The Connection Between Abner Doubleday, West Point and America's Pastime

By TLDG, Monday, April 03, 2017

Did Abner Doubleday invent the game of baseball? He did not, although there is a connection between Abner Doubleday, West Point, the Army, and America’s Pastime. TLDG Faculty Member and, informally, resident baseball historian, Colonel (retired) Pilar McDermott likes to set the story straight on her Duty, Honor, Country Staff Ride at West Point. The Staff Ride goes past Doubleday Field, the home of Army baseball. It is named after the 1842 graduate of the United States Military Academy. 

Doubleday had a long, decorated Army career. After graduation from West Point, he served for 31 years, and had a part in some of the most important events of the American Civil War, including at Fort Sumter and the Battle of Gettysburg. Doubleday, a captain at the time, fired the first Union shot of the Civil War at Fort Sumpter in April 1861. He served as a Major General of U.S. Volunteers in the Army of the Potomac, commanding a division at Gettysburg in July 1863. He displayed gallantry and leadership in holding the Union line against the superior numbers of the Army of Northern Virginia. He retired as a Lieutenant Colonel in the Regular Army in 1873.

Doubleday attended prep school in Cooperstown, New York, home of the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum. The “Doubleday Myth,” as it is known by historians, has him inventing baseball in Elihu’s Phinney’s cow pasture in 1839; at the time, Doubleday was decisively engaged in his plebe year at West Point. The modern game of baseball is derived from several games, including England’s games of Rounders and Cricket. 

While Doubleday’s only historically-supported connection with baseball is his requisition of balls and bats for troop recreation when he commanded the African-American 24th Infantry Regiment in Texas in 1871, he may have had a much earlier role in organizing baseball leagues among soldiers, who then spread the game after their service.  Some historians think that it is possible that he brought the New York Rules of baseball, formulated in the 1840s, to his postings during the Mexican-American War in 1846-1848. There are Civil War photos from Fort Pulaski in Georgia that show soldiers engaged in a game that looks like baseball.  Whatever the level of Doubleday’s personal influence, baseball had an important role in unifying and healing the United States of America after the devastation of war.