|This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.|
The following text is reproduced from (the report of the) Twenty-Fourth Annual Reunion of the Association of the Graduates of the United States Military Academy, June 9th, 1893.
Abner Doubleday was born at Ballston Spa, N. Y., June 26, 1819. He entered West Point September 1, 1838, being at that time a resident of Auburn, N. Y. His father, Ulysses F. Doubleday, was born in Otsego County, N. Y. in 1794; was a printer by trade; established a newspaper at Ballston, and another at Auburn which he published twenty years; was a member of the 22d Congress of the U. S. from 1831 to 1833, and was again elected to the 24th Congress, 1835‑37. Subsequently he removed to New York city where he engaged in the book trade. He died at Belvidere, Ill, March 11, 1866.
His son Abner, the subject of this sketch, had the advantages only of a public or private school education prior to his appointment as cadet. At West Point he was correct in his deportment, social and communicative with his companions, unobtrusive in p89 conversation, yet freely taking his part therein, and quite entertaining. He enjoyed a good anecdote and had some of his own to tell. He was rather averse to out‑door sports and retiring in his manner. He was a diligent and thoughtful student, something of a critic, and fond of questions in moral philosophy. He was free from the use of tobacco, from profane words, or any vicious habit. It is not remembered that he was ever suspected of going to "Benny's," or visiting the "pirate" after taps, or doing anything that deserved extra hours of Saturday afternoon guard duty. In truth he was careful as to his demerit roll, for his first year showed only 24 against him, a small number. There is no recollection that he "scrubbed" for a corporalcy, yet presumably he did, as most all good plebes do.
Upon graduation in June, Doubleday was appointed, July 1, 1842, Breveted Second Lieutenant of the Third Artillery. His first post was Fort Johnston, N. C. He had a tedious brevetcy. It was not until February 24, 1845, that he was appointed Second Lieutenant to fill a vacancy in the First U. S. Artillery. The war with Mexico soon broke out. Thenceforward promotions, though slow, as compared with later years, became more rapid. He was in that war from 1846 to 1848, engaged at the battle of Monterey, and in operations connected with Buena Vista. He was appointed March 3, 1847, First Lieutenant of the First U. S. Artillery; March 3, 1855, Captain; and May 14, 1861, transferred to the Seventeenth U. S. Infantry by appointment as Major; and September 20, 1863, Lieutenant Colonel. He was brevetted Lieutenant Colonel for his gallantry at Antietam; Colonel for his services at Gettysburg, and was commissioned September 15, 1867, Colonel of the Thirty-fifth U. S. Infantry. In the reorganization of the army in 1869 he was unassigned, but, later, assigned as Colonel of the Twenty-fourth U. S. Infantry, which position he held till the close of his thirty years continuous service, when, on failing health, he was retired, at his own request, December 11, 1873.
He received March 13, 1865, the brevets of Brigadier General and Major General, U. S. Army, for gallant and meritorious services during the Rebellion.
p90 In the volunteer service of the late Civil War, he was appointed, February 3, 1862, Brigadier General, and November 29, 1862, Major General.
The condensed epitome of his serves as given in "Cullum" serves merely as an index to the volume of his life, and but suggests the arduous marches and duties performed. Yet it is not the intention here to amplify it, except in a few leading points to which the attention of the country has, heretofore, been more or less directed.
In 1852, Doubleday, being then a Captain, and having a knowledge of the Spanish language, was appointed one of a committee to go to Mexico and examine into the claims of George A. Gardiner and one Mears. Gardiner had been allowed $428,750, and Mears $153,125 damages, as citizens of the United States, for the destruction of their mines in Mexico by reason of the war. It was alleged to Congress, after the allowance of these claims, that they were fraudulent. In the U. S. Senate the subject was referred to a committee, of which Senator Soule was chairman. That committee recommended, and the Senate approved, the appointment of a committee of five, two of which to be designated by the President, one from the Army and one from the Navy, to proceed to Mexico and to take the testimony and report. This committee, of which Doubleday was a member, met in New Orleans, October 25, 1852, proceeded to Mexico, kept a daily journal of their proceedings, took much evidence, all converging to one point, and returned to Washington January 14, 1853. They reported, as a result of their investigation, that Gardiner was not a citizen of the United States; that his claim, for silver mines destroyed, was wholly fictitious, fraudulent and sustained by forged evidence; and that Mear'sº claim, engineered by Gardiner, for the loss of a quicksilver mine, was of the same character. The Senate committee approved the report, and action upon it was taken leading to the prosecution of Gardiner.
