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This is the archive for June 2009

Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Today we begin a journey along the banks of the Potomac River in Maryland, where Union troops waded through the water to reach the West Virginia shore on September 19 and 20, 1862. We'll then travel to the West Virginia side and climb the bluffs that rise at certain points fifty to sixty feet above River Road, which runs alongside the river in Shepherdstown. We'll then emerge into still open pasture through which A.P. Hill's Division charged and drove back Union troops, viewing the scene from the perspective of the 118th Pennsylvania Infantry.

Quick note: the very narrow pictures were taken in panoramic mode. Unfortunately the confines of the space allotted doesn't do them justice.

Excerpt from Fighting With the Eighteenth Massachusetts; The Civil War Memoirs of Thomas M. Mann; Edited by John J. Hennessey

Early the next morning [September 20, 1862] a larger force was sent across at the same ford, including the whole of Barnes’s brigade….The river where this brigade crossed is 300 or 400 yards wide and the ford, was made passable at low water by a kind of bar thrown up by the action of the swift running water after flowing over a dam that was a hundred yards above….With the utmost care in pcking one’s way the water was found to be waist deep, while very few succeeded in crossing without wading to the armpits, and many were swept from their feet by the strong current….

Looking from the Maryland side of the Potomac toward Shepherdstown

As the troops left the river they moved by a narrow cart-path that followed one of those ravines that cut through the cliffs on the Virginia short, and bearing to the right by an easy ascent it led into the village of Shepherdstown. Some of the buildings of this place almost overhung the river from the top of the cliff, which was 100 to 150 feet and almost perpendicular in height. The path that Barnes’s brigade followed was used to reach a large stone mill, built down near the water’s edge, which was grinding what is known as Portland cement from the rock of which the cliff was largely composed.

Maryland from the West Virginia side of the Potomac

[The brigade] formed into line of battle on the cliffs above, pushed a skirmish line to the front, and commenced to move cautiously forward. It was soon stopped, however, by the appearance of an overwhelming force of rebels who had not retreated so far as was supposed. A few rounds were exchanged, but it was plainly seen that unless the river was regained in double-quick time this brigade would be scooped in. “About-face! Double-quick, - march!” was the order rolled out by “Jimmy Barnes,” and back the whole force went in a hurry.

The start of the trial leading toward the top of the cliffs

As the brigade was driven back, the 18th and 22d Massachusetts, 13th and 25th New York, 1st Michigan, and 2d Maine, about 1,200 men in all, upon reaching the top of the ravine marched by the left flank and filed into it, thus practically dropping out of reach of the rebel fire for a time. But the 118th Pennsylvania, hardly three weeks in the service, with nearly as many men as the other six regiments combined, were driven to the crown of the cliff where no means of escape seemed available except down its precipitous face to the river, and to the damn that was abreast of the cliff.

Naturally they huddled a few moments, like sheep, on the brink. There they presented the best possible targets for the pursuers and were also in the range of the Union artillery on the opposite cliffs, which was being effectively used to check the hooting, yelling, rebel brigades. To all appearances it was every man for himself with this unfortunate regiment, and soon they began to drop over the cliff by the score. Some crawled down along safe crevasses to the dam; others found the ford. The whole brigade afforded targets for a scattering fire from the Johnnies as it recrossed the river, though soon as the “Corn Exchange” regiment left the cliff the Union guns re-opened and kept back the main body of pursuers. Many of this unfortunate regiment tried to cross on the slippery dam, which barely afforded a foot-hold for a single person, and many deaths from drowning was the result.

The whole loss to the brigade was 361 killed and wounded, but of this number the 118th lost 269. The Eighteenth lost [five killed and mortally wounded, with ten others wounded].

