Abner Doubleday (1819-1893)

Abner Doubleday (June 26, 1819 January 26, 1893), was a career U.S. 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. He was also falsely credited with inventing the game of baseball.

Doubleday was born in Ballston Spa, New York. His grandfather had fought in the Revolutionary War and his father served four years in the U.S. Congress. Abner practiced as a civil engineer for two years before entering the U.S. Military Academy, from which graduated in 1842 and was commissioned a second lieutenant in the 3rd U.S. Artillery.

Military career

Doubleday served in the Mexican-American War and Seminole Wars. At the start of the Civil War, he was posted in the 1st U.S. Artillery, under Major Robert Anderson, at Fort Sumter, in Charleston Harbor. He aimed the cannon that fired the first return shot in answer to the Confederate bombardment on April 12, 1861, starting the war.

Doubleday served in the Shenandoah Valley from June to August, 1861. He was appointed brigadier general of volunteers on February 3, 1862, and led the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, III Corps at the Second Battle of Bull Run. He took command of the division on August 30 when its commander was wounded. He again led the division at South Mountain, Antietam (where he was wounded by a shell exploding nearby), and Fredericksburg (where his division mostly sat idle).

Doubleday was promoted to major general of volunteers on November 9, 1862, and commanded 3rd Division, I Corps, at Chancellorsville, and took over corps command for a day when General John F. Reynolds was killed in opening of the Battle of Gettysburg, July 1, 1863. Army commander George G. Meade replaced Doubleday with John Newton, a more junior major general from another corps, after the first day of battle, one in which the I Corps was overwhelmed by a Confederate assault. Meade 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. He was wounded in the neck on the second day of the battle and assumed mostly administrative duties in the defenses of Washington, D.C., including the attack by Jubal A. Early in the Valley Campaigns of 1864.

After the Civil War, Doubleday retired from the Army in 1873 and moved to San Francisco, where he obtained a charter for the cable car railway that still runs there. He died in Mendham, New Jersey, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery.

Legacy

Although Doubleday was a competent, if colorless, combat general with experience in many important Civil War battles, history remembers him for a false claim, unbeknownst to him. The lore of baseball credits Doubleday with inventing the game, supposedly in a cow pasture in Cooperstown, New York, in 1839. This is false; baseball evolved slowly from English folk games. The claim appears to date from the late nineteenth century, when baseball owners tried to disassociate the game from any connection to the English game of rounders. Recent scholarship casts doubt that Doubleday even codified the rules of the game. Baseball had no single inventor, although the achievements of Alexander J. Cartwright match closely what has been claimed for Doubleday.

At his death, Doubleday left a considerable supply of 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. An encyclopedia article about Doubleday published in 1911 makes no mention of the game.

Doubleday published two important works on the Civil War: Reminiscences of Forts Sumter and Moultrie (1876), and Chancellorsville and Gettysburg (1882), the latter being a volume of the series Campaigns of the Civil War.

Doubleday's indecision as a commander earned him the uncomplimentary nickname "Forty-Eight Hours".