The bombardment of Fort Sumter by the Confederates under their General Beauregard, April 12 and 13, 1861, marks the most conspicuous date in Doubleday's history, bringing his p91 name prominently and permanently before the country. He was then Captain of Artillery. The beleaguered garrison at Fort Moultrie, under Major Robert Anderson, had held the indefensible works until it became manifest from the operations of the secessionists, and the growing excitement of the people, that it was in danger of being sacrificed in a disgraceful struggle with an infuriated mob. Major Anderson, without orders from the Government, made a coup-de‑main in abandoning Moultrie, December 26, 1860. The rapidity and secrecy of the movement, requiring great caution and expedition, surprised and greatly chagrined the extreme secessionists who awoke on the morning of the 27th to see the old flag flying over Sumter. The better class of Charleston people could not but applaud the sagacity of Anderson. South Carolina seceded from the Union. Her sister states soon joined her, forming the Confederacy. The right of a State to secede was, possibly, then unsettled. The covenants of the Constitution made no provision for separation, in fact, prohibited the alliance of states. Secession was therefore revolution. The right of revolution is an extreme one, and cannot be defined. The ultima ratio regum must decide every case as it arises, and the justice of it must be determined by the enlightened opinion of mankind. The time had come, long dreaded by the wisest statesmen. The extremists on both sides had fanned the flame until it burst forth in the awful violence of a fratricidal war. The Kansas difficulties, John Brown's raid, and the advocacy by the "Charleston Mercury" of the re‑opening of the slave trade, portended trouble. The time had passed for a peaceful solution of the slave question, and it was submitted to the arbitrament of war.
On the morning of April 12, 1861, — memorable day — at 4:30 o'clock the first gun from the hostile rebel battery opened its fire on Sumter. Darkness enshrouded the scene, lit up only by the incessant flashes from thirty guns and seventeen mortars, which the Confederates had planted on Morris, James, and Sullivan islands. After the sun had arisen, at half past seven o'clock, the guns of Fort Sumter, manned by three reliefs, into which the p92 small force was divided, began to reply, "the first shot being fired from the battery at the right gorge angle in charge of Captain Doubleday," who himself directed its aim. From that time, until the afternoon of the 13th, the force was under a continuous fire from the hostile batteries; and, at last, with officers' quarters consumed by a suffocating conflagration from the hot shot of the enemy, ammunition and resources exhausted, and the contest entirely hopeless, it capitulated, the garrison being allowed by the courteous Beauregard, in consideration of its heroic defense, to retire with the honors of war. The worn out officers, including Doubleday, returned immediately to New York city where they were enthusiastically welcomed, and a medal in their honor presented to them by the Chamber of Commerce. Doubleday, with his fellow officers who survived, and many distinguished citizens, returned to Fort Sumter April 14, 1865, to raise again the stars and stripes over the fortune amidst the rejoicings of a nation of freemen.
This one episode in Doubleday's life would have been sufficient honor for him and his comrades at Fort Sumter, and highly as they may have been subsequently distinguished, their chief place in the affections of their countrymen rests upon the recollection of that first and awful bombardment which they so heroically endured. It was scarcely exceeded by any of the war, and coming as it did, like a clap of thunder from a clear sky, made an impression, never to be effaced from the memory of those who lived in the dark days of '61.
Beauregard, the Confederate general, was one of the most earnest and extreme of the secessionists. His success at Sumter was the cause of great rejoicings at Montgomery, the capital of the Confederacy. Mr. President Davis, it was reported, took part in the jubilation, and, in making a speech to the crowd, said facetiously,
"With mortar, paixhan, and petard,
We tender old Abe our beau regard."
