I just finished a new book about Abner Doubleday. Titled easily enough Abner Doubleday A Civil War Biography, the book is the work of Thomas Barthel whose previous works have centered on the game of baseball. The book effectively debunks the theory that Doubleday had anything to do with the game of baseball. On the plus side, I learned a lot about Doubleday as a man, his background in upstate New York, his life after his Army career, and his great interest in spiritualism and strong support for abolitionism.
The soft cover edition with its front cover photos of both the Dunker Church and the Middle Bridge at Antietam compelled me to buy the book. I was hopeful that there would be a lot of attention on the Maryland Campaign. Doubleday’s brigade played an important role at Frosttown Gap on September 14th. As the newly minted commander of Hatch’s division after that officer was wounded at South Mountain, he played a critical role in the attacks down the Hagerstown Pike in the early hours of the Battle of Antietam. Unfortunately the book is very short of details on Doubleday’s military career except perhaps for his time at Fort Sumter and his controversial days at Gettysburg where he commanded the First Corps on July 1, 1863 but was relieved of command by his junior in rank John Newton. And despite its cover, the book sadly devotes few pages to the Maryland Campaign. Even worse, there are a number of glaring errors that somehow slipped by the editor. For example, the author states that Lee moved out of Frederick on September 7, 1862 to execute Special Order 191. Lee’s Army departed Frederick on September 9. He says the Battle of Turner’s Gap is sometimes referred to as Frostburg. I believe he means Frosttown Gap. He says that after its surrender, Jackson left 10,000 men at Harpers Ferry to guard the 12,000 prisoners. A.P. Hill had perhaps half that number and they were there to parole prisoners, not guard them. He says that the skirmishing in the East Woods the night of September 16 occurred between Albert Magilton’s brigade of Meade’s division and Lawson’s Confederates. First of all it was Truman Seymour’s brigade of Meade’s division that fought Hood’s men in the East Woods. And it is Lawton’s men that he is referring to, not Lawson’s. Finally, he says that Lee left perhaps 7,700 dead bodies when he retreated from Maryland. The actual death count was around 3,700 for both sides, with many more perishing of their wounds later on.
So for me, the book failed to educate me at all on Doubleday’s role in the Maryland Campaign. I learned more about the man and came away with more respect for him and his sense of duty as a soldier and public figure after the war. I did managed to add 40 quotes about Doubleday to my collection. You can read all of them here at my Abner Doubleday page on Antietam Voices. Here are a few of my favorites.
“I wish Abner Doubleday, now a captain in the First Artillery, to be a major in the similar corps if possible.”
Shortly after the hero of Fort Sumter returns to the North, Abraham Lincoln sends over this note from the White House to the War Department. Unfortunately the author did not cite the source of this quote.
“That sandwich will need no pepper.” Abner Doubleday July 3 1863
It is at the height of the Confederate artillery barrage prior to Pickett-Pettigrew assault against the Union center. Abner Doubleday has removed a sandwich from his pocket and is about to eat it when he and the food are showered by dirt and gravel from a nearby exploding Confederate shell. He makes this wry remark to Major Harty T. Lee of his staff. This quote was originally from History of Pennsylvania Volunteers 1861-5: Prepared in Compliance with Acts of the Legislature by Samuel P. Bates. (Wilmington, NC: Broadfoot, 1993.).
“He is deficient considerably in the requisites of a commander. He does not drink whiskey…stays with his command and seems anxious to do his duty and fight Rebels….He also allows his wife to stay with him when he ought to keep a mistress.” William O. Blodget
This tongue in cheek quote is from First Lieutenant William O. Bldogett of Company F, 151 Pennsylvania Infantry. It was originally found in The 151st Pennsylvania Volunteers at Gettysburg: Like Ripe Apples in a Storm by Michael Dreese and Timothy H. Smith. (Jefferson, NC: McFarland, 2000.)
“Gen. Doubleday was not a man of ‘personal magnetism’ nor what is called a dashing officer.’ He was an earnest and conscientious man and a safe and steady soldier-precise, methodical, and to be depended on in any emergency.” Don Carlos Buell
This quote is attributed to General Don Carlos Buell who no one could ever accuse of possessing personal magnetism or of being a dashing officer. The quote describes Buell as much as it does Doubleday. Unfortunately the author did not cite the source of this quote.
“Gen. Doubleday who is a gallant officer. I saw him at Antietam…. He was remarkably cool and at the very front of battle, near Battery B at the haystacks.” Rufus Dawes of the Sixth Wisconsin observed General Doubleday at the Battle of Antietam. Coming from this brave officer, this is high praise indeed. The quote is originally From Service with the Sixth Wisconsin Volunteers by Rufus R. Dawes. (Marietta, OH: E.R. Alderman, 1890.)
“General Abner Doubleday was a tall dignified looking gentleman as is commonly called of the old school. At the time I met him he was inclined to be portly. His forehead was very full. His hair was dark, crisp and oily-well streaked with white. A large full high beaked nose; gray eyes; heavily bagged underneath. A short trimmed bushy mustache, almost black; very swarthy. His hands [are] small and smooth in structure. His expression was very serious, but lighting up when he started to tell his fine, wholesome, and humorous stories. I made a study of his head which his friends said was good- to me it seemed a little prim as Mrs. Doubleday insisted on brushing his hair and slicking him up.” Kelly
Long after the war, a sculptor known in the book only by the name of Kelly describes Doubleday and his story telling expertise. The quote is originally from Interviewing the Commanders of the Civil War by William B. Styple. (Kearny, NJ: Grove, 2005.)
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