Maj. General Abner Doubleday (USA)

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General Abner Doubleday

Birthdate: (73)
Birthplace: Ballston Spa, New York, United States
Death: January 26, 1893 (73)
Mendham, New Jersey, United States
Immediate Family:

Son of Ulysses Freeman Doubleday and Hester Doubleday
Brother of Amanda Doubleday; Ulysses Doubleday and Jane Ann Doubleday

Occupation: Civil War Soldier & Inventor of Baseball according to legend
Managed by: Private User
Last Updated:

About Maj. General Abner Doubleday (USA)

Abner Doubleday, born one of three sons to Ulysses and Hester Doubleday on June 26, 1819, in Ballston Spa, N.Y., was schooled at Auburn and Cooperstown, N.Y. Doubleday planned a career in civil engineering, but in 1838 he was appointed to West Point. He graduated in 1842 with a commission in the artillery, and served in the Mexican and Seminole Wars. In 1852-53, Doubleday became a member of a commission investigation allegations of fraud during the Mexican War. Doubleday was known for his dignified and courteous manner and he used no profanity, liquor, or tobacco.

Doubleday was promoted to first lieutenant in 1847 and to captain in 1855. Stationed in Charleston Harbor in 1860-61, Doubleday fired the first Union shot from Fort Sumter after the Confederate ironclad battery bombardment of that fort. Next appointed major of the 17th Infantry in May 1861, Doubleday served in the lower Shenandoah Valley and in the defense of Washington. Later, he became brigadier general of volunteers, assigned to command a brigade in Union Gen. Irvin McDowell's corps. He saw action on the Rappahannock, at 2d Bull Run, and as commander in the bttles of South Mountain, Antietam, and Fredericksburg.

In 1863, as major general of volunteers, Doubleday commanded the fighting at Gettysburg. On the first day, Doubleday led the Union troops in their repulse of the Confederate army until reinforcements arrived. Doubleday's top commander, Gen. George G. Meade, was not, however aware of all of the facts concerning Doubleday's meritorious service and Doubleday's division's credit for the ultimate Union victory on the third day of Gettysburg. Therefore, Doubleday did not earn the permanent command of his division; instead it was given to former West Point classmate John Newton, and Doubleday was returned to a lesser command.

Doubleday retired from active service in 1873 and made his home in New Jersey, where he died twenty years later.

Fascinating Fact: Although controversy exists about Doubleday's status as the creator of baseball, a 1907 commission, investigating all sides of the issue, gives official credit to him.

Often thought of as the inventor of baseball, Abner Doubleday was first and foremost a soldier. Graduated from West 1842 (where his record characterizes him as "correct in his deportment, social and communicative. . . rather adverse to outdoor sports and retiring in his manner"), Doubleday was an active participant in the Mexican War (1840s), the Seminole Wars in Florida (1850s), a veteran of service on the Texas frontier (1850s, 1870s), the man who ordered the first Union salvo from Fort Sumter in April 1861, and a veteran of many Civil War battles, including Gettysburg and Chancellorsville. He retired from the United States Army in 1873 and died in 1893.

Doubleday was also the author of two published books on his Civil War experiences. My Life in the Old Army, however, is composed of a set of previously unpublished writings (the originals are housed at the New-York Historical Society) primarily about Doubleday's tour of duty during the Mexican War. He was on hand for the first shots of the war, for the battles of Monterrey and Buena Vista, and later served in Saltillo after the campaign moved farther south toward Mexico City. Fluent in Spanish, he traveled far and wide in Mexico and describes his experiences. "This is the very life I had been desirous of leading," he writes. "To mix with the Mexican rancheros and see more of their manner of living." The volume includes chapters on campaigns against hostile Native Americans in Texas and Florida.

Throughout his life, according to editor Joseph Chance, Doubleday collected anecdotes and stories of the great and the forgotten military men of the United States. Thus the book closes with a light-hearted final chapter about the "Old Army." Whether Doubleday invented baseball during one of his many tours in Texas may never be known. His narrative mentions nothing of the great American pastime.

