Abner Doubleday

Abner Doubleday

Esteemed member DPowell334@aol.com contributes:

In a message dated 96-11-27 11:16:32 EST, you write:

<< my opinion of Doubleday was obviously not shared by the Unin high command as reynolds career basically came to an abrupt halt after July 1. I beleive that Howard was the most critical and he based his asessment mailnly on how the situation looked upon his arrival (troops fleeing in disaray through town.)

My question is why was he blamed? Was he made the scapegoat? Did he overeact when crticicized for his performance? Curious minds want to know.

Essentially, Meade replaced him because he wasn't that familiar with Doubleday, and because there were fears that he was too slow - his old army nickname was "old 48 hours," hardly a ringing endorsement for celerity...

Meade was more familiar with Newton, and trusted his judgement.

I've long thought Doubleday got the shaft. Nothing is harder to get credit for than a good proformance in a losing battle, and I think that this is exactly what happened to Abner. Remember that Meade had no time to ponder and analyse each action of each commander - he arrived on the field in the middle of the night, and had to make snap judgements without all the facts. I can't really blame him for wanting known quantities in critical commands, but I think that Doubleday, in retrospect, did not need replacing. To be fair, however, not much else that Doubleday had done in the First Corps up to that time (with almost a year of time logged as a division commander) was that noteworthy.

Certainly it effected the man's career. He spent the rest of his career in DC, doing admin duties. he also did quite a bit of writing after the war in defense of his actions - with, I think, some overreaction to the slight. He was fairly critical of Howard in postwar writings, but also might have tried to assume some of the credit that fell to John Reynolds, which did not sit well with veterans.

Dave Powell

Doubleday never forgave Meade, and became part of the group of which Sickles and Butterfield were also a part, who helped to get Meade hauled before the infamous Committee on the Conduct of the War. One of the central issues was the accusation that Meade had wanted to abandon the field -- with Butterfield's notes on the late night council of war as part of the ammunition. Artillery Col. Charles S. Wainwright had a rather amusing comment on this in his diary on March 6, 1864:

"The New York Times says that General Meade has been summoned to Washington to answer charges brought against him before the Committee on the Conduct of the War about Gettysburg, by Sickles and Doubleday. A pretty team! -- Rascality and Stupidity. I wonder which hatches the most monstrous chicken."

Brian Pohanka

In a message dated 96-11-27 18:10:44 EST, you write:

<< It's always dangerous for me to ask questions out of complete ignorance, but could Doubleday's removal be associated with any relationship with Hooker? Offhand, I don't remember Doubleday's relationship with Hooker (if any), but Meade did clean house after the battle, getting rid of Butterfield and others.

Any politics involved?

--David G. Smith

Esteemed member DPowell334@aol.com contributes:

To my knowledge, Doubleday was not a crony of Hooker's and his relief was not part of the political "clean sweep."

Likely the immediate relief of Doubleday was predicated on the difficulty Hancock had with him on July 1st. Hancock asked DD to send troops to occupy Culps Hill, and DD demurred. Honcock then pulled out Meade's orders, and _loudly_ reiteratied his instructions, informing DD that it was an order, nota suggestion. Doubleday complied - he sent Wadsworth's division up the hill - but I suspect that Hancock's report to Meade that night had a lot to do with the transfer of Newton to command. Newton, btw, remained in command that fall, essentially becoming a permanent corps commander.

Brian P.- I hadn't read Wainright's Quote before - great stuff!

Esteemed member cstowe@uoft02.utoledo.edu contributes:


Some thoughts on Abner Doubleday and his reputation within the Army of the Potomac. I believe it was Brian Pohanka who posted Colonel Charles Wainwright's pointed referral to Dan Sickles and Doubleday as "Rascality and Stupidity", respectively. This pretty much summarizes AOP sentiment toward Doubleday -- many officers doubted the New Yorker's intelligence. Little wonder, then, that Meade replaced Doubleday after the end of the first day's fight, especially since Howard had spoken so poorly of Doubleday's performance.(See _O.R._ 27:Pt.1,366, for Hancock's note to Meade which divulged Howard's sentiments).

But there's more. Meade himself, upon his ascension to corps command in Dec. 1862, noted that Doubleday was to succeed him as leader of the Pa. Reserves. Meade, dripping with sarcasm, called this move fortunate, "for now [the men] will think a great deal more of me than before."(Meade, ed., _Life and Letters_, 1: 349). I gather that the "Old Snapping Turtle" held Doubleday in rather low esteem, no?

Also worth a look are Lieutnant Frank Haskell's letters. Gibbon's aide also portrays Doubleday as slothful and lacking brains. See Byrne and Weaver, eds., _Haskell of Gettysburg_, 39-40, 165. In addition to the above quote, Wainwright has more criticism for his fellow New Yorker in Nevins, ed., _Diary of Battle_, 107, 148, 233.

I agree with those who suggest that John Newton was not really any improvement over Doubleday as a general, and that Abner did a fine job west of Gettysburg on 1 July. But, as you all are aware, perception is often more important than reality, and it looks as if Meade and others distrusted Doubleday's ability. A look at Hancock's note probably was enough for Meade to make his move to replace the man. Of course, Doubleday took great pains to defend himself after the battle -- in his fanciful report, his slanted testimony in front of the Committee on the Conduct of the War, and in his anti-Howard and Meade _Chancellorsvile and Gettysburg_. He clearly had an ax to grind, and went a bit overboard in both defending himself and in implicating Howard/Meade.

I think it is fair to say that, after the Joint Committee episode in Feb.- April 1864, Doubleday was firmly in the Sickles, Butterfield, Howe, Pleasonton, et al camp. Yes, he was unjustly relieved as First Corps Commander; he was equally unjust in his condemnation of Howard and, most especially, George Meade.

Chris Stowe