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, California, 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. His most lasting claim to fame is the popular myth that he invented baseball, which has been debunked by almost all sports historians. Moreover, Doubleday himself never made such a claim.
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, but by the start of the Civil War, 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 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.
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's indecision as a commander in the war resulted in his uncomplimentary nickname "Forty-Eight Hours."
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 died of heart disease in Mendham, and is buried in Arlington National Cemetery in Arlington, Virginia.
Although Doubleday was a competent, if colorless, combat general with experience in many important Civil War battles, the lore of baseball credits Doubleday with inventing the game, 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 the 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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