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 in mathematics and studied to become a civil engineer. His education led to his employment at the age of seventeen 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.
U.S. Army Officer
Following his graduation, the army brevetted Doubleday 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, the army promoted Doubleday to the full rank of second lieutenant.
In 1845, army officials sent Doubleday to Texas, where the United States and Mexico quarreled over the establishment of the border between the two nations. When the dispute eventually led to warfare, Doubleday served with General Zachary Taylor’s Army of Occupation, which invaded northern Mexico in 1846. During the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) Doubleday took part 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, the army promoted him 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.
Third Seminole War
After nearly thirteen years in the military, the army promoted Doubleday to captain on March 3, 1855. One year later, officials transferred him to Florida during the Third Seminole War (1855-1858). While stationed in Florida for two years, he took part in the construction of a roadway from Fort Dallas, near present-day Miami, to present-day Fort Lauderdale.
In 1856, army officials deployed Doubleday 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, starting 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 rebellion 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 commanded Fort Hamilton, New York, from April 19 to June 3, 1861. During that period, army officials promoted him to the rank of major with the 17th Infantry on May 14, 1861.
Army of the Potomac
As the Civil War ramped up, the War Department transferred Doubleday 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 First Battle of Bull Run (July 21, 1861), Doubleday traveled to Washington, DC, to assist with manning artillery defenses of the nation’s capital. On February 3, 1862, the War Department appointed as a brigadier general of volunteers. In May, officials assigned him to command a brigade in Major General Irvin McDowell’s 1st Corps of the Army of the Potomac.
Army of Virginia – Second Battle of Bull Run
During Major General George B. McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign (March 17-August 14, 1862), the War Department sent McDowell’s corps 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 merger of John C. Frémont, Nathaniel Banks, and Irvin McDowell’s commands, plus several smaller units in eastern Virginia to form the Army of Virginia. Major General John Pope commanded the new army. Under McDowell and Pope, Doubleday played a prominent role in covering the Union retreat during the Confederate victory at the Second Battle of Bull Run (August 28-30, 1862).
Battle of Antietam
Following the Union defeat at Second Bull Run, the army assigned Doubleday Brigadier General John P. Hatch’s division of Major General Joseph Hooker’s 1st Corps of the Army of the Potomac. When Hatch sustained injuries 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’s horse threw him from the saddle and injured him when a nearby artillery explosion startled the animal. The War Department later brevetted Doubleday 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, the War Department issued General Orders, No. 316, on September 18, 1863, announcing Doubleday’s promotion to major general in the volunteer army, effective November 29, 1862.
Battle of Fredericksburg
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), Burnside held Doubleday’s 1st Division of Major General John Reynolds’s 1st Corps, of Major General William B. Franklin’s Left Grand Division in reserve.
After the decisive Confederate victory at Fredericksburg, President Lincoln drafted General Orders No. 20 (U.S. War Department) on January 25, 1863. The order announced that Lincoln was relieving Burnside of command of the Army of the Potomac (at Burnside’s request). Lincoln appointed Major General Joseph Hooker as Burnside’s successor.
Battle of Chancellorsville
When Hooker assumed command of the Army of the Potomac, morale was sinking, and desertions were rising. Hooker spent his first few months 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. The shakeup placed Doubleday 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, Hooker held Doubleday’s division 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 Harpers 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.
Battle of Gettysburg
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 hold the ground west of town, as he sent word Major General John Reynolds to send 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 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 rest 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 the command of the 3rd Division, Doubleday performed admirably during the rest 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.
Administrative Duties in Washington
Following the conclusion of the Battle of Gettysburg, Meade refused Doubleday’s request for reinstatement as commander of the 1st Corps. Consequently, Doubleday requested a transfer. On July 7, 1863, he traveled to Washington, where he performed administrative duties. Soon after his arrival in the nation’s capital, the War Department promoted Doubleday 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 rest 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, officials brevetted Doubleday to the rank of colonel in the regular army. Two days later, he received brevets to the grade of brigadier general and also to major general, for gallant and meritorious service during the rebellion.
Post-war Return to the Regular Army
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, army officials sent Doubleday to Galveston, Texas, where he briefly commanded the garrison. Doubleday served as Assistant Commissioner in the Freedmen’s Bureau from November 20, 1866 to August 1, 1867. On September 15, 1867, the army promoted Doubleday to colonel and assigned him to the 35th Infantry.
Following another half-year assignment in New York, sandwiched by two leaves of absence, the army sent Doubleday 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 they built the line.
On December 15, 1870, the army assigned Doubleday 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, 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. 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, has unearthed no evidence that Doubleday had any connection with the development of the game of baseball.