President Abraham Lincoln, though not scorning a witticism in private converse, was remarkably serious in his public p93 utterances. He accepted Mr. Davis's tender by a call for seventy-five thousand volunteers, to which summons the chivalry of the Union leaped like a greyhound, and the world knows the result.
It is a coincidence which cannot escape notice, that Doubleday and Beauregard, both so prominent in this first act of the drama, and both members of the Association of Graduates, have within the same academic year crossed
"that unknown river,
Life's dreary bound."
Soon after Sumter, Doubleday took part in the operations of the Army of the Potomac. Without commenting upon Groveton, Second Bull Run, South Mountain, Antietam, in the last of which he commanded Hatch's division, and gallantly held the right of the line, and passing over Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville, in both of which he participated, the battle of Gettysburg requires particular mention. The first day's fight was an important epoch in Doubleday's life. In temporary command of the First Corps he believed he had dearly earned promotion, and at the close of the day was surprised by an order of General Meade which assigned Newton to the permanent command of the Corps. He could not but be mortified at the order. Dwelling upon the injustice of it doubtless affected his spirits. It may have, insensibly, warped his judgment as to the motives of General Meade, and shaped his adverse criticisms as to the conduct and abilities of that justly eminent commander.
The history of the battle of Gettysburg has been well written by able authors, but possibly sufficient honor has not been given to the brave troops who fought on the first day. It is plain from the orders and dispatches of Meade, and from the orders of Lee to Imboden on the morning of the first of July, 1863, that neither of the commanders of the hostile armies contemplated a general engagement so soon. They both knew it was imminent. Both generals had made their dispositions to cover and keep open their lines of communication and retreat, Lee the most thoroughly perhaps, he having had more time to consider the emergency. Meade had wisely selected his battlefield, and Lee undoubtedly p94 expected to be compelled to meet him near the base of the South Mountain. Reynolds, in command of the left wing of the Union Army, had been thrown forward to Gettysburg. The cavalry division of John Buford was in advance, and occupied the town on the 30th of June. The same day Pettigrew, of the Confederates, with his brigade, was pushed forward Cashtown by Heth to get shoes for his men. He was met by Buford's cavalry, and supposing an infantry force to be behind it, returned to Cashtown that evening without a contest. On the morning of July 1 Heth, himself, with his whole division, returned and pushed forward Davis's and Archer's brigades. Buford resisted the advance until Reynolds, who had passed the night at Marsh Creek, •five miles away, came rapidly forward with the First Corps. Reynolds himself first appeared a few minutes before 10 A.M., and at once, as was his custom, pushed to the front with Buford. The Confederate brigades were then upon him. To replace the cavalry and form his line of battle he had not a moment to lose, nor any time to consider. With the utmost rapidity he directed the formation, and as the first division of his old corps came on the ground and deployed forward into line, a bullet from a Confederate sharp shooter at 10:15 A.M., pierced his head, and the great gallant leader was hushed in death. Doubleday was at this moment, as commander of the First Corps, engaged in forming his divisions in the proper order for battle. The attack of the Confederates was so sudden and warm that the regiments partially lined, at first gave way, and naturally, at the loss of Reynolds, who was in front of them, were thrown into some confusion. When Doubleday saw it he made the necessary dispositions to check the retreat and recover the lost ground. The regiments then on the ground soon reformed, behaved nobly, checked the Confederate advance, drove it back, capturing portions of Archer's and Davis's brigades. There was a lull in the battle. Heth, the Confederate chief of division, reported to Hill, the corps General, and to Lee, who by this time had come from Cashtown. Lee, at first objected to continuing the engagement, but upon Heth mentioning to him that Rodes had become engaged, as he heard p95 his guns on the left, and that the Federals would concentrate upon him, Lee consented that the fight should go on. Then Heth, with his whole division, supported by Pender's, moved forward again in terrible earnest. Within half an hour after his lines were formed and moved forward he lost, as he informed the writer, 2,000 to 2,300 men. He and all his brigade commanders were either wounded or killed. Rodes on the north, with his division from Middletown, supported by Early coming in from Heidleberg on the east with his division, and only resisted on the right of the Union line by a portion of the Eleventh Corps, which was disconnected from the First, there being a wide gap between them, Doubleday's Corps, the First, was, at 3:30 P.M. compelled, by the overwhelming force, to retreat to Cemetery Hill, which it did in good order. The part of the Eleventh Corps, isolated as it had been, was easily overpowered and gave way in much confusion. Part of the First Corps, especially of Morrow's brigade, maintained, under Doubleday's eye, its ground near the Seminary until the last moment, when nearly surrounded.
