Every year around the Fourth of July, I think about the Battle of Gettysburg, which took place in Pennsylvania July 1, 2 and 3, 1863. The Union Army of the Potomac, commanded by General George G. Meade, fought General Robert E. Lee's Confederate Army of Northern Virginia for three brutally hot days. By the Fourth of July, the two exhausted armies faced each other, and on that rainy Saturday morning, Lee's army began its slow retreat back to Virginia whence it had come after its smashing victory at Chancellorsville the previous May. Lee believed that his invasion of the North would relieve the pressure on Vicksburg, the strategic city on the Mississippi River. However, during the retreat after the defeat of his army at Gettysburg, Lee was informed that General Pendelton had surrendered Vicksburg to General U.S. Grant on July 4, Independence Day. The tide of the war had turned. Thereafter, the final Union victory and Confederate surrender at Appomattox Court House was only a matter of time.
Reading Michael Sharra's novel,"The Killer Angels", or watching the television movie "Gettysburg", which was made from the book, provides us with details of the Gettysburg battles far better than I could. However, since we are all McAllisters, I thought that you would be interested in an account about four members of our extended family who were at Gettysburg during the battle: two men, Private Levi Alexander McAlister, Company H., 23rd North Carolina Infantry, and Lt. Col. Robert McAllister, Commanding Officer of the 11th New Jersey Infantry; and two women, Mary and Martha McAlister of Gettysburg.
Levi Alexander McAlister (J26-2-4) was one of my great grandfathers. He was born on September 3, 1840 in Lincoln County, NC, a son of George W. and Elizabeth Plonk McAlister. In April 1861, he enlisted in Company H of the 23rd Infantry Regiment, in which he served until the final surrender at Appomattox on April 9, 1865. He was wounded twice, in 1862 and 1864, both times near Cold Harbor in Virginia. The second wound was serious enough to cause him to be furloughed home, but he returned after Christmas 1864, and was one of nine privates left in Company H at Appomattox. One of his sons, Robert Lee McAllister, was my grandfather.
I had known nothing about Levi A. McAlister until one day in 1992, when I was at a family reunion in Mt. Pleasant, NC, where the descendants of Harvey Caswell and Frances Cooke McAlister have been meeting for over fifty years. After introducing myself as a descendant of Harvey's younger brother Levi, Mrs. Margaret (Peggy) McAlister Self of Florence, SC, showed me a Remembrance Book from Harvey and Frances' wedding, in which Levi had written a poem, signing it Levi A. McAlister, Private, Co. H., 23rd NC Infantry. That clue led me to the National Archives, where I obtained copies of his Confederate Army service record, and to the North Carolina Archives, for a copy of his 1908 pension application. His regiment's service at Gettysburg was confirmed from the records. Levi was what Shelby Foote termed a "high private", one of the many men who remained in the lowest rank all during the war, probably because they noted that the higher the rank, the more likely a soldier would become a casualty. Levi was wounded twice during the war, both times near Cold Harbor in Virginia. He survived his second wound in June 1864, because his brother Harvey came and got him out of the hospital in Richmond, and took him home to Gastonia, NC, where he recovered. Levi died in 1909. He is buried in the Mountain View Cemetery, Kings Mountain, NC.
The 23rd North Carolina's morale was very high after the Battle of Chancellorsville. It had taken part in General Thomas J. "Stonewall" Jackson's march around General Hooker's Army, and was deployed in the late afternoon of May 2, 1863, on the far left of the Confederate flank attack on General O.O. Howard's Eleventh Corps of the Union Army. This attack routed the Federal Army and led to the victory. The 23rd was in General Albert Iverson's Brigade, General Rodes' Division of General Jackson's Second Corps, Army of Northern Virginia. Iverson was a native of Georgia, although his four regiments were from North Carolina.
During the invasion of the North in June 1863, the regiment was able to obtain food in both Maryland and Pennsylvania, since there was little or none left in Virginia. An element of uncertainty had been caused by the accidental shooting of General Jackson by his own men on May 3, his subsequent death and replacement as Second Corps commander by Lt. General R.S. Ewell.