Approximate view of the 118th Pennsylvania Infantry as Confederates advanced on the First Brigade's position

September 20, 1862

Early in the morning of September 20, movements were made by Gen. McClellan to ascertain the position of the Army of Northern Virginia. Maj. Charles S. Lovell’s Brigade (1st and 7th, 2d and 10th, the 11th and the 17th U.S. Infantry) Sykes Division, Fifth Corps, crossed the Ford and pushed out on the Charlestown Road. Barnes’ Brigade, Morrell’s Division was ordered to cross and move on Shepherdstown. Lovell had gone about a mile and a half on the Charlestown Road when he met the Confederates in force. The Brigade was deployed, about-faces and fell back to the bluffs bordering the river and on either side of the Charlestown Road. The 2d and 10th Infantry were deployed as skirmishers in a belt of woods on the left front. Warren’s Brigade (5th and 10th New York Infantry), Sykes Division crossed at the Ford and formed on Lovell’s left. Barnes, being ordered by Sykes to form on Lovell’s right suspended his movement on Shepherdstown and went into position west of the mill, 220 yards north of this point. Lovell’s skirmishers and some cavalry, which had crossed and gone to the front, were now pressed back by the advance of A.P. Hill’s Confederate Division and Sykes ordered the entire command to recross the Potomac, which was done in good order by Lovell’s and Warren’s Brigades. The Confederate advance on the part of the line held by them being checked by the fire of Weed’s, Randol’s and Van Reed’s batteries posted on the heights of the Maryland side of the river. Barnes’ Brigade, the last ordered withdrawn met with great loss at the mill and on the bluffs and the river bank beyond.

Monday, June 29, 2009

Shepherdstown, West Virginia held its annual Street Fest this past Saturday. Sitting at one end of German St., the town’s main thoroughfare, which had been blocked off to traffic, near Church St., was the Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association booth, which I helped to man from 2 to 6 p.m. The booth featured maps showing Union and Confederate troop movements on September 19th and 20th, 1862, informational brochures on efforts to save the battlefield, and other really neat stuff like hats, pins, T-shirts, haversacks, and autographed copies of Thomas McGrath’s book “Shepherdstown: Last Clash of the Antietam Campaign.” It gave me the opportunity to meet other members of the dedicated crew fighting the good fight to save the battlefield, as well as people attending the Fest who stopped to learn more about a piece of history that is still very much in danger of disappearing under the planned foundations of 150 houses. What would Jimmy Barnes and Little Powell think if we didn't try to stop it?

Carol Dunleavy, an SBPA member, on duty at the booth appropriately decked out in a hat, T-shirt, and haversack.

To personally help out a cause we hope is not lost, I bought this:

And this:

And this:

The next post will take you on site of the Shepherdstown battlefield, an experience that very few people have had in the past 147 years.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

This announcement from the Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association:

Shepherdstown Preservation Group Announces the Establishment of a Historical Advisory Board

The Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association Inc. (SBPA) has established a Historical Advisory Board (HAB). Edward E. Dunleavy, President of SBPA, announced today the establishment of the HAB. Dunleavy stated that “the HAB was organized by Dr. Peter Carmichael, the West Virginia University (WVU) Eberly Professor of Civil War Studies. The Board of Directors of SBPA and its more than 130 members wish to thank Dr. Carmichael for his effort. The HAB includes many of today’s most respected scholars and Civil War historians.”

Dr. Carmichael stated that “the outpouring of support from the academic community in forming a Historical Advisory Board attests to the undeniable historic importance of the Battle of Shepherdstown. Among the scholars who have joined the board, all are recognized experts in the field of Civil War history, and many have received national attention for their work, including James McPherson, Gary W. Gallagher, Elizabeth Pryor, and William Link. Their support of the Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association is indispensable to saving what they uniformly believe is sacred historical ground.”

Dunleavy added that “importantly West Virginia is well represented on the HAB with Civil War historians from WVU, Marshall University and Shepherd University. The HAB ensures that SBPA's portrayal of the Battle of Shepherdstown is historically accurate and we thank the members of the HAB for their participation.”

Members of the SBPA HAB are:

Kevin T. Barksdale – Marshall University
Stephen W. Berry II - University of Georgia
Keith S. Bohannon - West Georgia State University
Peter S. Carmichael - West Virginia University
Thomas W. Cutrer - Arizona State University
William C. Davis - Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University
William W. Freehling – Virginia Foundation for the Humanities
Gary W. Gallagher - University of Virginia
Lesley Jill Gordon – University of Akron
A. Wilson Greene – Petersburg, Virginia
Clark B. Hall – Fairfax, Virginia
Earl J. Hess – Lincoln Memorial University
Caroline E. Janney - Purdue University
Robert E. L. Krick – Richmond, Virginia
Susanna Michele Lee – North Carolina State University
William A. Link - University of Florida
Thomas A. McGrath – North Country College
James M. McPherson - Princeton University
Frank A. O’Reilly – Fredericksburg, Virginia
Elizabeth B. Pryor - Washington D.C
George C. Rable – University of Alabama
Gordon C. Rhea – Charleston, South Carolina
Mark A. Snell - Shepherd University
Susannah J. Ural – University of Southern Mississippi
Joan Waugh – University of California, Los Angeles

