Major General Abner Doubleday

Union Leader of the American Civil War

Gen. Abner Doubleday, U.S.A.

Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division / Wikimedia Commons / Public Domain

Born at Ballston Spa, NY on June 26, 1819, Abner Doubleday was the son of Representative Ulysses F. Doubleday and his wife, Hester Donnelly Doubleday. Raised in Auburn, NY, Doubleday came from a strong military tradition as his father had fought in the War of 1812 and his grandfathers had served during the American Revolution. Educated locally in his early years, he was later sent to live with an uncle in Cooperstown, NY so that he could attend a private preparatory school (Cooperstown Classical and Military Academy). While there, Doubleday received training as a surveyor and civil engineer. Throughout his youth, he expressed interest in reading, poetry, art, and mathematics.

After two years of private practice, Doubleday received an appointment to the US Military Academy at West Point. Arriving in 1838, his classmates included John Newton, William Rosecrans, John Pope, Daniel H. Hill, George Sykes, James Longstreet, and Lafayette McLaws. Though regarded as a “diligent and thoughtful student", Doubleday proved an average scholar and he graduated in 1842 ranked 24th in a class of 56. Assigned to the 3rd US Artillery, Doubleday initially served at Fort Johnson (North Carolina) before moving through several assignments in coastal fortifications.

Mexican-American War

With the outbreak of the Mexican-American War in 1846, Doubleday received a transfer west to the 1st US Artillery. Part of Major General Zachary Taylor's army in Texas, his unit commenced preparing for the invasion of northeastern Mexico. Doubleday soon marched south and saw action at the hard-fought Battle of Monterrey. Remaining with Taylor the following year, he served at Rinconada Pass during the Battle of Buena Vista. On March 3, 1847, shortly after the battle, Doubleday was promoted to first lieutenant.

Returning home, Doubleday married Mary Hewitt of Baltimore in 1852. Two years later, he was ordered to the frontier for service against the Apaches. He completed this assignment in 1855 and received a promotion to captain. Dispatched south, Doubleday served in Florida during the Third Seminole War from 1856-1858 and also helped to map the Everglades as well as modern Miami and Fort Lauderdale.

Charleston & Fort Sumter

In 1858, Doubleday was posted to Fort Moultrie in Charleston, SC. There he endured the growing sectional strife that marked the years immediately before the Civil War and commented, “Almost every public assemblage was tinctured with treasonable sentiments and toasts against the flag were always warmly applauded.” Doubleday remained at Fort Moultrie until Major Robert Anderson withdrew the garrison to Fort Sumter after South Carolina seceded from the Union in December 1860.

On the morning of April 12, 1861, Confederate forces in Charleston opened fire on Fort Sumter. Within the fort, Anderson selected Doubleday to fire the first shot of the Union response. Following the fort's surrender, Doubleday returned north and was quickly promoted to major on May 14, 1861. With this came an assignment to the 17th Infantry in Major General Robert Patterson's command in the Shenandoah Valley. In August, he was transferred to Washington where he commanded batteries along the Potomac. On February 3, 1862, he was promoted to brigadier general and placed in command of the Washington defenses.

Second Manassas

With the formation of Major General John Pope's Army of Virginia in the summer of 1862, Doubleday received his first combat command. Leading the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division, III Corps, Doubleday played a key role at Brawner's Farm during the opening actions of the Second Battle of Bull Run. Though his men were routed the next day, they rallied to cover the retreat of the Union army on August 30, 1862. Transferred to the I Corps, Army of the Potomac with the rest of Brigadier General John P. Hatch's division, Doubleday next saw action at the Battle of South Mountain on September 14.

Army of the Potomac

When Hatch was wounded, Doubleday took command of the division. Retaining command of the division, he led them at the Battle of Antietam three days later. Fighting in the West Woods and Cornfield, Doubleday's men held the right flank of the Union army. Recognized for his superior performance at Antietam, Doubleday was brevetted to lieutenant colonel in the Regular Army. On November 29, 1862, he was promoted to major general. At the Battle of Fredericksburg on December 13, Doubleday's division was held in reserve and avoided taking part in the Union defeat.

In the winter of 1863, I Corps was reorganized and Doubleday was shifted to command the 3rd Division. He served in this role at the Battle of Chancellorsville that May, but his men saw little action. As Lee's army moved north in June, Major General John Reynolds’ I Corps led the pursuit. Arriving in Gettysburg on July 1, Reynolds moved to deploy his men in support of Brigadier General John Buford's cavalry. While directing his men, Reynolds was shot and killed. Command of the corps devolved on Doubleday. Racing forward, he completed the deployment and guided the corps through the opening stages of the battle.


Positioned northwest of the town, Doubleday's men were badly outnumbered by the approaching Confederate army. Fighting valiantly, I Corps held their position for five hours and was only forced to retreat after XI Corps collapsed on their right. Outnumbered 16,000 to 9,500, Doubleday's men inflicted 35-60% casualties on seven of the ten Confederate brigades that attacked them. Falling back to Cemetery Hill, the remains of I Corps held their position for the remainder of the battle.

On July 2, the commander of the Army of the Potomac, Major General George Meade, replaced Doubleday as commander of I Corps with the more junior Newton. This was largely the result of a false report submitted by the XI Corps' commander, Major General Oliver O. Howard, stating that I Corps broke first. It was fostered by a long-running dislike of Doubleday, whom he believed indecisive, which went back to South Mountain. Returning to his division, Doubleday was wounded in the neck later in the day. After the battle, Doubleday officially requested that he be given command of I Corps.

When Meade refused, Doubleday departed the army and rode to Washington. Assigned to administrative duties in the city, Doubleday served on courts martial and commanded part of the defenses when Lieutenant General Jubal Early threatened to attack in 1864. While in Washington, Doubleday testified before the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War and criticized Meade's conduct at Gettysburg. With the end of hostilities in 1865, Doubleday remained in the army and reverted to his regular rank of lieutenant colonel on August 24, 1865. Promoted to colonel in September 1867, he was given command of the 35th Infantry.

Later Life

Posted to San Francisco in 1869, to head the recruiting service, he obtained a patent for a cable car railway system and opened the city's first cable car company. In 1871, Doubleday was given command of the African-American 24th Infantry in Texas. After commanding the regiment for two years, he retired from the service. Settling in Mendham, NJ, he became involved with Helena Blavatsky and Henry Steel Olcott. The founders of the Theosophical Society, they converted Doubleday to the tenets of Theosophy and Spiritualism. When the pair moved to India to continue their studies, Doubleday was named the president of the American chapter. He continued to live in Mendham until his death on January 26, 1893.

Doubleday's name is most commonly known due to its association with the origins of baseball. While the 1907 Mills Commission Report states that the game was invented by Doubleday at Cooperstown, NY in 1839, subsequent scholarship has proven this unlikely. Despite this, Doubleday's name remains deeply linked to the game's history.

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Your Citation
Hickman, Kennedy. "Major General Abner Doubleday." ThoughtCo, Apr. 5, 2023, Hickman, Kennedy. (2023, April 5). Major General Abner Doubleday. Retrieved from Hickman, Kennedy. "Major General Abner Doubleday." ThoughtCo. (accessed May 29, 2023).