Abner Doubleday (June 26, 1819 – January 26, 1893) was a career United States Army officer and Union general in the American Civil War. He fired the first shot in defense of Fort Sumter, the opening battle of the war, and had a pivotal role in the early fighting at the Battle of Gettysburg. Gettysburg was his finest hour, but his relief by Maj. Gen. George G. Meade caused lasting enmity between the two men.

In San Francisco, after the war, he obtained a patent on the cable car railway that still runs there. In his final years in New Jersey, he was a prominent member and later president of the Theosophical Society.

He is known for a once-popular legend that he invented baseball, a claim that he himself never made and for which there is considerable counter-evidence.

Abner practiced as a surveyor and civil engineer for two years before entering the United States Military Academy in 1838, from which he graduated in 1842, 24th in a class of 56 cadets, and was commissioned a brevet second lieutenant in the 3rd U.S. Artillery. One of the persistent legends of baseball history is that Doubleday invented the game in 1839, although he was in West Point at the time.

Doubleday initially served in coastal garrisons and then in the Mexican-American War from 1846 to 1848 and the Seminole Wars from 1856 to 1858. In 1852 he married Mary Hewitt of Baltimore. In 1858, he was transferred to Fort Moultrie in Charleston harbor. By the start of the Civil War in April 1861, he was a captain and second in command in the garrison at Fort Sumter, under Maj. Robert Anderson. He aimed the cannon that fired the first return shot in answer to the Confederate bombardment on April 12, 1861, starting the war. He subsequently referred to himself as the "hero of Sumter" for this role.

[Doubleday was promoted to major on May 14, 1861, and commanded the Artillery Department in the Shenandoah Valley from June to August, and then the artillery for Maj. Gen. Nathaniel Banks's division of the Army of the Potomac. He was appointed brigadier general of volunteers on February 3, 1862, and was assigned to duty in northern Virginia while the Army of the Potomac conducted the Peninsula Campaign. His first combat assignment was to lead the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, III Corps of the Army of Virginia during the Northern Virginia Campaign. In the actions at Brawner's farm, just before the Second Battle of Bull Run, he took the initiative to send two of his regiments to reinforce Brig. Gen. John Gibbon's brigade against a larger Confederate force, fighting it to a standstill. (Personal initiative was required since his division commander, Brig. Gen. Rufus King, was incapacitated by an epileptic seizure at the time. He was replaced by Brig. Gen. John P. Hatch.)His men were routed when they encountered Maj. Gen. James Longstreet's corps, but by the following day, August 30, he took command of the division when Hatch was wounded, and he led his men to cover the retreat of the Union Army.

Doubleday again led the division, now assigned to the I Corps of the Army of the Potomac, after South Mountain, where Hatch was wounded again. At Antietam, he led his men into the deadly fighting in the Cornfield and the West Woods, and one colonel described him as a "gallant officer ... remarkably cool and at the very front of battle." He was wounded when an artillery shell exploded near his horse, throwing him to the ground in a violent fall. He received a brevet promotion to lieutenant colonel in the regular army for his actions at Antietam and was promoted in March 1863 to major general of volunteers, to rank from November 29, 1862.

At Fredericksburg in December 1862, his division mostly sat idle. During the winter, the I Corps was reorganized and Doubleday assumed command of the 3rd Division. At Chancellorsville in May 1863, the division was kept in reserve.

At the start of the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1, 1863, Doubleday's division was the second infantry division on the field to reinforce the cavalry division of Brig. Gen. John Buford. When his corps commander, Maj. Gen. John F. Reynolds, was killed very early in the fighting, Doubleday found himself in command of the corps. His men fought well in the morning, putting up a stout resistance, but as overwhelming Confederate forces massed against them, their line eventually broke and they retreated back through the town of Gettysburg to the relative safety of Cemetery Hill south of town. It was Doubleday's finest performance during the war, five hours leading 9,500 men against ten Confederate brigades that numbered more than 16,000. Seven of those brigades incurred casualties that ranged from 35 to 50 percent, indicating the ferocity of the Union defense. But on Cemetery Hill, the I Corps could muster only a third of its men as effective for duty and the corps was essentially destroyed as a combat force for the rest of the battle; it would be decommissioned in March 1864, its surviving units combined into other corps.