Biographies of members of the HAB are available on the SBPA website by clicking here:

The Battle of Shepherdstown was fought on September 19 – 20, 1862 over approximately one square mile, east of what was then Shepherdstown, Virginia and south of the Potomac River and Boteler’s (aka Packhorse) Ford. The battle was the last of three battles fought during the Army of Northern Virginia’s (ANV) Antietam or Maryland Campaign. Approximately 9000 troops took part in the Shepherdstown battle with 677 casualties about equally divided between the Union Army of the Potomac and Robert E. Lee’s troops. The battle’s significance is that it was a contributing factor in Lee’s decision to reverse the order to move north back into Maryland. As a consequence, the ANV retreated up the Shenandoah Valley toward Winchester. That retreat allowed the Union Army to declare a military victory and enabled President Abraham Lincoln to issue the Emancipation Proclamation.

The Shepherdstown Battlefield Preservation Association Inc. (SBPA), organized in 2004, is a non-profit, Section 501(c)(3) organization dedicated to saving and preserving the site of the 1862 Battle of Shepherdstown. SBPA has preserved 84 acres by way of conservation easements granted by members who own property on the site. For more information and to purchase the book entitled: Shepherdstown: Last Clash of the Antietam Campaign September 19 – 20, 1862 ; please visit by clicking here

Thursday, June 18, 2009

We had a recent email from Peter Alter of the Chicago History Museum who was looking for information on Joseph Cullen Ayer, a 1st Lieutenant who served with the 18th Massachusetts. The museum had a trunk that belonged to Ayer in their collection and were contemplating including it in an exhibit that will start on July 4, 2010. Needless to say, after responding to the email, I was already stuffing a suitcase in anticipation of a trip to the Windy City next year. However, Peter cautioned the trunk might not actually make it into the exhibit. So, we’ll have to bide our time until we get the definitive word.

When you learn of things like the existence of Ayer’s trunk, it makes you wonder about the journey it’s been through and how objects wind up where they do. Obviously when the trunk was donated to the CHM in 1976, someone thought it more fitting to house it in a museum than to keep it in private hands. But where it was between May 22, 1918, when Ayer died of facial cancer at the Mountain Branch of the National Soldier’s home in Johnson City, Tennessee until Robert Anderson, a collector got his hands on it is anybody’s guess.

Ayer had one surviving relative, a son who bore his name and from whom he had been estranged from for years. The son, Joseph Cullen Ayer, Jr., a Harvard educated minister and historian of some note, traveled to the home to make arrangements to ship the body home to Massachusetts and collect the $22.75 in cash that his father had in his possession.

George M. Barnard, Jr., another Lieutenant in the 18th Mass., who knew Ayer as well as anyone in the Regiment and shared his opinions on everyone in letters to parents, labeled Ayer “a jackass.” Judging by Ayer’s later abandonment of his wife and child and seemingly endless wandering from one National Home to another late in life, Barnard’s assessment of Ayer, a practicing attorney before and a land speculator after the war, may not have been far off base.

I’m speculating myself, but there are events that cross as shadows over people’s lives that crush the spirit in some and serves to strengthen another. Ayer spent a year with the 18th before he was appointed as the head of the 1st Division Ambulance Corps for the Fifth Corps shortly before Antietam. Overseeing the removal and transportation of the sick, mangled, and dying for a year can worm into your psyche and leave one unable to cope with tragic news from home carrying the announcement a year old son had died. Plagued by health problems, including rheumatism and kidney disease, Ayer was subsequently discharged from military service on December 17, 1863, four months after he was ordered to return for duty with the 18th Mass., something he never did.

