Abner Doubleday was a career military officer and prominent Union general in the Eastern Theater of the American Civil War.
Abner Doubleday was born on June 26, 1819, in Ballston Spa, New York. He was the third of eight children of Ulysses Freeman Doubleday and Hester (Donnelly) Doubleday. Four of the Doubleday children survived to adulthood. Abner came from a distinguished family. Both of his grandfathers were veterans of the Revolutionary War. His father fought in the War of 1812 and later represented New York's 24th Congressional District in the United States House of Representatives during the 22nd Congress (March 4, 1831-March 3, 1833) and the 24th Congress (March 4, 1835-March 3, 1837).
When Doubleday was an infant, his father moved his family to Auburn on New York's western frontier, where he became the owner and editor of the Cayuga Patriot newspaper. As a youth, Doubleday attended school in Auburn. He excelled at mathematics and studied to become a civil engineer. His education led to his employment, at the age of seventeen years, as a surveyor from 1836 to 1838. In 1838, Doubleday received an appointment to the United States Military Academy.
Doubleday began his studies at West Point on September 1, 1838. He graduated on July 1, 1842, ranked twenty-fourth in his class of fifty-six cadets. Among his classmates were future Civil War general officers William S. Rosecrans, John Pope, and George Sykes on the Union side and James Longstreet, Richard Anderson, Earl Van Dorn, and Lafayette McLaws on the Confederate side.
Following his graduation, Doubleday was brevetted to second lieutenant and assigned to the U.S. 3d Artillery. He served the next three years on garrison duty at Fort Johnston, North Carolina, Fort McHenry, Maryland, Fort Moultrie, South Carolina, and Fort Preble, Maine. On February 24, 1845, Doubleday was promoted to the full rank of second lieutenant.
In 1845, Doubleday was sent to Texas when the United States and Mexico quarreled over the establishment of the border between the two nations. When the dispute eventually led to warfare, he was assigned to General Zachary Taylor's Army of Occupation, which invaded northern Mexico in 1846. During the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) Doubleday participated in the American victories at the Battle of Monterrey (September 21-24, 1846) and at the Battle of Buena Vista (February 22–23, 1847). On March 3, 1847, he was promoted to first lieutenant.
After the Mexican-American War, Doubleday returned to garrison duty for nearly a decade, serving at Fort Columbus, New York, Fort Hamilton, New York, Fort McHenry, Maryland, Fort Duncan, Texas, and Fort Monroe, Virginia.
On January 16, 1852, Doubleday married Mary Hewitt of Baltimore, Maryland. Their marriage, which lasted until Doubleday's death in 1893, produced no offspring. Throughout his military career, Doubleday's wife often accompanied him to his various assignments.
After nearly thirteen years in the military, Doubleday was promoted to captain on March 3, 1855. One year later, he was transferred to Florida during the Third Seminole War (1855-1858). While stationed in Florida for two years, he participated in the construction of a roadway from Fort Dallas, near present-day Miami, to present-day Fort Lauderdale.
In 1856, Doubleday was sent to Fort Moultrie in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina. As sectional tensions escalated between the North and the South, he assisted Major Robert Anderson's evacuation of the federal garrison at Fort Moultrie to the more defensible Fort Sumter in 1861. On the morning of April 12, 1861 the South Carolina militia responded to Anderson's movement by launching an artillery barrage on Fort Sumter, initiating the Civil War. At 9 a.m. that morning, federal artillerists returned fire. Captain Doubleday directed the aim and ordered the first shot of the insurrection fired by Union forces.
Following two days of shelling, Anderson negotiated a surrender of Fort Sumter with Brigadier-General P. G. T. Beauregard, the leader of the insurrectionist forces. Beauregard's terms were generous. He detained none of Anderson's men as prisoners. After the fort fell, Doubleday was transferred to Fort Hamilton, New York, where he served as commander from April 19 to June 3, 1861. During that period, he was promoted to the rank of major with the 17th Infantry on May 14, 1861.
As the Civil War got underway, Doubleday was transferred to the Shenandoah Valley in Virginia, where he served under Major General Robert Patterson during the summer of 1861. Following the Confederate victory at the Battle of Bull Run I (July 21, 1861), Doubleday was sent to Washington, DC, to assist with manning artillery defenses of the nation's capital. On February 3, 1862, he was appointed as a brigadier-general of volunteers. In May, Doubleday was given command of a brigade in Major General Irvin McDowell's 1st Corps of the Army of the Potomac.
