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Today is April 12.
147 years ago, the American Civil War began. Some might argue--myself included--that it actually began in Kansas almost a decade prior to the bombardment of Fort Sumter, but let's stick with the traditional, accepted date for the commencement of sectional hostilities.
The story of Sumter is a familiar one: April 12, 1861. . .4:30a.m. . . .Confederate provisional forces under the command of the flamboyant P.G.T. Beauregard open fire on the US fort in Charleston Harbor, South Carolina. Students of history may also be quick to identify that wild-eyed, fanatic fire-brand Edmund Ruffin as the man who fired the first shot, although this story has been disproved. Apparently a young lieutenant by the name of Henry Farley actually pulled the lanyards first. . .the opening salvos of the four-year struggle.
Wild man Edmund Ruffin. . .Virginia slave owner and die-hard secessionist who supposedly killed himself shortly after Appomattox rather than live under the rule of the "perfidious, malignant and vile Yankee race."
Today's post is not about Fort Sumter, or Edmund Ruffin. Not even Henry Farley. Instead, today I thought I'd write about the man who--allegedly--fired the first shot from within the fort in response to the Confederate bombardment. . ."Old Forty-Eight Hours" himself, Abner Doubleday.
Abner Doubleday was born on June 26, 1819, in Ballston Spa, New York, into a family with a history of commitment to public service. His grandfather, Abram Doubleday, fought in the American Revolution, seeing action at Bunker Hill, and his father, Ulysses Freeman Doubleday, a Jacksonian Democrat, represented the people of New York as a two-term congressman in the United States House of Representatives. Abner received a good primary education, and upon reaching the age majority, found employment as a civil engineer. Yet Abner longed for a career in the military, and in 1838, no doubt due to his father’s influence in Washington, he received an appointment to West Point. He graduated four years later, ranked twenty-fourth in a class of fifty-six. West Point’s Class of 1842 was an illustrious one, and Doubleday counted among his classmates James Longstreet, Daniel Harvey Hill, Richard Anderson, Lafayette McLaws, John Pope, William Rosecrans, John Newton, Napoleon J.T. Dana, and George Sykes.
Upon graduation from West Point, twenty-three-year-old Doubleday was commissioned a brevet second lieutenant in the 3rd U.S. Artillery. He served throughout the Mexican-American War as a 2nd lieutenant in the 1st U.S. Artillery, but was among the few Regular Army officers who did not receive a single brevet for his wartime actions. Doubleday remained in the army following the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo. He was stationed at a number of frontier posts in Texas, where he saw further action battling the Apaches. Promoted to first lieutenant in 1855, Doubleday was next transferred to Florida where the United States continued to have trouble maintaining peace with the Seminoles.
Abner Doubleday was a strong Union man, an opponent of slavery, and a supporter of Abraham Lincoln. During the tense days of secession, Doubleday, now a captain, was posted at Fort Moultrie, South Carolina, and then transferred with Moultrie’s garrison to Fort Sumter in Charleston Harbor. When the United States troops came under fire during the early morning hours of April 12, 1861, Doubleday was second-in-command to Major Robert Anderson. Doubleday went down in history during the bombardment of Sumter, for he, allegedly, fired the first shot for the Union in response to the guns of the South Carolinians. One month following the surrender of Sumter, on May 14, 1861, Abner Doubleday was promoted to the rank of major of the 17th U.S. Infantry but was detailed as commander of artillery depots in Pennsylvania and later in the Shenandoah Valley, where he served under the command of Major General Robert Patterson.
The bombardment of Fort Sumter, 4/12/1861
The Officers of Fort Sumter. . .Captain Doubleday is bottom row, left.
