1863-65: Allen Family Letters

Lewis S. Allen with his two children (ca. 1885)
Lewis S. Allen with his two children (ca. 1885)

The first two letters in this archive were written by Cpl. Lewis Seymour Allen (1842-1922) of Co. H, 20th Michigan Infantry. He enlisted in August 1862 and was mustered out in May 1865. Regimental records indicate that he was wounded at Spotsylvania Court House in the afternoon fighting on 12 May 1864 as the 20th Michigan “gallantly” advanced 200 yards over open ground “under the most terrific fire of shells, canister, and musketry” when the regiment lost “half of their number in a few minutes.” [Story of the Twentieth Michigan” by Byron M. Cutcheon]

Lewis was the son of Gilbert Silas Allen (1807-1880) and Nancy Waddell (1810-1894) of Lodi, Washtenaw County, Michigan. He was the fourth of at least nine children born to the couple. After the war, Lewis returned to Michigan and married Hannah A. Davis in August 1866.

The third letter in this archive was written by Lewis’ brother, Isaac (“Ise”) Waddell Allen (1840-1893). He married Helen M. Sweetland (1844-1936) in February 1867. Isaac enlisted in August 1864 in Co. D, 4th Michigan (reorganized) Infantry. He mustered out of the service in May 1866 at Houston, Texas.

All three of these letters were addressed to Lewis’ younger sister, Martha Jane Allen (1844-1924) who probably should be credited with preserving the letters.

Allen's Knife
Lewis S. Allen’s Knife


Letter One was written by Cpl. Allen in the midst of the East Tennessee Campaign shortly after leaving Knoxville. The 20th Michigan was brigaded with the 2nd Michigan, the 17th Michigan, and the 100th Pennsylvania. In Byron M. Cutcheon’s book [Story of the Twentieth Michigan Infantry, page 70-71] he described the regiment’s movements as follows: “Remained in camp at Knoxville until October 20th when we set out for Loudon, marching out on the Kingston Road until we came to the forks near Campbell’s Station, where we took the Loudon road and passing through Lenoir Station camped on the 21st between Lenoir and Loudon Bridge, and on the 22nd arrived at Loudon, crossed the river, passed through the village, and camped in the fields, perhaps a mile from the bridge. The Tennessee River at this point is a broad stream, and the railroad bridge had been destroyed by the Confederates. A very substantial pontoon bridge had been constructed by the Engineer Corps.”


Addressed to Mrs. Nancy Allen, Ann Arbor, Michigan

Loudon, Tennessee
October 22nd 1863

Dear Sister,

Your kind letter of September 27th was duly received and as I have a few spare moments this morning, I thought I would write a few lines that you may know that we are still well and on the march. When last I wrote home, we were at Knoxville. We thought we would stay there some time but on Tuesday morning we were ordered to strike tents and prepare for a march. Well we started for Loudon. We march the first forenoon about ten miles, then stopped for dinner. While we were eating, we heard all at once heavy cannonading in the direction of Loudon. It lasted a couple of hours, then ceased. ¹ That afternoon we marched about five miles, then stopped for the night.

CDV of Col. Frank Wolford
CDV of Col. Frank Wolford

The next morning we heard all sorts of stories. We heard that [Col. Frank] Wolford had been surrounded and taken prisoner with all of his men. Well yesterday morning we had orders to have reveille at three and march at five. Off we started on a forced march. It commenced raining about nine o’clock and rained like split a couple of hours and you may bet that made splendid marching. Well about eleven o’clock we stopped and they told us we were to stay there all night but we didn’t feel bad at all. After we got here we heard that Wolford had cut his way out.

We expected to march this morning but I don’t know whether we will or not. It is hard to tell when we are going or how long we will be gone. We expected yesterday morning when we started that we would have a fight before this but we hain’t. We hear that there is a large force of rebs coming up this way but can’t tell.

We heard that Henry Vreeland had enlisted in the cavalry. Is it so? Does [brother] Ise [Isaac Waddell Allen] think of enlisting? If he does, tell him he had better stay at home and help Pa if he knows what is good for him. Frank Kingsty has got back to his company again. He is our Orderly Sergeant. He says that Ran was quite sick when he left convalescent camp. I think though that he will be up before long for there was a fellow went back after all of the sick.

I suppose that Mr. Wicks’ folks know that Josie was killed by this time.

Well I guess that I have wrote about all the news. I would like to be there and have a ride in that new carriage of yours, I tell you I don’t know what is the matter I don’t get any letters much since we came to Tennessee. I answered all the letters that I owed and am now waiting for letters. Tell the folks all to write. Well, I must close for the present. Give my love to all. Write often. This from your brother, — L. S. Allen

to Martha J. Allen

Friday morning. We are now across the [Tennessee] River about four miles from where they are fighting. I think it quite likely we will have to go up to the front today. The 25th and 23rd Michigan regiments are here but there are none here that I know. I don’t know when we will get a chance to send out our mail but hope before long.