In the first day's fight at Gettysburg there were many heroes whose courage was never excelled, but the battle cannot be mentioned without a special heartfelt tribute to Reynolds who foremost fell, and to Buford who so long and stubbornly stemmed the Confederate tide, and so gloriously covered the Federal retreat.
The battle of the first day was a great blow to Lee's Army. It secured the position of Cemetery Hill for the Federal Army, and compelled the continuance of the battle there, holding, as it were, the two Armies in a vise until the contest closed.
When Howard, in command of the Eleventh Corps, arrived on the scene, having marched from Emmitsburg, he, by virtue of his rank, was entitled to the command of the field. In his dispatch to Meade of 9 P.M. in which he complained bitterly of being superseded by Hancock and Slocum, he asserted that he had fought the two corps engaged from about 11 A.M. till 4 P.M. But it is possible his chief attention was given to the divisions of the Eleventh Corps, one of which was held in reserve at Cemetery p96 Hill, for Buford, at 3:30 P.M., when the battle raged hottest against Doubleday's Corps, reported to Pleasontonº that help was then needed and that there appeared to be no directing head. About that time the "superb" Hancock arrived at Cemetery Hill with orders from Meade to take charge. Howard, somewhat nonplused, told him Doubleday had fallen back, and Hancock, without taking thought or making further inquiry, noticed it in his dispatch to Meade. That general, giving more weight to the expression than at another time it would have received, assigned the command of the First Corps to Newton. It was too late to remedy the injustice done to Doubleday. There appears to be a weak spot in the character of every man. The bravest soldiers are not exempt from this failing of nature. It seems as if Howard's weakness was shown in the slur put upon Doubleday. With the sensitiveness of a brave officer, who had borne the heat and burthen of the day, Doubleday felt keenly the wrong done him when the command of the First Corps was taken from him, and given to one who, however worthy, bore a junior commission.
There has been some question made as to the relative importance of the first day's fight at Gettysburg. The publication of the Confederate as well as the Federal reports and correspondence in the volumes of the "War of the Rebellion" records furnishes all the data perhaps required by the careful student, who diligently sifts them, for a truthful compilation. Some who participated in the second and third day's battles have noticed lightly, if not slightingly, the first day's operations. General Humphreys, in his oration in memory of Meade at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia, said that "all knew that the second day's fight was the bloodiest struggle." General Sickles, in his evidence before the Committee on the Conduct of the War, said, "We in the Army do not regard the operations of the two corps under General Reynolds as properly the battle of Gettysburg. We regard the operations of Thursday and Friday, when the whole Army was concentrated, as the battle of Gettysburg."
These opinions take color from the fact that neither Humphreys nor Sickles was in the first day's fight.
p97 The three days' battle of Gettysburg was a connected one. It must be regarded as one complete whole. It is folly to separate the days. But if supremacy must be given to one day over another it may reasonably be contended that the first day excelled in strategy, tactics, and hard, continuous fighting. Buford, at twenty minutes past three on the first of July, said that a tremendous battle had been "raging since 9:30 A.M. with varying success." Newton, who succeeded Doubleday in the command of the First Corps, designated the first day's fight in which Doubleday commanded, as a "bloody and important battle."
