Abner Doubleday (1819-1893) was a U.S. military officer who served as a Union general during the Civil War (1861-65). A native of New York, Doubleday graduated from West Point and served during the Mexican-American War (1846-48). In 1861 he was second-in-command at Fort Sumter, where he ordered the Union’s first shots of the Civil War in response to the bombardment by secessionist forces. Promoted to brigadier general in February 1862, Doubleday participated in the Second Battle of Bull Run (Manassas) and the Battle of Antietam later that year. Doubleday led a corps on the first day of the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863, and then served in administrative duty in Washington, D.C., for the rest of the conflict. After the Civil War Doubleday remained in the army and was stationed in California and Texas. He died in 1893 at the age of 73. Doubleday was popularly credited with inventing the game of baseball for many years, but this claim was later debunked.
Abner Doubleday was born in Ballston Spa, New York, on June 26, 1819. His father was a veteran of the War of 1812 (1812-15), and later served as a U.S. congressman. Doubleday attended school to study civil engineering and then worked as a surveyor for railroads before receiving an appointment to the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1838. He graduated in 1842, finishing in the middle of his class.
After receiving a commission as a brevet second lieutenant in the 3rd U.S. Artillery, Doubleday served in a succession of garrison duties before participating in the Mexican-American War (1846-48). During the conflict he served as an artillery officer and commanded a supply depot in Camargo, Mexico. Doubleday returned to garrison duty after the war and in 1852 married Mary Hewitt, the daughter of a Baltimore lawyer. In 1856 he was transferred to Florida for the Third Seminole War (1855-58).
In 1859 Doubleday was stationed at Fort Moultrie in Charleston. A staunch abolitionist and supporter of Abraham Lincoln, he soon found himself surrounded by secessionist fervor. In the face of mounting hostilities, in December 1860 Doubleday and Fort Moultrie’s commander, Major Robert Anderson, moved their garrison to Fort Sumter and abandoned the city’s other forts to the South Carolina militia. After a nearly four-month standoff, militia forces fired on Fort Sumter on April 12, 1861. Doubleday, as second-in-command, is said to have overseen the first shots fired in defense of the fort. After a 36-hour bombardment, Doubleday surrendered Fort Sumter along with Anderson.
Civil War Service
Doubleday next spent time in New York City before receiving a promotion to the rank of major. After a period commanding artillery defenses around Washington, D.C., Doubleday was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers in February 1862 and placed in command of a brigade under General Irvin McDowell.
Doubleday’s first combat experience came in August 1862 at the Second Battle of Bull Run (Manassas). During early fighting near Brawner’s Farm, Doubleday dispatched nearly 1,000 of his men to support forces under General John Gibbon. His reinforcements helped temporarily hold the Union line against a barrage by General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson’s Confederates. His unit returned to action the next day but was pushed back by forces commanded by General James Longstreet. Doubleday then led rearguard operations during the Union retreat from the field.
Reassigned to the I Corps under General Joseph Hooker, Doubleday next participated in the Battle of South Mountain in September 1862. After General John P. Hatch was wounded in the fighting, Doubleday took command of his division and successfully withstood a Confederate assault. He remained in division command for the Battle of Antietam, in which his unit sustained heavy casualties at an area known as “the Cornfield.” For his performance at Antietam, Doubleday was promoted to major general of volunteers in November 1862.
Doubleday’s force was lightly engaged at the Battle of Fredericksburg in December 1862, and he was placed in charge of the newly created Third Division a month later. Doubleday commanded his new unit at the Battle of Chancellorsville in May 1863 but was kept in reserve during the Union defeat.
Doubleday would play a significant role in the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863. During the first day of fighting, he was forced to take command of the I Corps following the death of General John Reynolds. Choosing to follow through on the battle plan already enacted by Reynolds, Doubleday ordered his men to hold positions near the Chambersburg Pike. His stubborn defenses finally collapsed in the late afternoon, and his I Corps then retreated through the town of Gettysburg to the heights at Cemetery Hill.
Despite having fended off a superior force of Confederates for several hours, Doubleday was relieved of command of the I Corps by General George Meade. He participated in the second and third days of the battle as a division commander, and was wounded in the neck by a shell fragment in the aftermath of Pickett’s Charge.
Administrative Command in Washington, D.C.
After being denied the position of I Corps commander by Mead, Doubleday traveled to Washington, D.C. He spent six months without orders before being assigned to serve as president of the United States Military Commission in January 1864. In this administrative capacity he was charged with investigating issues such as blockade running, bribery and treason. Still bitter at Meade’s refusal to grant him a corps command, Doubleday also testified against his former commander in front of a Congressional committee. He criticized Meade’s handling of the Gettysburg Campaign and argued that a pro-slavery faction existed within the Union Army.
Doubleday remained in Washington for the remainder of the Civil War. When forces under General Jubal Early threatened the city in July 1864, he was briefly placed in command of defensive units, but was never engaged. Promoted to full colonel in the regular army in March 1865, he remained in administrative duty until the end of the war.
Later Life and Baseball
Doubleday stayed in the army after the Civil War and in 1866 assumed command of troops in New York City. In 1867 he briefly served as sub-assistant commissioner in the Bureau of Freedmen, Refugees and Abandoned Lands, an office that assisted Black Americans in the transition from slavery to freedom. He was then transferred to San Francisco to serve as a recruitment officer. During this time, he was involved in securing the first patent for the city’s cable car system. Doubleday later commanded an all-Black unit in Texas before retiring from the army in 1873.
Doubleday later moved to New York City and served as president of the Theosophical Society, a group devoted to the study of spiritualism and eastern philosophy. He died in New Jersey in 1898 at the age of 73. Some years later Doubleday would be mistakenly credited with inventing the game of baseball. While this myth was later debunked, many baseball teams and fields continue to bear his name.