I’m speculating that he was a failure as a businessman after the war, because he seemed to pursue deal after deal, bouncing from Boston to Tennessee, where he speculated in land, to New Zealand, where he speculated in mining, until almost broken down physically at age 58 he entered the Togus Branch of the National Home in Augusta, Maine and applied for a pension.

Ayer’s was the second trunk belonging to a member of the 18th Mass. we’ve located. The first was that of Albert Sturdy, which I happened on purely by accident when I visited the Maine Military Museum in Augusta years ago. At the time I visited, the museum was only open every other Sunday. The curator gave me his undivided attention, which wasn’t hard to do, particularly since there was only one other visitor in the building. We spent time at the Civil War section, most of which was devoted to Joshua Chamberlain and featured such personal artifacts as a pistol and sword. I began pumping for information on Colonel Joseph Hayes, a Maine native who served with the 18th, and, as if on cue, I happened to turn around and my eyes fell on a chest clearly marked with Sturdy’s name. Believe me when I say that my mouth literally dropped open.

Sturdy, who was cited for bravery at the battle of Fredericksburg, where he nearly had his left foot blown off, made a small fortune in the jewelry manufacturing business in Attleboro, Mass. following the war and had purchased a farm in Washington, Maine as a summer retreat. Decades later, the trunk was discovered in a barn on the property and subsequently donated to the museum.

Whereas Ayer seemingly stumbled into self-created misfortune after his military service, Sturdy led a privileged life, including long stints as a bank director and secretary for the local gas company. He and his brother built enough wealth that they were sole benefactors of the local hospital in Attleboro, which still bears the family’s name.


Tuesday, June 16, 2009

If you thought the answer to yesterday’s question might in some way be related to the 18th Massachusetts Infantry, then your instincts were correct. If you then suspected it might have been Joseph Hayes, who succeeded James Barnes as commanding officer of the Regiment, then you scored a bull’s eye.

Hayes, an 1855 graduate of Harvard College, commanded the 18th Massachusetts from August 25, 1862, when Barnes was promoted to Brigade command, until May 12, 1864, when he, himself, was promoted to Brigadier General. The promotion came a week after Hayes received a gunshot wound to the forehead during action at the Wilderness, a wound he not only miraculously survived, but from which he recovered and returned to duty less than three months later. At that time he was placed in command of the First Brigade, Second Division of the Fifth Corps, the Brigade, comprised, in part, by the 10th, 11th, 12th, 14th, and 17th United States Infantry regiments. Hayes, thus, became the only Volunteer officer placed in command of regular army units.

His time in command was brief, as he was taken prisoner toward the close of the battle of Weldon Railroad on August 19, 1864 and, after first being held prisoner at Danville was then carried to Richmond, where he was confined at Libby Prison and Belle isle. While a prisoner, he was made U.S. Commissioner of Supplies, in charge of aid sent from the North to Union prisoners. He returned to the field April 2, 1865, and commanded the advanced brigade of the Fifth Corps, joining in the pursuit of Lee until the surrender of Appomattox. After the disbandment of the Army of the Potomac, he commanded a brigade in the Provisional Corps designed to operate against the French in Mexico, but declined to accept a commission in the Regular Army. He was made brevet major general, U.S.V. March 16, 1865, and mustered out of service Aug. 24, 1865.


Just out of curiosity, and because I had the class biographies in front of me, I did a quick survey of the record of military service for the Harvard class of 1857. I tried doing the same thing with Joseph Hayes’ class of 1855, but the biographies weren’t complete and failed to address military service. However, for the 65 men who entered Harvard Yard in 1853 and were living when war erupted, 21 served in the Union army, four in the Confederate army, while the remaining 40 members saw no military service at all, electing instead to pursue vocations such as the practice of law, medicine, the ministry, or traveling throughout Europe.

Monday, June 15, 2009

There was one, and only one, Volunteer officer in the entire Union army who was placed in command of a Brigade of Regular U.S. Army Infantry troops. Before war's end this same officer was offered a commission in the Regular Army, but turned it down. Can you identify this seemingly unheralded, but courageous and remarkable citizen soldier? The answer tomorrow.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Yesterday I put in plugs for a few books by different authors well worth your money and time. Today I’m going to do a flip and write briefly about a book that I had looked forward to reading and ultimately, after closing the cover on the last page, felt sorely disappointed in.

