The Abner Doubleday Myth and the Alexander Cartwright Reality

An 1839 Alexander Cartwright signed book, the earliest-known Cartwright autograph, realized $10,157.50 at a February 2015 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

The baseball Hall of Fame officially opened on June 12, 1939, in Cooperstown, N.Y. The Cooperstown name was drawn from James Fenimore Cooper, whose works of literature have become American classics in every sense of the word.

The inaugural HOF class was selected three years earlier in 1936 and consisted of Ty Cobb, Walter Johnson, Christy Mathewson, Babe Ruth and Honus Wagner. (Seven Cobb baseball cards were discovered this year in an old paper bag in rural Georgia after someone’s great-grandfather died. Experts at PSA estimate their value at “well into seven figures.”)

Now we know for sure that Abner Doubleday was a fine Civil War general and is credited with firing the first shot at the Confederates from Fort Sumter. However, his military record was tarnished when General George Meade replaced him at the Battle of Gettysburg. It was unfair, but Meade had been disdainful of Doubleday for a long time.

We also know that Doubleday obtained a patent on the little cable cars that “climb halfway to the stars,” as the venerable Tony Bennett sings about in his theme song “I Left My Heart in San Francisco.” A wise man once told me … never live in San Francisco, but never live too far from it.

Now back to Doubleday, where the facts start to get iffy.

Abner Doubleday was credited with inventing baseball by a commission sponsored by A.G. Spalding, co-founder of the sports equipment company, in an effort to dispel rumors that the All-American game had a British pedigree. Spalding organized the Mills Commission to authenticate baseball as an American invention and it concluded, conveniently, the concept was devised by Doubleday.

Subsequently, the Mills report has been thoroughly discredited and a New York bank clerk, Alexander Cartwright, gets the honor … in addition to starting the Knickerbocker Base Ball Club, designing the diamond shape and even sewing the first baseball. Some of the rules he created are still in use.

For those who love baseball as I do, Harold Peterson’s The Man Who Invented Baseball (1973) is a treasure and highly recommended.

Abner Doubleday had a terrific life, but it did not include baseball.

Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].

Gettysburg Symbolizes Horror of War, Quest for Equality and Freedom

This 1936 50-cent coin (MS68 PCGS), commemorating the 75th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, sold for $48,875 at a May 2007 Heritage auction.

By Jim O’Neal

People who read about American history are aware of the Battle of Gettysburg and President Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address. They are less familiar with the details of these famous events.

In early May of 1863, the Battle of Chancellorsville in Virginia pitted an outnumbered Robert E. Lee against “Fighting Joe” Hooker, whose Army of the Potomac was twice the size of Lee’s army. However, the Confederate general won the battle by outmaneuvering Hooker, which resulted in Lincoln replacing him.

Chancellorsville was also where General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson (Lee’s right arm) was killed.

Buoyed by success, General Lee then turned north into Pennsylvania with plans to capture Harrisburg and then surround Washington, D.C. This would change the entire war. However, on July 1, 1863, the Union Army – now under General George Meade – blocked Lee at the crossroad town of Gettysburg. This is where the famous battle occurred.

The fighting raged over three days and was highlighted by southern General George Pickett’s famous charge on July 3 where his division suffered staggering casualties and forced Lee’s entire army to retreat. “Pickett’s Charge” became known as the “high water mark” of the Confederacy as the South slowly spiraled downward over the next two long years.

When General Meade finally moved south after Lee’s retreat, he advised Lincoln, “I cannot delay to pick up the debris on the battlefield.”

And quite a battlefield horror it was.

Eight thousand bodies and the corpses of 3,000 horses still lay unburied across the ridges and farmland of Gettysburg. Burial resources were scarce and the most they could do was lightly cover the bodies with dirt. The horses were burned in great piles south of the town.

Soon, relatives of Union soldiers began to scavenge through the shallow graves looking for loved ones. Arms, legs and even heads were left protruding and the horror was magnified when crows, pigs and flies descended looking for food.

Something had to be done and the job fell to William Saunders, a cemetery landscape architect. Then came the task of digging up the dead, identification and reburial.

Saunders shaped the Soldiers’ National Cemetery at Gettysburg (now called Gettysburg National Cemetery) and it was here on Nov. 19, 1863, that President Lincoln uttered the 272 words that became so well known.

The main speaker for the event was Harvard President Edward Everett, who droned on for two hours before Lincoln in a 13,000-word speech. The next day, Everett wrote to Lincoln: “I should be glad, if I could flatter myself, that I came as near to the central idea of the occasion, as you did in two minutes.”


Intelligent Collector blogger JIM O’NEAL is an avid collector and history buff. He is President and CEO of Frito-Lay International [retired] and earlier served as Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo Restaurants International [KFC Pizza Hut and Taco Bell].