Summary Statement, 2nd Quarter, 1863 – 3rd New York Cavalry, Allis’s… NOT Allee’s… Howitzers!

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.





April 15, 1865: “It is too horrible to contemplate with composure” – the focus of the armies turn on the news

It is very easy for us to get caught up in the significance of a historical event, and forget that those living through the times were, just as you and I do today, living each day as moment to moment.  We all track that Abraham Lincoln was assassinated on the evening of April 14, 1865.  And he died the following morning after 7 a.m.  But the news of that calamity, and thus reaction to it, did not spread for hours… and for some points on the map … days to come.

Indeed, just as Lincoln’s last breath passed that morning, Lieutenant-General Ulysses S. Grant penned a message (close to the same moment in time, mind you) to Major-General Philip Sheridan, advising him to prepare for another campaign:

General Sherman is in motion after Johnston’s army. It may be that instead of surrendering, Johnston may follow his usual tactics of falling back whenever too hard pressed. If so, Sherman has not got cavalry enough to head off and capture his army.  I want you to get your cavalry in readiness to push south and make up this deficiency if it becomes necessary. Sherman expected to occupy Raleigh on the 13th, but does not say which way the enemy is moving. I hope to hear further from him almost any hour, and will inform you when I do.

That was sent at 7 a.m. the morning of April 15. Several things were in play at that time.  But let us step back from the chain of events that would follow and consider what Grant, Sheridan and others had pressing at the fore.

The armies which had pursued General Robert E. Lee’s command were strung out across Virginia’s Southside.  But they were not actively campaigning, but rather occupying.  One of the worst things that can befall an army configured for campaign is to stop.  When in light marching order and moving, “just enough” is often sufficient.  There is an efficiency which comes, down to the individual soldier’s level, from being dependent on the knapsack, haversack, and cartridge box.  But when that same army stops, such frugality seems to disappear.  The army still needs that “just enough” and yet more.

Compounding the inactivity after April 9, the armies in the field had but one main supply line feeding them.  It ran from City Point to Burkeville.  Colonel Richard Batchelder, Quartermaster for the Army of the Potomac, complained about this on April 13:

I ordered yesterday 2,000,000 pounds of grain for this army; but 60,000 pounds have been received to-day. The trains do not run on regular time, and are from twelve to fifteen hours on the road from City Point to this place. Instead of filling up our supplies the present management of the road will starve the army in about two days more time. The trains should commence running on regular time to-morrow. There ought not to be a single day’s delay, and the trains should be compelled to run promptly by the time-table. A separate telegraph line should also be established. There is no reason why the army cannot be fully supplied if the road is properly managed, and I have to request that you give such instructions as will cause it to be at once placed in the most effective working condition.

Emphasis for the moment on the concern – “will starve the army in about two days….”  The Army of the Potomac and other forces still in the field were in a logistical pinch.

On the same day (April 13), Sheridan sent an inquiry to Grant’s Chief of Staff, Brigadier-General John Rawlins, also touching upon logistical matters.

The officers and men of the First and Third Divisions of cavalry brought with them from Winchester only the clothes they wore on their persons and are badly off. All the trains and baggage of these divisions are at Harper’s Ferry. Would it be best to order them down?

Again, step into the situation.  Sheridan’s troopers had campaigned out of the Shenandoah Valley in March, with, as he put it, just what they carried.  The command only brought eight pontoon bridges, for example.  With Grant’s message at 7 a.m. on April 15, Sheridan’s logistical concerns would increase by multiples.

Now this is not to say Sheridan could not have driven into North Carolina with his force.  Rather to say the effort would have been difficult, logistically, while perhaps not so much tactically.  And that was the pressing matter of the day at 7 a.m. on April 15.

What Grant and Sheridan did not know at that moment were the messages crossing in route to them.  Sherman had already sent dispatches informing Grant that Johnston was proposing a truce and seemed willing to come to terms.  Sherman’s message of the day included the line, “If any cavalry have started toward me caution them that they must be prepared to find our work done.” Sheridan was not going to North Carolina to fight Johnston.

But while waiting on that dispatch, another would arrive which would completely alter the situation.   Major-General John Parke, commanding the Ninth Corps, confirmed that news of Lincoln’s death, coming across the lines later in the day:

I am afraid it is indeed true. Army headquarters asked City Point to reference the genuineness of the dispatch and City Point replies it is reliable and has been since confirmed. It is too horrible to contemplate with composure.

From Washington, Grant ordered the arrest of former Confederate political figures in Richmond.  But was talked out of that by Major-General E.O.C. Ord, reasoning they were not involved with the plot, and further, “Should I arrest them under the circumstances I think the rebellion here would be reopened.”

As word of Lincoln’s death spread, and at the same time, word from North Carolina spread, the focus of the armies changed.  Movement orders rescinded.  In some cases, new orders issued.  New instructions issued with respect to civilians and paroled Confederates.  Heightened suspicions leading to tighter security.

Pressing matters of logistics became small annoyances as news arrived on April 15, 1865.

(Citations from OR, Series I, Volume 46, Part III, Serial 97, pages 730, 733, and 760-1; Volume 47, Part III, page 221.)

150 Years Ago: Battle at a Crossroads Named Dranesville

One hundred and fifty years ago today, a Federal infantry brigade under Brigadier General EdwardO.C. Ord clashed with a Confederate cavalry brigade commanded by Brigadier General J.E.B. Stuart at a small Northern Virginia crossroads town called Dranesville. Not much of a battle, but it went down in history as the first Federal victory in the “seat of the war.”

Ron Baumgarten, of All Not So Quiet Along the Potomac blog, authored an excellent article on this battle for the Civil War Trust’s webpage. And the Trust has setup one of their battlefield resource pages for Dranesville.

I wrote a piece on the battle some time back. You can see from those photos, this is a “lost” battlefield. Today, you can’t really tour the site due to the traffic. Stop light waits (which I have sat through many times) are long enough to ponder the field, however. But one is hard pressed to catch natural line of sight. Yet, 150 years ago today, Dranesville was a victory which many northern minds hoped were a sign of things to come in the next year.

(Oh, and if this post looks familiar… well it is… due to a technical mistake on my end.  Mea culpa!)