In August 1861, Doubleday was named commander of the artillery in General Nathaniel Banks’s Division of the newly-formed Army of the Potomac, a position he held for the next six months. On February 3, 1862, Doubleday, the lifelong artillerist, was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers and given command of a brigade of infantry in Irvin McDowell’s Corps, Department of the Rappahannock. Doubleday remained in the defenses of Washington during George McClellan’s advance up the Peninsula, and thus missed the Seven Days’ Battles around Richmond. Doubleday’s first battle of the war came during the Second Bull Run Campaign in late August 1862. On the evening of August 28, Doubleday’s Brigade fought alongside John Gibbon’s soon-to-be-christened Iron Brigade at Brawner’s Farm, and here, Doubleday and his men turned in creditable performances, battling against the feared Stonewall Division. His brigade paid dearly for their stance, however, losing one half its numbers in just a few hours of combat.
Doubleday retained brigade commander following the Union disaster at 2nd Bull Run and the subsequent reorganization of the army, when McDowell’s Third Corps, Army of Virginia, was renamed as the Army of the Potomac’s First Corps, under the command of “Fighting Joe” Hooker. Doubleday’s Brigade was heavily engaged during the battle of South Mountain on September 14, 1862. As the men of the First Corps battled their way toward Turner’s Gap, Doubleday’s immediate superior, division commander John Hatch, fell seriously wounded. Command of the division then devolved upon Doubleday as its senior brigadier. Thus, when Doubleday led his division into battle at Antietam, he was its commander for only three days.
Marching from its bivouac at Keedysville on the afternoon of September 16, Doubleday’s Division—consisting of four brigades under the command of Walter Phelps, J. W. Hofmann, Marsena Patrick, and John Gibbon—crossed Antietam Creek at Pry’s Ford and settled into position north and west of the Joseph Poffenberger Farm on the extreme right of the Union army. First Corps commander, Joseph Hooker, planned for Doubleday’s men to march due south along the Hagerstown Turnpike, with General James Ricketts’s Division aligned on Doubleday’s left. Around 5:30 on the morning of September 17, Doubleday put his brigades in motion, with Gibbon’s Iron Brigade leading the way, followed by those under Walter Phelps and Marsena Patrick. Lieutenant-Colonel Hofmann’s Brigade stayed behind as a reserve and in support of the division’s artillery.
As Gibbon’s lead brigade pushed forward, they came under fire from Confederate troops posted along a rocky ledge in the West Woods, parallel to the Hagerstown Turnpike. Gibbon deployed his regiments in line of battle, and Doubleday ordered Patrick’s Brigade to fall-in on Gibbon’s right, west of the turnpike. Colonel Walter Phelps’s men deployed to the left of the Iron Brigade, east of the roadway and through the bloody Cornfield. The three brigades then pushed forward, driving the southern troops from the rocks and corn and continued moving south toward the Dunker Church. A Confederate counterattack led by General William Starke, however, stalled the advance of Gibbon’s and Patrick’s men and Phelps’s troops encountered tough resistance upon exiting the cornfield. Starke’s attack was ultimately beaten back, with severe loss, but the arrival of John Bell Hood’s Division around 7:00 a.m. forced Doubleday’s men back. They were relieved by a brigade from the Twelfth Corps and by General George Meade’s division of Pennsylvania Reserves. In a little more than one hour, Doubleday lost nearly 900 of the 2,200 men he took into battle that morning.
Brigadier General Abner Doubleday managed his division well at Antietam and afterwards he was brevetted lieutenant colonel in the Regular Army for his actions there. He was an officer who led from the front, and at some point early in the engagement the New Yorker was thrown violently to the ground after a Confederate artillery shell exploded in front of his horse. Stunned and bruised, Doubleday was nonetheless able to remain in command that day.
