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Displaying items by tag: 51st PA

Thursday, 08 October 2020 18:25

Col. William Allebaugh

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

Published in Found in Collection
Thursday, 27 April 2017 20:01

The 51st at Fredericksburg

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If you’re a local Civil War buff, you are probably aware of the Fifty-First Regiment of the Pennsylvania Volunteers.  Led by future Pennsylvania governor, John F. Hartranft, the Fifty-first’s most famous moment in battle is probably its taking of the bridge at Antietam.  However, just a few months later, the regiment found itself in another battle, this time in Fredericksburg.

The Fifty-First Regiment was organized by Hartranft in 1861, after the initial 90 day enlistments ended.  Made of ten companies, five hailed from Montgomery County, while the other five were made up of men from central Pennsylvania.  After the Battle of Antietam in September, 1862, the Fifty-first crossed the Potomac in to Virginia in October, eventually coming to Fredericksburg by mid-November.

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John F. Hartranft

Men from the Fifty-first, including the eventual author of the regimental history, Thomas H. Parker, then a sergeant, were on picket the night before the attack.  In the early morning hours, the brigade commander’s chief of staff appeared and said, “Pack up, boys, and get out of here as soon as you can, for we are going to open on the city as quick as you get away.”  Parker writes that they withdrew “without the least noise imaginable.”  At 4 AM on December 12, 1862, the Union cannons opened fire on the city.

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From the book Pictorial History of the Civil War in the United States of America, volume 2 by Benson J. Lossing

The regiment crossed the Rappahonnock River and entered the city later that day.  Parker describes intense fighting:

“The air seemed so full of balls that one would supposed that a finger could not be pointed towards the rebel batteries without being hit on the end with a bullet, and it is a mystery to the writer how under the sun even one man reached alive the position assigned to the regiment, it being directly in face of more than a mile of earthworks, behind which lay thousands of rebels, who kept up their incessant volley after volley of musketry, and their batteries volleys of grape and canister, to say nothing of the rifle shells that passed through the rand and went screeching and whizzing through the air.  It was here were Capt. Ferdinand Bell, of Co. B, was killed…”

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The Union army withdrew from Fredericksburg on December 15.   Parker writes that 90 men out of 270 were killed and wounded (though he notes that many men who were slightly wounded did not report it).  This list, printed by the National Defender, shows 81 names, and some of the names are spelled differently than in the regimental history.  

Published in Found in Collection