During Major General George B. McClellan's Peninsula Campaign (March 17-August 14, 1862), McDowell's corps was deployed to northern Virginia to prevent Confederate forces from threatening Washington via the Shenandoah Valley. By early summer, President Abraham Lincoln lost patience with the uncoordinated Federal setbacks in the Shenandoah. On June 26, 1862, the President ordered the consolidation of forces commanded by Major Generals John C. Frémont, Nathaniel Banks, and Irvin McDowell, and several smaller units in eastern Virginia to form the Army of Virginia, commanded by Major General John Pope. Under McDowell and Pope, Doubleday played a prominent role in covering the Union retreat during the Confederate victory at the Battle of Bull Run II (August 28-30, 1862).
Following the Union defeat at Bull Run, Doubleday was reassigned to Brigadier-General John P. Hatch's division of Major General Joseph Hooker's 1st Corps of the Army of the Potomac. When Hatch was wounded during the Battle of South Mountain (September 14, 1862), Doubleday assumed command of the division. He remained in charge during the Battle of Antietam (September 17, 1862), three days later. At Antietam, Doubleday's soldiers anchored the right flank of the Union forces and performed well despite sustaining heavy casualties. During the bloody engagement, Doubleday was injured, when he was thrown from his startled horse after an artillery shell exploded nearby. Doubleday was later brevetted to lieutenant colonel in the regular army "for gallant and meritorious service at the Battle of Antietam, Md." on September 17, 1862.
After the Battle of Antietam, Confederate General Robert E. Lee retreated to Virginia, ending his first invasion of the North. Major General George McClellan, commander of the Army of the Potomac, chose not to pursue Lee, prompting President Abraham Lincoln to replace McClellan with Major General Ambrose Burnside on November 5, 1862. A few weeks later, Doubleday was promoted to major general in the volunteer army, effective November 29, 1862 (confirmed in General Orders, No. 316 (U.S. War Department) on September 18, 1863).
Shortly after his appointment, Burnside reorganized the Army of the Potomac into three "Grand Divisions" and moved to engage Lee's army near Fredericksburg, Virginia. During the Battle of Fredericksburg (December 15, 1862), Doubleday's 1st Division of Major General John Reynolds's 1st Corps, of Major General William B. Franklin's Left Grand Division was held in reserve.
After the decisive Confederate victory at Fredericksburg, President Lincoln drafted General Orders No. 20 (U.S. War Department) on January 25, 1863, announcing that Burnside was being relieved of command of the Army of the Potomac at his own request. The order went on to name Major General Joseph Hooker as Burnside's successor.
When Hooker assumed command of the Army of the Potomac, morale was sinking, and desertions were rising. Hooker spent his first few months in charge of the army, implementing reforms that raised the spirits of his soldiers. On February 5, 1863, Hooker issued General Orders, No. 6 (Army of the Potomac), discontinuing Burnside's Grand Divisions and naming eight corps commanders. As a result of the shakeup, Doubleday was placed in command of the 3rd Division of the 1st Corps. By spring, the army was ready for another offensive. Hooker's first test as commander of the army came at the Battle of Chancellorsville (April 30-May 6, 1863), where he proved no match for Robert E. Lee. During that engagement, Doubleday's division was again held in reserve.
The Confederate victory at Chancellorsville prompted Robert E. Lee to launch a second invasion of the North in June 1863. As Lee moved north, Lincoln ordered Hooker to move in a parallel direction, keeping the Army of the Potomac between Lee and the nation's capital. On June 28, 1863, Hooker attended a strategy meeting with the President and General-in-Chief Henry W. Halleck. When a dispute arose regarding the disposition of troops at Harper's Ferry, West Virginia, Hooker impulsively offered to resign his command. Lincoln quickly accepted the resignation and placed Major General George G. Meade in command of the Army of the Potomac on June 28, 1863.
Upon assuming his new command, Meade quickly began moving north from Frederick, Maryland in search of Lee's army in Pennsylvania. On June 30, 1863, Union cavalry commanded by Brigadier-General John Buford entered the village of Gettysburg from the south. Recognizing the strategic importance of the high ground near Gettysburg, Buford ordered his troopers to dismount and to attempt to hold the town, as he sent word Major General John Reynolds to quickly send up infantry reinforcements.
Reynolds arrived on the field at mid-morning on July 1. After meeting with Buford, Reynolds began deploying infantry units of his 1st Corps. While personally positioning his troops, a musket ball struck Reynolds in the head or neck, killing him nearly instantly. Doubleday, who was commanding the 3rd Division, assumed command of the entire corps for the remainder of the day. Facing increasingly intense pressure as the Army of Northern Virginia began arriving on the scene, Doubleday's soldiers held their positions early in the day but began to give ground by afternoon. Between 4 and 5 p.m. they fell back through the town and re-formed their lines on the heights of Cemetery Hill. Erroneously believing that the 1st Corps had collapsed, leading to the break of the Union lines, a displeased Meade replaced Doubleday as 1st Corps commander with Major General John Newton, an officer junior in rank to Doubleday.