“Lincoln’s Fifth Wheel” was written by Robert Quentin Maxwell in 1956. Don’t ask me who Maxwell was, because the only mention of him found on the Net, beside the book, is the fact that he was a Fulbright Scholar. He had to have been a bright guy by virtue of that fact alone. Combine this with an introduction penned by Allan Nevins and the potential for a great history on the United States Sanitary Commission was seemingly at Maxwell’s fingertips.

Maxwell covered all the bases, from the Commission’s inception, through its battles with the military and, in particular, the Medical Department, it’s fund raising efforts, its recommendations and struggles to improve medical care, diet, and sanitation in the Union army, its recruitment of doctors and nurses to provide better care for the wounded and sick, its efforts to provide soldiers with supplemental clothing, and it’s eventual transformation into the American branch of the International Red Cross.

So, where, in my estimation did Maxwell fall on his face? By using last names only for virtually every person named in the book, with the exception of a woman named Harris, who did receive a first name, Miss; by the fact that he used a total of three footnotes; by the fact that he was seemingly so familiar and intimate with the principals that he wrote in a style that reminded me of someone sitting in front of their fireplace talking about a neighbor's vacation photos to a total stranger.

There’s an enormous amount of primary source material available on the Sanitary Commission and it’s evident Maxwell utilized them. However, this isn’t the book one should cite as the end all on the Commission. For that I’m probably going to have to look at others such as “Civil War Sisterhood” by Judith Ginsberg or Nancy Scripture's “With Courage and Delicacy.”

Which brings me to another equally disappointing book I read about seven or eight years ago, John Hope Franklin's “Reconstruction After the Civil War.” I have no quarrel or axe to grind with the late Dr. Franklin, who was celebrated in his lifetime as one of this country’s greatest historians. I remember selecting the book because I wanted to get an African-American perspective on Reconstruction. What I got instead was, in my estimation, a poorly written and poorly researched book which didn’t challenge and was little more than a standard recapitulation of accepted Reconstruction history. Thank God for Eric Foner, who came along a few years later and wrote the definitive book on the subject.

And finally this. A while back I mused on the subject of whether Shelby Foote’s three volume history of the Civil War was, in fact, the greatest multi-volume work ever produced, something I was personally unable to answer because I hadn’t read Allan Nevins’ eight volume “The Ordeal of the Union.” I took my own bait and am expecting all eight volumes to arrive in about a week’s time. I’ll give you my opinion as to how the two stack up after I wade through Nevins’ 4,000 plus pages. It may take me all summer. Hell, it may take me all summer and fall. Hell, it may take me the rest of my life, so look for the Blog post sometime in the year 2014. Opps, according to the Mayan calendar none of us will be around then, so I’ll try to have the post out earlier than that. Maybe on December 22, 2012. That’ll give everyone one last day to read what I’ve written provided you’re all not too busy kissing your asses goodbye.

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

My apologies for the lack of posts over the past two weeks. I can attribute it to being under the weather. Even though I try to convince myself I don’t have allergies, I seem to come down with flu like symptoms this time every year when the pollen count peaks in the D.C. area.

Amazon sent me an email advising that my advance order of Eric Whittenberg’s latest book “Like a Meteor Burning Brightly: The Short But Controversial Life of Colonel Ulric Dahlgren” was going to be delayed and asking if I still wanted the book. I knew the book was going to be delayed from reading Eric’s Blog, so I responded, yes, I still wanted the book.

I’ve been looking forward to this book for the past two years, or ever since Eric allowed me to read two chapters pertaining to the Dahlgren Raid on Richmond from the manuscript he was working on. Eric was the one who finally broke my resistance in believing the Dahlgren papers were forgeries and in convincing me of their authenticity.

I’ve finished one and am just about halfway through the other, but have a recommendation for two books which bookend very well together. Both are highly recommended and should be included on future purchase lists if you haven’t read them yet: “The Hard Hand of War, Union Military Policy Toward Southern Civilians 1861-1865,” written by Mark Grimsley in 1995, and Bruce Tap’s 1998 book “Over Lincoln’s Shoulder: The Committee on the Conduct of the War.”

