151 years ago saw the early days of the Civil War lapping upon our doorsteps here in Washington County, Maryland. Again, this is material I would have wished to post a year ago … still playing catch-up. And of course this is also the product of my Doubleday research …
On June 1st of 1861, the Sumter garrison was ordered to join General Robert Patterson’s column at Chambersburg, Pennsylvania. Patterson was a 69-year-old veteran of the War of 1812 as well as the Mexican War, and an influential personage in Pennsylvania politics. The owner of numerous cotton mills, Patterson rejoined the Army with the outbreak of the Civil War (though he may have been wiser to stay in business). The New Jersey Central Railroad carried Doubleday’s troops through Easton and Harrisburg, and on to Chambersburg by the 4th, where he reported to Colonel George H. Thomas. This arrangement was very agreeable to Doubleday, as he knew Thomas well from his earlier years in the 3rd U.S. Artillery. The unofficial word was that Doubleday’s troops were to be used as a “forlorn hope” (a first wave storming party wherein a high percentage of soldiers were likely to be casualties), and to get the volunteers trained to fight.1
In the months after the bombarding of Sumter, unlike many officers around him, Doubleday rightly perceived the inevitability of a major conflict. His first-hand experience of observing the aroused passions of Charlestonians had made a strong impression. While in Chambersburg, the column camped on the farm of a prominent Pennsylvania attorney, anti-slavery newspaper publisher, and political activist named Alexander
McClure. Having invited the veteran General Patterson and his staff to dinner, the entire group enjoyed a pleasant evening of cigars on the porch of his farmhouse. Naturally, the topic of a pending war was primary in the conversation. McClure recorded that the consensus of these generals and colonels was “agreed that it might be necessary to fight one general battle, but beyond that the war could not possibly be extended.” This sentiment prevailed due to confidence in superior resources in the North. Only two officers voiced concerns opposed to this general line of thinking. One was the Virginia native, George H. Thomas, who warned “how terribly the South was in earnest, and how desperately its people would fight for their homes.” The other dissenting opinion was offered by Abner Doubleday, who spoke of having been “in immediate intercourse with the Southern people. He declared with great earnestness that if one general battle was fought between the North and the South, it would precipitate the bloodiest war of the century.” Apparently not long after this exchange, Doubleday was called away to duties with his command, and General Patterson remarked that it was a shame that Doubleday was “gone in the head.”2 An additional McClure recounting of this incident records that after Doubleday’s departure, several of the officers ridiculed his opinion of an extended war, with one of them saying that Doubleday was a Spiritualist, and a little “gone in the head.”3 This is an early reference to a viewpoint usually thought to have only been a quirky belief of Doubleday in the latter years of his life. But whatever it says about Doubleday’s personality and theology, or lack of personality and theology, it certainly demonstrates a macro sort of understanding of the global nature of the crisis facing the country. It could also be seen as eerily prophetic!
1. Doubleday: My Record During the Rebellion, vol. 1, p. 9.
2. Edward L. Ayers, In the Presence of Mine Enemies, (New York, 2003) 186-187. This account is from the Alexander K. McClure Paper of the Library of Congress, Manuscripts Division, Washington, D.C., Abraham Lincoln Papers, Old Time Notes of Pennsylvania, pp. 491-493.
3. Rock of Chickamauga: The Life of General George H. Thomas by Freeman Cleaves , Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1948… quoting from Alexander K. McClure, Lincoln and Men of War Times, p. 341.
ALSO – Here is a good link to learn more about Alexander McClure: http://deila.dickinson.edu/theirownwords/author/McClureA.htm