On November 29, 1862, Abner Doubleday was promoted to major general of volunteers. He led his men in limited fighting at the battle of Fredericksburg in mid-December 1862, and at Chancellorsville the following spring remained in reserve. Doubleday turned in his finest performance of the war at Gettysburg in July 1863. Ironically, this was also his final battle. On July 1, the men of the Union First Corps battled A.P. Hill’s advancing Third Corps on the ridges west of town. General John Reynolds, commanding the First Corps, was killed early in the contest and Doubleday, being the senior division commander in the corps, assumed command. Doubleday tenaciously held his ground all morning and well into the afternoon against overwhelming numbers of Confederate troops. He shifted his men to meet each new threat as they developed and when his men could hold out no longer, he ordered them back through town to the designated Union rallying point on Cemetery Hill. Doubleday had held up Lee’s army long enough for Union reinforcements to arrive on this key piece of high ground, and had inflicted serious loss on Hill’s troops. However, when General George Meade, commanding the Army of the Potomac, arrived on the field in the early morning hours of July 2, he was informed by Eleventh Corps commander Oliver Howard that Doubleday performed poorly. Howard was perhaps hoping to shift responsibility for the collapse of the Union line on July 1 from his much maligned corps, but whatever the reason, Meade, who had already held Doubleday in low esteem, was quick to replace him as commander of the First Corps with General John Newton of the army’s Sixth Corps, who was junior in rank to Doubleday. Doubleday, who outranked every other division commander in the Army of the Potomac, returned to the command of his Third Division, First Corps, for the duration of the Gettysburg Campaign, and on July 3, his men played a key role in repulsing Pickett’s famed charge against the Union center along Cemetery Ridge. Doubleday was wounded during the fray when a shell fragment passed through his hat and struck his neck.
Abner Doubleday's Monument at Gettysburg
Abner Doubleday was brevetted a colonel in the Regular Army for his role at the battle of Gettysburg. This was justly deserved, but Doubleday protested the treatment he received at the hands of Howard and Meade and sought to be restored to command of the First Corps. Meade refused, and on July 11, 1863, Doubleday asked to be relieved from command in the Army of the Potomac. Despite his West Point education, his more than twenty years of service in the U.S. Army, and his competent performances in battle, Doubleday never enjoyed the confidence or trust of most of the army’s top brass, and had even acquired the nickname of “Old Forty-Eight Hours” for his tendency to be slow and exceedingly deliberate in moving troops into battle. Doubleday was a kind man who took care of his troops, but as Union First Corps artillerist Charles Wainwright wrote: “Doubleday knows enough, but he is entirely impractical, and so slow at getting an idea through his head."
Doubleday spent much of the rest of the war behind a desk in various posts in the nation’s capital, sometimes serving on court-martial duty. He was sent to Buffalo, New York, in 1864 to help quell an anticipated draft riot, but was soon back in the capital. During the Joint Committee on the Conduct of the War’s examination into the battle of Gettysburg, Doubleday was quick to heavily criticize George Meade’s ability to command the army. On March 13, 1865, with the end of the war in sight, Doubleday was brevetted a Brigadier General in the Regular Army “for service during the war.”
Following the end of the Civil War in April 1865, Doubleday remained in the army, reverting back to his commission as lieutenant-colonel of the 17th Infantry. In 1866, Doubleday was stationed in Texas serving as commander of Fort Galveston, and as commissioner of that state’s Freedmen’s Bureau. On September 15, 1867, Doubleday was promoted to full colonel and was given command of the 35th U.S. Infantry Regiment. Stationed in San Francisco in 1870, Doubleday, who sometimes dabbled in civil engineering projects, applied for and received a patent for a cable railway car, the first in the city’s history. On December 11, 1873, after more than three decades in uniform, fifty-four-year-old Abner Doubleday tendered his resignation from the army.
After retirement, Doubleday settled in Mendham, New Jersey where he spent the remaining years of his life prolifically writing books about his wartime experiences and seeking to correct his wartime service record and reputation. He also served for a time as president of the American Theosophical Society. Abner Doubleday passed away in his New Jersey home at the age of seventy-three on January 26, 1893, the victim of heart disease. His remains were taken to Arlington National Cemetery for burial.