Grimsley presents a treatise on the evolution of Union political and military policy in waging war on the South, a policy that began with “Conciliation,” i.e. a concerted effort by the Union to protect the rights and property of Southerners, the abandonment of conciliation through selected destruction and confiscation of property, to a final policy of hard war, in which war was brought directly to the front doors of civilians. It’s a fascinating and well written book and while Grimsley doesn't condone actions from the likes of William T. Sherman and David Hunter, he provides insight into the hows and whys of their destruction. According to Grimsley, in spite of that destruction, the Union army showed considerable restraint and he argues that things could have been a lot worse for the South without that restraint.

Tap examines one of the most influential Congressional committees to have existed during the war. Begun as a seven member committee to investigate the fiascos at First Bull Run, Ball’s Bluff, and John Fremont’s dismissal, the political agenda and the war aims of Radical Republicans, who dominated the committee, quickly came to the fore. Although Tap points out the committee technically wielded little power, this “Star Chamber” was feared by generals and politicial opponents alike. They were, as a committee majority, in the early vanguard for advocating a hard war policy against the South and in demanding that the abolishment of slavery be the primary objective of the war. Like most Radical Republicans, the four members of the committee who sat in that political camp, viewed Lincoln as weak and incompetent, West Point graduates as wholly sympathetic to the Confederacy, and just about anyone not of their mindset as harboring treachery and traitorous thoughts. This book is well worth your time.


I was at the National Archives on Friday and ran into an old acquaintance, Roger D. Hunt. I met Roger a few years back when I was pulling pension files on veterans of the 18th Massachusetts and, seeing him there night after night, became curious about the research he was doing. He’s the author of four books, including Brevet Brigadier Generals in Blue, and has published three volumes of his series on “Colonels in Blue.” Thus far he’s covered Colonels from the New England States (2001), New York (2003) and the Mid-Atlantic States (2007), including Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland, Delaware, and Washington, DC. He’s currently researching a volume on Colonels with Ohio regiments. These are remarkable books as they contain CDVs, a large number from his personal collection, and biographies on every man who achieved that particular rank that you can read and flip through at leisure over and over again without tiring of the content.

Most remarkable to me is Roger’s memory. If you give him a name he can probably provide information off the top of his head. He did this with my third great-grandfather Stephen Bucklin, citing the fact that Bucklin served as a Captain with the 1st Rhode Island Infantry and was later a Lt. Colonel with the 3rd Rhode Island Heavy Artillery. He earned additional brownie points by telling me he had visited the grave of Colonel Joseph Hayes of the 18th Massachusetts in South Berwick, Maine. But what really made me drop my jaw occurred on Friday. I was there to review a pension file for a Captain Dennis B. Dailey. There will be more on the Dailey story in another post, but I had mistakenly written the last name as Bailey on my call slip. I was telling him the story, when he looked at my paper and asked me if I didn’t mean Dennis B. Dailey rather than Bailey. He then proceeded to tell me exactly what I already knew, that Dailey had been promoted to the rank of Major by war’s end and had lived in Council Bluffs, Iowa after the war. I know a lot of people can pull facts about battles or generals or particular regiments, but I’ve never met anyone with Roger’s memory. He floored me even further when he added that he had visited Dailey’s grave and then with a little smile said “I get around.”

And finally the last author, who is none other than Mr. Randy Johnson, authored what may have been the last time a pitcher will ever achieve 300 wins in Major League Baseball. I had the good fortune to be there Thursday, June 4th at Nationals Ball Park. Johnson pitched six innings of two hit baseball, giving up one unearned run, before leaving the game. Whether anyone in the stands would witness something that had only been done 23 times before or not came down to one pitch. Bottom of the eighth. Giants 2, Nationals 1. Bases loaded, two out, three balls, two strikes. If Brian Wilson of the Giants threw a ball, or gave up a hit, some fans elsewhere would have the opportunity to see history made. Time literally slowed before Wilson delivered the next pitch to Adam Dunn. Dunn stood there looking at the pitch as it zipped past his knees and popped into catcher Benji Molina’s mitt. There was a seemingly half-hour delay before the ump finally raised his right hand signaling strike three. All two thousand of us in the stands erupted, because we knew right then and there that sitting through a steady rain had been worth it. And it was, because the Giants scored three in the top of the 9th and the rest, including the bottom of the inning, was, as they say, on their way to enshrinement at Cooperstown.