Action for the 23rd NC Regiment came on Wednesday, July 1, when Maj. General R.E. Rodes, the Division Commander, deployed Iverson's and O'Neal's Brigades against the Union troops northwest of Gettysburg. The attack was very poorly carried out, probably because neither Iverson nor O'Neal led his troops in the action. Most of the casualties suffered by the 23rd NC at Gettysburg came at this time, when they were shot down by Union regiments which had taken cover behind a stone wall to the 23rd's left as they marched down an open field. So many Confederate men were killed so suddenly that they lay in straight rows, many of them clutching their handkerchiefs. Brig. General Alfred Iverson, distraught by the losses, blurted out his belief that they must have gone over to the enemy, since they "showed the white flag". Although the 23rd was used in some later actions at Gettysburg, its effectiveness as a fighting unit was gone. The incident is described in Gary W. Gallagher's "The First Day at Gettysburg", Kent State University Press, Kent, OH, 1992, pages 129-139, in the chapter entitled "Failures of Confederate Brigade Leadership." Shortly after the battle, General Iverson was transferred to his native Georgia.
On Thursday, July 2, the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, Lt. Col. Robert McAllister's Eleventh New Jersey Regiment was part of Brig. General J.B. Carr's First Brigade, in Brig. General A.A. Humphrey's Second Division of Maj. General Dan E. Sickles' Third Corps, Army of the Potomac. Col. McAllister (H02-3-6-5) was born in 1813, near McAlisterville, PA. He and his brother Thompson were members of their local Pennsylvania militia when they were young men. In the 1850s Thompson moved to Virginia, where he became sympathetic with the Southern cause. When war broke out in 1861, Thompson became a captain in the Virginia artillery, while Robert raised the 1st New Jersey Infantry Regiment, and was elected its commanding officer. Although they were not aware of it at the time, they were on opposite sides at the Battle of Bull Run (First Manassas) on April 1861. Thompson had to retire from the Confederate Army before the war's end because of sickness, but Robert remained on active duty. He fought in every major battle of the Army of the Potomac, except Antietam, and was present at Appomattox as a Division Commander, with the rank of Brevet Major General.
The experience of the 11th New Jersey on July 2 was typical of that of every Union regiment which fought in the confused melee at the Peach Orchard, just to the west of Little Round Top, where the 20th Maine fought off all attacks by the Confederates to take the heights. Little Round Top was at the right of the Union line, while the Peach Orchard was in the center.
(Sharp-eyed reader Bob Velke notes: "Little Round Top was arguably not in the Union line at all while the 3rd Corps was in the Peach Orchard. Sickle's line ended at Devil's Den and Little Round Top was abandoned except for a signal station. When Gen. Warren ordered troops to Little Round Top, it became the Union's left (not right) flank. Little Round Top never was 'at the right of the Union line".) Almost immediately after the 11th New Jersey went into action, Col. McAllister was severely wounded and had to be carried to the rear. In a letter written on August 7, 1863 by Lt. John Schoonover, as a supplement to the action reports in the Official Records the following items are extracted,
"A few minutes previous to the command 'Fire!' spoken of in Col. McAllister's official report, Major Kearney, then standing near me on the left side of the line, was struck by a Minie ball in the knee and immediately carried to the rear.... At this point word was conveyed to me that both Captains Martin and Logan were wounded and being carried to the rear. A moment later, Captain Ackerman fell dead at my side. The two former were killed before they reached a place of safety.... By this time Captain Lloyd had been wounded, and Captain Dunning, being absent in assisting the Colonel to the rear, I assumed command of the regiment... In the action of the 2d (of July), the regiment sustained a very heavy loss. Out of 275 officers and men taken into the fight, 18 were killed, 130 wounded, and six missing, making a total of 154."
This account was taken from The Civil War Letters of General Robert McAllister, edited by James I. Robertson, Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, NJ, 1965, pp. 334-336. As was so often the case for the men who survived their battle wounds, Col. McAllister's wife Eleanor had come to the hospital in Philadelphia, and took him home in Belvidere, NJ, where she nursed him back to health. He rejoined his regiment in October 1863, and continued to write his wife and daughters every day thereafter, as he had done since 1861. Col. McAllister was later promoted to Brevet Major General. He died in 1891 and is buried in the Belvidere Cemetery.
The McAllister sisters, Mary (G03-1-7-1) and Martha (G03-1-7-2) were daughters of Daniel and Mary McCullough McAllister (G03-1-7). Their home was in the store at 41 Chambersburg Street in Gettysburg, run by Martha's husband, John Scott. Daniel's brother James was a farmer and miller, whose anti-slavery sentiments were known in the region. In fact, McAllister's Mills, near the dam on Rock Creek, were way stations on the Underground Railroad, by which escaped slaves took refuge on their way to freedom in the North before the war. James had purchased the Mills in 1827. One of the buildings was built before 1769. Both James and Daniel were sons of James and Catherine Hughes McAllister (G03-1). Gabriel McAllister, who emigrated from Ulster in Northern Ireland in the eighteenth century was the progenitor of the G03 family line.
