Members of the Historical Society of Montgomery County may already be familiar with our county’s record in the Civil War: Generals Hancock and Hartranft, Col. Bolton who famously coughed up a bullet years after the war, and nurse Anna Morris Holstein. But, you might not be familiar with Col. William Allebaugh.
Allebaugh was born in Bucks County and came to Norristown as a young man where he worked as a tailor. He was involved in one of the “National Artillery” companies in Norristown that was commanded by Col. John F. Hartraft. When war broke out the unit signed up for three months. For this initial enlistment, Allebaugh was captain of Company A.
He did not see action during those first three months, being stationed in Havre de Grace, MD, but upon re-enlistment for 3 years he was made captain of Company C of the 51st Pennsylvania Volunteers. He fought at Roanoke Island, Second Bull Run, Antietam, and Fredericksburg. After a brief furlough at the end of his three years, Allebaugh re-enlisted, and the regiment was sent to Virginia for Grant’s push on Richmond.
Photo of the monument to the 51st PA at Antietam, from the National Park Service
At the Battle of Spottsylvania in May of 1864, company C had the honor of carrying the regimental colors. They stationed in open ground and overwhelmed by the Confederates who captured the colors. In an attempt to recapture them, Allebaugh was surrounded and forced to surrender.
Here, the story gets a little murky. In the obituary that appeared in the Herald and Free Press, it claims he was held in Richmond, then transferred to the notorious Andersonville prisoner of war camp in Georgia. He escaped with three others and reached Sherman’s lines on the march from Atlanta to the Sea. That took place from November 15, 1864 to December 21, 1864, meaning that Allebaugh was held prisoner for about 6 months.
Andersonville prison camp, HSMC 1952.10201
However, the very same issue of the newspaper has a somewhat different story. Under the headline “The Story of his Adventures while a Prisoner in the Hands of the Rebels as Told by Himself,” this article says Allebaugh and two others escaped while marching through Augusta, Georgia, an area settled by Pennsylvania Germans before the war. However, there was no way to get them out of the area, and the men re-surrendered to the Rebels. They were taken to Andersonville. Again, Allebaugh escaped with two men from the 5th Pennsylvania Cavalry, but they were recaptured two weeks later.
As the Confederacy collapsed, the prisoners were transferred for Charleston and then Columbia, South Carolina. Just before Columbia fell, the prisoners were loaded onto a train that moved so slowly Allebaugh and some other prisoners cut a hole in the floor and dropped through. He arrived back at Columbia just as the rebels were fleeing the city and Sherman’s men were entering. That puts Allebaugh reaching Union lines in February, 1865 (the city surrendered on February 17).
Upon rejoining the 51st at Alexandria, he was promoted to Lieutenant-Colonel and later breveted a colonel. He returned to Norristown after the war, and served two terms as burgess. He died at the age of 55 of erysipelas, a skin infection now curable with antibiotics. The battle flag of the 51st was carried at his funeral which was attended by many surviving members of the regiment. He left a wife and several children, but his wife Mary passed away about one week after him. They are both buried in Montgomery Cemetery.