, though quite different from the rules today, base ball as a national pastime began to take shape.

Having been twice before, we were looking forward to it again. And seeing as it’s kind of Civil War related, I decided to share a bit with the CWDG readers.

For us, trips are never about destinations. Getting there is half the fun (though since this was I-5, it was only about a quarter of the fun). Near Ridgefield, Washington, I spied a Confederate Third National flag next to two monuments. Being a sucker for pretty much anything written on granite, we drove around quite a bit, finally finding a way to get to the markers.

Both markers were from the ill-fated Jefferson Davis Highway, a transcontinental highway that never officially happened. It was to run from Washington DC to San Diego, CA. The road was laid out using existing roads (as was normal for other roads like the Lincoln Highway, etc), but was probably never official. Now, since Washington is way up in the left hand corner of a map and San Diego is way down at the bottom, how did it these markers get here? Simple (sort of). The Daughters of the Confederacy, Washington Chapter, thought it would be bully if the Jeff Davis Highway would have a spur that would run from San Diego to Canada.

Though that never happened (not even close), the Department of Highways allowed the Daughters to place two monuments denoting that this road was the Jefferson Davis Highway. One marker was placed in Vancouver, Washington, the other was placed at the Canadian border (US side, of course). There they remained until 1998, when Vancouver removed it. There was some wrangling, but it eventually ended up next to I-5 south of Ridgefield.

It was interesting enough, but we had to move on. Our next stops were not at all Civil War related, as we picked some boysenberries on an island near Portland and visited the 1959 Paul Bunyan statue. We then recrossed the Columbia River and arrived at Fort Vancouver.

Fort Vancouver, as far as the United States was concerned, was never really a fort, but more of a garrison. There was a stockade there, but it was built by the British Hudson’s Bay Company. It burned down in 1866 and has since been wonderfully reconstructed. Due to berry picking, we didn’t get a chance to see it this time (though we’ve seen it before).

In 1849, the United States first set up Columbia Barracks, just north of Fort Vancouver. It quickly became the base of operations for the Army and explorers in the Pacific Northwest. Ulysses S. Grant was a quatermaster at the fort in 1852. It was here that he first grew his beard. Other notable Civil War personalities graced Fort Vancouver, such as George McClellan, Phil Kearney, Alfred Pleasonton, John Gibbon, William Wing Loring, William Harney, Oliver Otis Howard, George B. Crittenden, Gabriel J.
Rains, William Selby Harney, and George Pickett.

There was even a plan concocted by local secessionists to take over the fort, steal the arms and blow up the armory. It was probably not much more than talk.

At the start of the War, Lincoln called most of the US Regulars to the east. This left the fort with only fifty men. Locals had to be recruited to fill the gaps. The 1st Oregon Cavalry did the trick. The 1st Washington Territory Infantry Volunteers came a bit later.

Prior to the 1880s, most of the officers lived in run down log cabins along Officers Row. Those were later replaced by much nicer houses. The only Civil War era building remaining is called The Grant House, which Grant never lived in.

After the War, in the 1870s, O.O. Howard became the commander of the Department of the Columbia and lived in the Howard House, which also still stands.

As decoration, two brass Napoleons overlook Officers Row. While looking exactly like Civil War cannons, they are actually a high school shop project from the 1990s. They followed the plans to the letter, but did not bore out the tubes. In my high school shop class, I made a crappy shelf. I would have rather made a cannon.

After a quick picnic on the parade grounds, it was time for the Vintage Base Ball game. Tonight it was the Fort Vancouver Shermans vs. the Vancouver Occidentals. These are both historical teams. The Shermans were mostly made up of soldiers from Battery F, 2nd US Artillery (which came east to fight at Wilson’s Creek and many other engagements). The Occidentals were the local town team. They first played in May of 1867.

The 1860 rules are a bit different than modern rules. First of all – no gloves. The teams had uniforms, of course, but those uniforms did not include gloves. Those came in the 1870s and 1880s.

Now, the rule. A striker (that’s the batter) can be called “out” if the ball is caught, even on the first bounce. If there are runners on base and the ball is caught on the fly (before it bounces), no runners may advance, but if it’s caught on a bounce, they may advance one base.

Other fun rules are – no balls. Ever. The pitcher can throw what we’d call “balls” all day – there’s no walking (the 1864 rules changed that, allowing the umpire to decide if the pitcher was being a jerk). If a ball is struck, hits the ground in play, and then rolls or bounces into the foul area, it is still a fair ball. There’s no catching the ball with your hat, either. Oh, and a striker can only “strike” if it’s a swing and a miss. If the pitcher throws good balls, the striker does not have to swing at them (the ump can choose to override this, but has to warn the striker first).

You can read the other rules here.

Having recently been to a Seattle Mariners game, I have to say that though I enjoyed the professional contest, I enjoyed the vintage one even more. Being a west coaster, we don’t have a lot of vintage base ball teams. East coasters (and Ohio, for some reason) have tons, and I heartily suggest you find a game and check it out.

I’ve gone on long enough about this, so I’ll end it here. You can read about my first experience seeing the game at my personal blog, here.

Here are a bunch of other pictures from the day…

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Extra: The Civil War in the Pacific Northwest – Fort Vancouver by CW DG is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International


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