By JIM KEVLIN : COOPERSTOWN
Asked if Cooperstown’s fate is linked to that of Abner Doubleday, Village Historian Hugh MacDougall says, “entirely.”
But it’s not how you may think.
If not for the prestige of THE Abner Doubleday, the Civil War general, the Mills Commission probably would not have decided the National Pastime was invented in a pasture where Doubleday Field is today.
But we’re getting ahead of the story, which began 150 years ago next Tuesday, April 12, when Doubleday gained immortality for firing the first Union shot of the Civil War, from Fort Sumter toward the emplacements that bristled around Charleston Harbor.
According to MacDougall, Doubleday had been stationed at Fort Moultrie, up the coast, but it was abandoned and its troops moved to Sumter after South Carolina seceded from the Union in December 1860.
At 4:30 a.m. on that April 12, rebel artillery opened fire on Sumter. The Union troops took cover in the basement of the unfinished fort, but at 9:30 a.m., the commander, Maj. Robert Anderson, directed his second-in-command, Captain Doubleday, to return fire.
Later that day, realizing their position was hopeless, the Union troops surrendered, and Doubleday went on to fight in numerous Civil War engagements, rising to the rank of brevet major general.
Fast-forward to 1905 and the Mills Commission, appointed by Albert Spalding, the former pitcher and sports-goods entrepreneur to prove baseball’s American roots.
Out of nowhere, a letter arrived from an Abner Graves in Denver, who claimed that Abner Doubleday, in 1839, had laid out the basic rules for what became baseball.
Spalding was thrilled. And General Doubleday’s burnished reputation made the story irresistible. If there had been no Doubleday, Spalding would have had to invent him.