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distinguished Union Army officer who for reasons unknown became known as the inventor of baseball
Abner Doubleday was born in Ballston Spa, New York, on June 26, 1819. His father, Ulysses Doubleday, was a two-term Congressman for New York, and his grandfather, Abner Doubleday, had served under General Anthony Wayne in the American Revolution. He graduated from Auburn Academy (high school) in Cooperstown, New York, in 1836 and worked as a civil engineer until being appointed to West Point in 1838; he graduated 24th in his class of 56 in 1842 and was assigned to the 3rd U.S. Artillery.
Early Military Service
Doubleday served in several coastal fortifications until outbreak of the Mexican War in 1846, after which he was transferred to the 1st U.S. Artillery and joined Major General Zachary Taylor's army in Texas. He subsequently fought at the Battle of Monterrey and served at Rinconada Pass during the Battle of Buena Vista. His service at Buena Vista earned him a promotion to First Lieutenant on March 3, 1847. Promoted to Captain on March 3, 1855, he also saw action in Florida during the Third Seminole War (1856-1858).
In 1860, Doubleday was posted to Fort Moultrie in Charleston, South Carolina, and remained there until the garrison was withdrawn to Fort Sumter, following South Carolina's secession from the Union. He was second in command when Confederate ironclads fired on Fort Sumter to start the Civil War, and personally fired the Union's first return shot. He was promoted to Major on May 14, 1861, and assigned to the 17th Infantry in Major General Robert Patterson's command in Shenandoah Valley; was transferred to Washington in August of 1861 and commanded batteries along the Potomac; and was appointed Brigadier General and placed in command of Washington defenses on February 3, 1862.
Major General John Pope's Army of Virginia was formed in the summer of 1862 and Doubleday was given command of the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, III Corps. His units played a key role at Brawner's Farm during the opening hours of the Second Battle of Bull Run (August 29-30, 1862), as well as during the battle itself. Doubleday's command was subsequently transferred to I Corps, Army of the Potomac, which fought with great distinction at the battles of South Mountain (September 14, 1862) and Antietam (September 17, 1862). Promoted to Major General on November 29, 1862, he was present at the Battle of Fredericksburg (December 13, 1862) but his troops were held in reserve and saw little action.
After the U.S. Army was reorganized in early 1863, Doubleday was placed in command of the 3rd Division. He was present at the Battle of Chancellorsville (May 1-5, 1863), but took no part in the actual fighting. His troops played a major role in the Union victory at Gettysburg (July 1-3, 1863), during which he was wounded, but his immediate superior, General George Meade, refused to give him due credit and subsequently relegated him to serving under a less experienced General. Doubleday spent the rest of the war in Washington, primarily in administrative duties.
Doubleday stayed in the Army after the war ended, reverting to his regular rank of Lieutenant Colonel on August 24, 1865. He was promoted to Colonel in September of 1867 and given command of the 35th Infantry. In 1869, he was transferred to San Francisco to lead the recruiting service, and, in 1870, he and three business partners proposed and received a franchise for that city's first cable car line. Unable to secure financing, the men sold their franchise to manufacturer Andrew Smith Hallidie, who then constructed the world's first cable car route, San Francisco's Clay Street Hill Railroad. In 1871, Doubleday was placed in command of the 24th U.S. Infantry, an all-African-American unit, in Texas. In 1873 he retired to Mendham, New Jersey, where he became active in the Theosophical Society; he was named president of the society's American operations in 1878. He died in Mendham on January 26, 1893, and was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.
Abner Doubleday was the author of two books: Reminiscences of Fort Sumter and Moultrie in 1860-61 (1876) and Chancellorsville and Gettysburg (1882).
He married Mary Hewitt in 1852; they had no children.
In 1907, a special commission determined that Abner Doubleday was the one and only inventor of baseball, despite the fact that Doubleday never mentioned the sport in any of his diaries, letters or other writings. Exactly how his name was first associated with the sport is not known, but the 1907 commission report was convincing enough to get the Baseball Hall of Fame located in Cooperstown, New York, where Doubleday grew up.
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This page was last updated on June 25, 2017.