On July 2, Army of the Potomac commander Maj. Gen. George G. Meade replaced Doubleday with Maj. Gen. John Newton, a more junior officer from another corps. The ostensible reason was a report by XI Corps commander Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard that Doubleday's corps broke first, causing the entire Union line to collapse, but Meade also had a long history of disdain for Doubleday's combat effectiveness, dating back to South Mountain. Doubleday was humiliated by this snub and held a lasting grudge against Meade, but he returned to division command and fought well for the remainder of the battle. He was wounded in the neck on the second day of Gettysburg and received a brevet promotion to colonel in the regular army for his service. He formally requested reinstatement as I Corps commander, but Meade refused, and Doubleday left Gettysburg on July 7 for Washington.

Doubleday assumed administrative duties in the defenses of Washington, D.C., where he was in charge of courts martial, which gave him legal experience that he used after the war. His only return to combat was directing a portion of the defenses against the attack by Confederate Lt. Gen. Jubal A. Early in the Valley Campaigns of 1864. Also while in Washington, Doubleday testified against George Meade at the United States Congress Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War, criticizing him harshly over his conduct of the Battle of Gettysburg. While in Washington, Doubleday remained a loyal Republican and staunch supporter of President Abraham Lincoln. Doubleday rode with Lincoln on the train to Gettysburg for the Gettysburg Address and Mr. and Mrs. Doubleday attended events with Mr. and Mrs. Lincoln in Washington.

After the Civil War, Doubleday mustered out of the volunteer service on August 24, 1865, reverted to the rank of lieutenant colonel, and became the colonel of the 35th U.S. Infantry in September 1867. He was stationed in San Francisco from 1869 through 1871 and he took out a patent for the cable car railway that still runs there, receiving a charter for its operation, but signing away his rights when he was reassigned. In 1871 he commanded the 24th U.S. Infantry, an all African-American regiment with headquarters at Fort McKavett Texas. He retired in 1873.

Although Doubleday achieved minor fame as a competent combat general with experience in many important Civil War battles, he is more widely remembered because of stories that he invented the game of baseball, supposedly in Elihu Phinney's cow pasture in Cooperstown, New York, in 1839.

The Mills Commission, chaired by Abraham G. Mills, the fourth president of baseball's National League, was appointed in 1905 to determine the origin of baseball. The committee's final report, on December 30, 1907, stated, in part, that "the first scheme for playing baseball, according to the best evidence obtainable to date, was devised by Abner Doubleday at Cooperstown, New York, in 1839." It concluded by saying, "in the years to come, in the view of the hundreds of thousands of people who are devoted to baseball, and the millions who will be, Abner Doubleday's fame will rest evenly, if not quite as much, upon the fact that he was its inventor ... as upon his brilliant and distinguished career as an officer in the Federal Army."

However, there is considerable evidence to dispute this claim. Baseball historian George B. Kirsch has described the results of the Mills commission as a "myth." He wrote, "Robert Henderson, Harold Seymour, and other scholars have since debunked the Doubleday-Cooperstown myth, which nonetheless remains powerful in the American imagination because of the efforts of Major League Baseball and the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown." At his death, Doubleday left many letters and papers, none of which describe baseball, or give any suggestion that he considered himself a prominent person in the evolution of the game. Chairman Mills himself, who had been a Civil War colleague of Doubleday and a member of the honor guard for Doubleday's body as it lay in state in New York City, never recalled hearing Doubleday describe his role as the inventor. Doubleday was a cadet at West Point in the year of the alleged invention and his family had moved away from Cooperstown the prior year. Furthermore, the primary testimony to the commission that connected baseball to Doubleday was that of Abner Graves, whose credibility is questionable; a few years later, he shot his wife to death, apparently because of mental illness, and he was committed to an institution for the criminally insane for the rest of his life.

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Maj. General Abner Doubleday (USA)'s Timeline

June 26, 1819
Ballston Spa, New York, United States
January 26, 1893
Age 73
Mendham, New Jersey, United States