Sometimes, even Frederick H. Dyer stands need of correction. Or at least a small adjustment.
Just below the 3rd New York Artillery’s battery summaries for the second quarter, 1863, there is a lonely line:
- Section, Attached to 3rd Cavalry: At New Berne, North Carolina with two 12-pdr mountain howitzers.
If we consult Dyer’s Compendium we find a listing:
Allee’s Howitzer Battery
Attached to 3rd New York Cavalry (which see)
Consulting the entry for the 3rd New York Cavalry, we see no mention of the howitzer battery. And that is normal where a section (or battery) served as an integral component of the parent unit.
In the past, I’ve normally just accepted Dyer’s designation. You’ll see that in entries for the summaries of fourth quarter, 1862 and first quarter, 1863. But since this entry stands alone for the second quarter, I thought it convenient to pause and provide a more detailed study of this particular unit.
So who was this Allee that commanded this howitzer battery?
Well… the roster of the 3rd New York Cavalry has no record of an officer named Allee. In fact, there was no soldier in the regiment by that name. And there are no references, primary or secondary, that would reconcile the name “Allee” to the regiment. Rather hard for a person to command a battery if there were not IN the unit!
So who should we be looking for? Consulting New York State Military Museum’s website (an excellent on-line resource that should be in your bookmarks), specifically a collection of newspaper clippings that reference the 3rd New York Cavalry, we find this entry, discussing Brigadier-General Edward Potter’s July 1863 raid on Greenville, Tarboro, and Rocky Mount (emphasis mine):
We had a most delightful passage from New York and arrived at Newbern on Tuesday evening, 21st inst. I found the city of Newbern quiet and pleasant as ever, although … had gone out early Saturday morning, under the command of that most efficient and gallant officer, Brigadier General Potter, Chief of Staff to General Foster. The troops for the expedition comprised two battalions of the 3d N. Y. cavalry, commanded by Majors Cole and Jacobs; one company of the 1st N. C. cavalry, Lieut. Graham, and one battalion of the 12th N. Y. cavalry, Major Clarkston; two sections of 12 pound howitzers, Lieut. Allis, and one section of flying artillery from the 3d N. Y. regiment, commanded by Lieut. Clark. The cavalry was all under the command of Lieut. Col. Lewis, of the 3d N. Y. cavalry.
And there WAS a Lieutenant James A. Allis with the 3rd New York Cavalry. And he was detached to artillery service, according to his state muster records:
Note the the remarks. “… On detached service comd’g artillery detachment since Jan 1/63…” THIS is the commander, and the name, that we need to close the loop. Very possible that Dyer transcribed the name incorrectly. However, my wife pointed out that “Allis” is likely a name of Norman-French origin. If that is the case, it would be pronounced somewhat like “Alee” or such. So Dyer might have worked from a source that spelled Allis as it sounded. At any rate, I am pretty sure we can match “Allee’s Battery” to “Allis’s Section” in this case. Those are the howitzers were are talking about!
James A. Allis was born in Cazenovia, New York (Madison County), on September 17, 1840 to Elijah and Diantha Allis. His family moved to Syracuse, as he appears there in the 1855 state census, aged 14. The 1860 census has a 19 year-old James A. Allis, from New York, as a teacher in Joliet, Illinois. Not for sure this is the same person, but certainly matches with some particulars.
Turning to his muster records:
Allis enlisted in what would be come the 3rd New York Volunteer Cavalry on August 3, 1861 in Syracuse as a sergeant in Company I. The remarks indicate he was born in Syracuse (vice Cazenovia), was 5 foot, 7 ½ inches tall, black eyes (!), and brown hair.
He was promoted to First Sergeant on October 8. And then this “fast mover” was promoted to First Lieutenant on December 31st to close out the year. (And a side note, the 3rd New York Cavalry was involved through that time in operations on the upper Potomac, to include Balls Bluff and Edwards Ferry in October … thus he was in my neck of the woods for a while.)
In April 1862, the 3rd New York transferred to the Department of North Carolina. On May 30, Allis led a detail of 15 men out of Washington, North Carolina on a reconnaissance mission. At Trantor’s Creek, about eight miles out of the perimeter, the detail encountered a Confederate patrol. Allis left a detail to secure the bridge at the creek and took up pursuit. “Finding himself surrounded by a large body of infantry concealed in the woods,” Captain George Jocknick, commanding Company I reported, “Lieutenant Allis gallantly cut his way through the crowd, and returned here with his command about noon, with only one man–Private Ogden Harrison–badly wounded and 2 horses killed.” In short, Allis got himself into trouble, but smartly… and aggressively… extracted himself. On the heels of that action, Allis received promotion to First Lieutenant. Clearly an officer held in high regard.
I’m not sure when the 3rd New York Cavalry came into possession of the mountain howitzers. In December, that section was associated with Allis as part of the expedition to Goldsborough. Captain Newton Hall, commanding the troops from the 3rd New York on that operation, wrote “I must not neglect to mention Lieutenant Allis and his howitzer, which was always ready when wanted, and did us good service at White Hall.” In March the section supported another expedition out of New Bern. On May 20-23, the section was involved with a demonstration towards Kinston. June 17-18, Allis’s section was taken along for a scout to Core Creek. The section was again called upon in the first week of July to support a raid on the Wilmington & Weldon Railroad. Later in the month, the battery was part of the expedition toward Rocky Mount mentioned above.
In December 1863, the 3rd New York Cavalry transferred to Newport News, where they became involved with operations against Richmond and Petersburg. And around that time, Allis appears to have left the howitzers (either the section was turned in, or at least Allis was given other duties). Allis continued as a lieutenant for Company F and later Company G. With his initial enlistment complete in the summer of 1864, Allis reenlisted as a captain, in Company C, in July 1864. However, by that time Allis was working as an aide and staff officer. In correspondence with Lieutenant-General U.S. Grant, Major General E.O.C. Ord describes Allis as “the best [cavalry] officer I have…” … though it is hard to ascertain the full context, as Ord was speaking from a position of want in regard to proper cavalry! Still a high accolade, when mentioned between such very high ranking officers.
After the war, Allis returned to Syracuse. In the 1875 state census, Allis lived with his brother, practicing law. Around that time, James Allis married Ellen Moore. The couple had one boy child die in infancy. But then were blessed with three girls – Olive, Mable, and Ida. The 1910 census indicated James, still in Syracuse, worked as an equipment clerk. His three daughters, by then aged 34 to 25, were living with their parents. All three employed as teachers. James A. Allis died in Syracuse on October 30, 1920, and is buried in Oakwood Cemetery in Syracuse.
Circling back to the summary statement, the section did not report any ammunition on hand for the quarter. Though there were ample implements and other supplies. Perhaps the cavalrymen were just not accustomed to the artillery reporting forms.
The important take-away from examining that lonely line on the summaries is not the need to correct the spelling of Allis’s name in Dyer’s Compendium. Rather, that the line allows us to be introduced to James A. Allis and the duties he performed during the war. He was, as they say, mentioned in dispatches.