According to information provided by Col. Branford McAllister, USAF, Ret., the G03 (Gabriel) line coordinator, Daniel and Mary McCullough had two children, Mary and Martha, while his brother James and James' wife Agnes had twelve children between 1826 and 1847. They had five sons who enlisted in the Union Army: Alexander, who was killed at Vicksburg in 1863, John, Samuel, Calvin and Theodore. Their unmarried daughters Mary C. and Martha lived in the home place during the battle, and for many years afterwards.
In James Stuart Montgomery's book, "The Shaping of a Battle: Gettysburg", Chilton Company, Philadelphia, 1959, pages 76-78, he describes the fact that the sisters had worked during the day at a church, which had been pressed into service as a Union hospital. A letter from Guy McAlister, son of Harold and Nadine McAlister (J01-5-9-4), Denver, IN, dated July 18, 1998, noted that Mary McAllister was a civilian nurse at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church, and that she may have written an eye witness account of her experiences. There is a typewritten account written by Mary McAllister, in the Adams County, PA, Historical Society, relating to the battle. Guy was a Civil War re-enactor in the 19th Indiana Infantry regiment, part of the Iron Brigade. In fact, it was Guy's letter which prompted me to do the research for this article. Considering the fact that there were about 100,000 men fighting in and around a small town in Pennsylvania, with a population of 2,400, any person who would help in any way could save many lives. The effects of the battle on all participants were overwhelming. The fact that all of the military men involved were Americans made it doubly tragic.
The trials for Mary and Martha McAllister began on the morning of July 2. General Ewells' Corps had been ordered by General Lee to move around to the south and east of the Union forces, which were bent back in the form of a fish hook around the north (Bob Velke also notes: south of Gettysburg and along Cemetery Ridge. Cemetery Hill and Culp's Hill (which formed the barb of the hook) are both south of town.) of Gettysburg and along Cemetery Ridge. The fighting raged around Cemetery and Culp's Hills, south and east of which were McAllister's Farm and Mills on Rock Creek. One of the Union formations in the midst of the fighting was the First "Iron" Brigade, First Division, First Army Corps of the Army of the Potomac. The Brigade was made up of the 19th Indiana, 24th Michigan, 2nd, 6th and 7th Wisconsin Regiments. During the afternoon of the previous day, the First Army Corps had been roughly handled by General Ewell's and General A.P. Hill's Corps, and elements of the Brigade had ended up in McAllister's Woods and Farm. When the sisters arrived home after working at the hospital in the church, they found their front door open. The house was filled with Union wounded, one of whom was Col. Morrow of the 24th Michigan, together with survivors of the Iron Brigade, including Major Dailey of the 2nd Wisconsin. Since the Confederate Army had occupied Gettysburg town, the capture of the Union troops was only a matter of time. When the Confederate soldiers began to tear up the fence around the house for kindling, the Union troops surrendered, so as not to endanger the McAllister home. Major Dailey gave Mary the sword which he had taken on July 1 from Confederate General Archer, for safekeeping. She hid it in the woodbox. The seriously wounded were left behind. When some Confederate surgeons arrived, they suggested that a red flag marking the house as a hospital would save it from further harm. So Martha put her red shawl on a broom handle and hung it from an upper window. This account is found in James Stuart Montgomery's book, pages 76 - 78. It was taken from Mary's eye witness story, which is in the Adams County Historical Society library.
Another version of Mary's story is found in "Voices of the Civil War - Gettysburg", published in 1995 by Time-Life Books, Alexandria, VA, pages 60 and 61.
In military cemeteries where lie the remains of those killed in the Civil War battles from 1861 to 1865, you will find grave markers of many McAllisters. If your travels take you to the Mountain View Cemetery in Kings Mountain, NC, look for the grave of Levi A. McAlister and his first wife Katherine Rudisill. It is a slender shaft of white marble, with their names and dates engraved on it. In New Jersey, the grave marker for General Robert McAllister in the Belvidere Cemetery is very impressive. It is a polished diamond shaped grey granite stone, on the front of which are the portraits in bronze of Robert and Ellen Jane Wilson McAllister. On the reverse side are engraved the names of all the battles in which he participated as a regimental, brigade and division commander in the Army of the Potomac. And in the Evergreen Cemetery in Gettysburg, you will find the tombstones of Mary's and Martha's graves.