What the Union division and brigade commanders of the First Corps thought of it may be gathered from Wadsworth's, Morrow's, and other reports. The latter, fighting the first brigade in Wadsworth's division, reported that out of 496 men who went in, 79 were killed and 237 wounded, and from McPherson's woods, where Reynolds fell, to the barricade at Seminary the field was strewn with the dead and wounded.
It is well to notice how the Confederate generals characterized the first day's fight. Lee, in his report, when giving the reasons why he did not follow up the attack of the first day, said, the "strong position the enemy had assumed could not be attacked without the danger of exposing the four divisions present, already weakened by a long and bloody struggle, to overwhelming numbers of fresh troops."
And General Longstreet, in his report of the battle of the third of July, referring to Pickett's assault, said, "the distance to be passed over under fire of the enemy's batteries, and in plain view, seemed to be too great to insure great results, particularly as two‑thirds of the troops to be engaged had been in a severe battle two days previous, Picketts division alone being fresh."
In the battle of the first day the troops of Confederates engaged actively and hotly were four divisions with the full complement of Cavalry and Artillery, being nearly one‑half of the Army of Northern Virginia. And the operations were under the eye of Lee, the commander of that Army, and Hill and Ewell, corps generals. The Federal Army, on the other hand, had but p98 one‑third of its force, even if we count the Eleventh Corps — one division of which certainly was not engaged — and had the misfortune to lose at the beginning of the day its leading commander, and afterwards suffered a change of commanders on the field without an efficient general direction. Considering this, and the length of the contest, it may not be invidious to regard it as the most important day of the battle. It is true that the battle of the second day, while it lasted, from 4:30 to 7 o'clock, was terrific, although much of the Federal loss was occasioned by the faulty alignment of the Third Corps; and the battle of the third day, leaving out the immense bombardment of Artillery, which occasioned but little loss of life, occupied a much shorter time.
General Doubleday took part also in the second day's fight and was present on the third. His services did not end with Gettysburg, yet, practically, his conspicuous work was done.
After the war he paid some attention, in his leisure moments, to literature, writing his "Reminiscences of Forts Moultrie and Sumter," published by the Harpers, and subsequently his observations on "Chancellorsville and Gettysburg," being volume six of the Scribner series. He also published a pamphlet — "Gettysburg made plain, a brief account of the three days battle, with diagram, and 29 maps."
General Doubleday was married to Mary Hewitt. Her father was Robert Hewitt, a lawyer of Baltimore. Her mother died when the daughter was eight months old. Mary and her father then resided with her grandmother, Mrs. Francis Hopkinson, whose husband was the son of Francis Hopkinson, one of the signers of the Declaration of Independence. One of the brothers of the latter was the author of "Hail Columbia," and another, the chaplain who offered the first prayer in the First Congress.
After her grandmother's decease Miss Hewitt's home was with Colonel Charles R. Broom of the Marine Corps, whose wife was her aunt. He was then in command of the Marine Barracks at Washington, D. C. It was while she was with her aunt that she became acquainted with Captain Doubleday, and she was p99 married to him in 1852. Thenceforward she followed his fortunes with a heroic spirit worthy of her ancestors, and clung to him with devoted affection until his decease. She preferred to be with him wherever his duties led, and she had at Sumter and Moultrie a trying experience. At the abandonment of the latter she paced the beach, watching, most of the weary night. At different posts where her husband was stationed they passed through three epidemics, two of yellow fever and one of cholera. In Texas suffering many discomforts; in Florida, accompanying her husband rather than be separated from him for a year, from Fort Dallas to Fort Capron, where his men had to cut a road through, occupying eleven days, being a most weary journey. Every chance she got during the war she visited him; at South Mountain, Fredericksburg, and spent three weeks at the edge of Antietam battlefield, riding there from Harper's Ferry, sitting on the bottom of a mail wagon, being the only woman within many miles.