Reverting to command of the 3rd Division, Doubleday performed admirably during the remainder of the pivotal battle. Despite receiving a neck injury on the second day, he led his division in their decisive role in repelling Pickett's Charge on the third day of the engagement.
Following the conclusion of the Battle of Gettysburg, Meade refused Doubleday's request to be reinstated as commander of the 1st Corps. Consequently, Doubleday asked to leave the Army of the Potomac, and on July 7, 1863, he travelled to Washington, where he was reassigned to administrative duties. Soon after his arrival in the nation's capital, Doubleday was promoted to the grade of lieutenant colonel in the regular army on September 20, 1863.
Doubleday never forgave Meade for demoting him during the Battle of Gettysburg. In March 1864, still smarting from Meade's slight, Doubleday provided unfavorable testimony about his former commander when the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War held hearings investigating Meade's leadership at Gettysburg.
Doubleday spent the remainder of the war in Washington on administrative duty, with one exception. He briefly returned to combat duty but saw no action, when Confederate forces threatened the nation's capital during Early's Raid in July 1864.
As the war wound down, Doubleday, like many of his fellow general officers, received honorary promotions for their service. On March 11, 1865, Doubleday was brevetted to the rank of colonel in the regular army. Two days later, he was again brevetted to the grade of brigadier-general and also to major general, for gallant and meritorious service during the rebellion.
On January 15, 1866, Doubleday mustered out of volunteer service, but he remained in the regular army as a lieutenant colonel with the 17th Infantry. Following a five-month assignment in New York, he was sent to Galveston, Texas, where he briefly commanded the garrison and then served as Assistant Commissioner in the Freedmen's Bureau from November 20, 1866 to August 1, 1867. On September 15, 1867, Doubleday was promoted to colonel and assigned to the 35th Infantry.
Following another one-half-year assignment in New York, sandwiched by two leaves of absence, Doubleday was sent to San Francisco, where he served as Superintendent of General Recruiting Service, from June 16, 1869 to January 11, 1871. While stationed in San Francisco, Doubleday and three business partners received a franchise for what would become the city's famous cable car line. Unable to raise the capital needed to construct the line, however, the men sold their charter before the cable line was built.
On December 15, 1870, Doubleday was reassigned to the command of the all African-American 24th Infantry Regiment in Texas. He served in that capacity from April 7, 1871 to June 13, 1873. Following another leave of absence, Doubleday retired from the United States Army on December 11, 1873, having been credited with thirty years of continuous service.
After leaving the army, Doubleday settled in Mendham, New Jersey, and he worked as a lawyer in New York. During his retirement, he also authored several books about the Civil War, including Reminiscences of Fort Sumter and Moultrie in 1860-61, Chancellorsville and Gettysburg, and My Life in the Old Army: The Reminiscences of Abner Doubleday. Doubleday died of heart disease in New Jersey on January 26, 1893, at the age of seventy-three years. His remains were interred at Arlington National Cemetery.
Twelve years after Doubleday's death, sporting goods magnate Albert Spalding, sponsored the formation of the Mills Commission, tasked with determining the origins of the modern game of baseball. In 1907, the commission issued a report that credited Doubleday with inventing the game at Cooperstown, New York, in 1839. Contrary to the commission's findings, Doubleday was a cadet at the United States Military Academy in 1839, when he was supposedly in Cooperstown inventing America's pastime. Later historical research, including examinations of Doubleday's public works and private correspondence, have unearthed no evidence that Doubleday had any connection with the development of the game of baseball.
Cite this Entry
"Abner Doubleday," Ohio Civil War Central, 2022, Ohio Civil War Central. 27 May 2022 <http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=1532>
"Abner Doubleday." (2022) In Ohio Civil War Central, Retrieved May 27, 2022, from Ohio Civil War Central: http://www.ohiocivilwarcentral.com/entry.php?rec=1532
- Abraham Lincoln
- Ambrose E. Burnside
- Army of Northern Virginia
- Army of the Potomac (USA)
- Army of Virginia
- Battle of Antietam
- Battle of Bull Run I
- Battle of Bull Run II
- Battle of Chancellorsville
- Battle of Fredericksburg
- Battle of Gettysburg
- Battle of South Mountain
- Earl Van Dorn
- Early's Valley Campaign
- Freedmen's Bureau
- General Orders, No. 20 (U.S. War Department)
- General Orders, No. 316 (U.S. War Department)
- General Orders, No. 6 (Army of the Potomac)
- George B. McClellan
- George G. Meade
- George Sykes
- Henry W. Halleck
- Irvin McDowell
- James Longstreet
- John Buford
- John C. Fremont
- John F. Reynolds
- John Pope
- Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War
- Joseph Hooker
- Jubal Early
- Mexican-American War
- Nathaniel P. Banks
- Peninsula Campaign
- Pickett's Charge
- Robert Anderson
- Robert E. Lee
- William B. Franklin
- William S. Rosecrans
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