Abner Doubleday was born in Ballston Spa, New York on June 26, 1819. He is widely credited with inventing the game of baseball. It is said that he devised the initial rules of play in a cow pasture on the farm of Elihu Phinney, and played the game there regularly. His other, perhaps lesser-known claim to fame, is that he fired the first shot in defense of Fort Sumter during the Civil War.
Doubleday came from a long line of veterans, with his great grandfather, both grandfathers, and father all having served in the military. At age 19, he entered the United States Military Academy—the first chapter in a storied military career.
He would go on to serve in coastal garrisons in the Mexican-American War (1846-1848) and the Seminole Wars (1856-1858) before serving at Fort Moultrie, and later, Fort Sumter. On April 12, 1861, he aimed the cannon that fired the first return shot in response to the Confederate Bombardment, for which he was later presented with a medal bearing the likeness of his commanding officer, Major Robert Anderson.
Doubleday evinced great gallantry throughout his career, having to step in and lead in place of fallen commanders on multiple occasions - the Second Battle of Bull Run, Antietam, and Gettysburg all featured Doubleday in leadership roles.
Doubleday’s post-military activities involved writing seminal works on the Civil War and serving as president of the American body of the Theosophical Society. He died of heart disease in 1893.
In 1905, the Mills Commission was appointed to determine the origin of baseball. In their final report in 1907, the commission determined that Doubleday had invented the game in Cooperstown, New York, in 1839.
There are many who believe this to be a fabrication. Doubleday, who was not above touting his own merits, had left behind many papers after his death, none of which mentioned baseball. Abraham Mills, the chairman of the Mills Commission and a Civil War colleague of Doubleday, never recalled him having mentioned the game. Added to this, Doubleday was a cadet at West Point the year the game had allegedly been invented in Cooperstown. The icing on the cake is that the primary testimony to the Mills Commission came from a man named Abner Graves, who had the same first name as Mr. Doubleday. Aside from the namesake potentially lending an air of confusion, Mr. Graves’ testimony may have been questionable as he later shot his wife to death and was committed to an institution for the criminally insane.
The National Baseball Hall Of Fame And Museum opened in Cooperstown, New York in 1937, further cementing the official recognition of Doubleday as the game’s inventor, in spite of the lack of supporting information to support the story. One connection between Abner Doubleday and the game of baseball is that he is said to have provisioned balls and bats for the US Army fighting in the south and in border states.
Know Before You Go
Abner Doubleday is buried in Arlington National Cemetery’s Section 1, grave 61.