When she and the wives of the other officers returned from Charleston in 1861, she stayed at Willard's Hotel in Washington nearly three years. During that time she saw much of the leading Government officials. She was often at the White House and drove frequently with Mrs. Lincoln and the President. Though having the opportunity neither she nor her husband ever asked a favor, yet she believed the General never had justice done him in comparison with many others. The above incidents are gathered from her recollections, which cannot but be interesting. From her kind and mournful letters some particulars as to the character and closing scenes of the life of General Doubleday may be noted.
"In his retirement at Mendham he found pleasure in his studies. He was always a student, and although for years he had threatening symptoms of heart trouble, which finally closed his career, yet he bravely and serenely pursued his course. His mind was perfectly clear up to an hour before he died. The week previous he read two French books and was so engaged even the day before. During his sickness he was studying Sanskrit. The p100 night before he died he played his chess, trying and making problems of which he was very fond.
"Everyone who approached him during his sickness remarked upon his patience and gentle, uncomplaining spirit, though at times suffering acute pain. He was a man of iron nerve and determined will, but gentle, kind, and very considerate of others always. He could not be called delicate in build or health, and had but little sickness through his life. Of course the war told on him as he grew older, for the responsibility of the lives of thousands under him would leave some marks. He always spoke affectionately of his classmates."
Mrs. Doubleday, as all her family had been, is a member of the Episcopal Church. The General was not in communion with it yet he was of a reverent spirit and devout in his meditations. As a proof of it two passages may be cited in which the same idea occurs. In his criticism on Chancellorsville he said: "All that remained for Sedgwick to do was to keep straight on the plank road toward Chancellorsville. Had he done so at once he would have anticipated the enemy in taking possession of the strong position of Salem Church and perhaps have captured Wilcox' and Hays' brigades. But it was not intended by Providence that we should win this battle, which had been commenced by a boasting proclamation of what was to be accomplished; and obstacles were constantly occurring of the most unexpected character."
And in mentioning Pickett's charge at Gettysburg and a mistake or misunderstanding by which supports failed him, he added: "It was not intended by Providence that the northern states should pass under the iron rule of the slave power, and on this occasion every plan made by Lee was thwarted in the most unexpected manner."
For which it may be inferred that the Doubleday did not believe in the apothegm that Providence is on the side of the heaviest artillery.
Bryant, in his Thanatopsis, must have had in contemplation such a life as Doubleday's.
p101 "So live that when thy summons comes to join
The innumerable caravan which moves
To that mysterious realm, where each shall take
His chamber in the silent halls of death,
*** sustained and soothed
By an unfaltering trust, approach thy grave
Like one who wraps the drapery of his couch
About him and lies down to pleasant dreams."
His funeral services were held in the Episcopal Church at Mendham, and thence the casket containing his body, covered by the old flag of Moultrie, was escorted to be buried at Washington, D. C. On passing through New York it lay in state in the City Hall on the 30th of January, for a few hours, when it was viewed orderly and reverently by thousands, many of whom were old soldiers who had served under the general. On the 31st, at Washington, it was followed by a long line of carriages containing Mrs. Doubleday and the funeral party, with distinguished officers and comrades as pall bearers, and was deposited, with a salute of musketry and parting bugle call, in the beautiful cemetery of Arlington.
Many were the tributes paid in the press of the day to the worth of the deceased. His bereaved widow received the condolences of hundreds of his friends. From the numerous eulogies and estimates of his character, a brief one may be cited from an able article written by Judge Slagle (who had been a judge advocate on Doubleday's staff), for the "Pittsburg Dispatch" of February 12, 1893: "Socially he was quiet and reserved, dignified but always kind and considerate, exemplary in all his habits, temperate and refined. He never drank or used profane language. At all times and in every respect a model gentleman, accomplished soldier, and unassuming patriot."
Images with borders lead to more information.
The thicker the border, the more information. (Details here.)
History of West Point
A page or image on this site is in the public domain ONLY
if its URL has a total of one *asterisk.
If the URL has two **asterisks,
the item is copyright someone else, and used by permission or fair use.
If the URL has none the item is © Bill Thayer.
See my copyright page for details and contact information.
Page updated: 13 Nov 13