There seems to be an awful lot of uncertainty and misinformation surrounding the Captain. The thing he is most remembered for is something he probably had nothing to do with. The big thing he unquestionably is responsible for is something few people remember. That’s just the way history works sometimes.
The big event for which history should remember him took place on April 12, 1861. History buffs will recognize that date as the beginning of the U.S. Civil War. It started that day when Confederate forces fired upon Fort Sumter.
Despite the magnitude of the event, no one remembers who fired that first shot. It seems rather incredible that this is the case, considering how that first shot ushered in the four bloodiest years in American history, resulting in the deaths of more than 620,000 soldiers.
Regardless of the uncertainty about who fired the first shot of the war, there is no question about who was responsible for the first Union response. The Captain was serving as second-in-command at Fort Sumter when the opening salvo hit. He immediately returned fire, aiming a cannon at the attacking Confederate soldiers. For this action, he referred to himself as the “Hero of Fort Sumter” for the rest of his life.
It was two years later at the Battle of Gettysburg where he performed what many historians consider his finest service. By now a major general, he led 9,500 Union soldiers against more than 16,000 Confederate troops, motivating his men to fight bravely and effectively.
Thus far, what has been said about the one-time captain who began the Union’s Civil War response is documented and verifiable. Strangely, when people hear his name, they rarely recall his military heroics. Rather than recall his actions on the field of battle, they remember something he probably didn’t do in a cow pasture.
The cow pasture in question belonged to Elihu Phinney, and it was located just outside Cooperstown, New York. In 1905, a commission came to the conclusion that it was there in 1839, that the hero of our story invented something that has been indelibly linked with his name — even though nearly every historian now agrees that it just didn’t happen.
It is impossible to know what the self-described “Hero of Fort Sumter” would say about the way history remembers him. His heroism and military competence are surely worth recognition, but the thing for which he is (wrongly) remembered is so much more pleasant.
The man in question, who was the first man in the Union Army to go to bat for the United States was Captain Abner Doubleday. If you visit Cooperstown, New York today, you will certainly hear all about his doubtful distinction as the creator of America’s national pastime: baseball.