¹ The cannonading that Cpl. Allen heard came from the Battle of Philadelphia fought on 20 October 1863 in which members of a brigade commanded by Colonel Frank Wolford lost 479 men — 7 killed, 25 wounded, and 447 captured. Philadelphia, Tennessee, was a small market town six miles south of the railroad crossing of the Tennessee River. See The 45th of Philadelphia.

Allen's Knife
Lewis S. Allen’s Knife


Letter Two was written by Cpl. Allen from Petersburg not long after the Confederate army had evacuated the city. In his book [Story of the Twentieth Michigan Infantry, pp. 165-166], Byron M. Cutcheon described the events of the morning of 2 April 1865: “…orders were communicated to Col. Ely, commanding the Second Brigadem to be ready at 4 o’clock on the morning of the 2nd of April to make the best demonstration possible on the enemy’s lines. Colonel Ely caused the brigade to be formed in rear of the skirmish pits in two columns, the First Sharpshooters, supported by the 46th New York on the right, in front of the Sharpshooters line, and the 2nd Michigan, supported by the 20th Michigan on the left, in front of Battery IX. In the right, however, the First Sharpshooters made more of a demonstration than was intended, and actually carried a portion of the enemy’s line next to Appomattox River, but not being supported, were soon forced to retire again to their own works, with a loss of 41 killed, wounded, and missing….During the night of the 2d the men were standing under arms, wearied by days and nights of incessant watching…at 3:10 a.m. [on 3 April] the advance [into Petersburg] commenced, the First Sharpshooters leading, the 2nd [Michigan] supporting, and the 20th [Michigan] being the third in column… The works were found deserted, except for a few stragglers, and the command advanced as rapidly as the darkness and the ground would permit, into the city of Petersburg along the line of the City Point road. They met with no opposition in entering the town, and at 4:28 a.m. on the morning of April 3, 1865, the long-sought consummation was achieved, and the flag of the First Michigan Sharpshooters was hoisted on the Court House…the colors of the 20th Michigan soon after the Sharpshooters.”


Camp 20th Michigan
Petersburg, Virginia
April 5th 1865

Dear Sister,

Yours of March the 26th was received and I now seat myself to write a few lines in answer to it. It found us well and having pretty lively times for some time and now we have got into Petersburg and I am now sitting in the yard of a fine plantation writing. I wrote you about our being up so much nights. Well on Saturday night [1 April 1865] we were up most all night. On Sunday morning [2 April 1865] we were moved out on the picket line and we were expected to charge the works in front of us but as luck would have it, we did not charge but the troops further on the left charged and captured several rebel works and the First Michigan [actually, the First Sharpshooters] on our right charged and took a line but could not hold it. There was considerable fighting that day and the next (Monday) morning [3 April 1865] we were out again at three o’clock and about four we moved out and some of the troops went forward and captured the reb works without firing a shot. Then we went after them and our brigade was the first to enter the town. The rebs had fled and left us in possession of the city we had been so long contending for and we hear now that Richmond was evacuated at the same time that they evacuated Petersburg. I think that Lee got pretty well whipped here this time.

I should have written sooner but I have been on duty ever since we came here and I don’t know as I should have had time yet but we have had orders to be ready to move at a moments notice and expect we will be off tomorrow morning so you must not expect a very long letter. I will send you a paper that was printed in Petersburg yesterday the first Union that has been printed here since the war broke out.

But I must close. Excuse poor writing and mistakes. write soon. I will write more next time. Remember your brother, — L. S. Allen

to Martha J. Allen

Remember me to all friends.


Letter Three was written by Lewis’ brother, Pvt. Isaac Waddell Allen, from onboard the Mississippi steamboat Kate Robinson while enroute to New Orleans with the 4th Michigan Infantry. The regiment was on its way to Texas to preserve the peace there following the end of the Civil War. For more on this regiment, see: From Your Affectionate Son, The Civil War Letters of Capt. Charles J. Fox, 4th Michigan Infantry.


Addressed to L. S. Allen, Esq., Ann Arbor, Michigan

On Board the Kate Robinson bound for New Orleans
About a hundred miles below Cairo at present
and going as fast as steam can carry us
June 20th 1865

Martha Allen
Dear Sister,

I wrote a few lines to you yesterday and the mail had gone so I thought I would write a few lines more and mail it [at] Memphis if I could. We left Cairo last night about an hour before sundown and run all night. It is now about nine o’clock and we are perhaps about 125 miles from south of Cairo. I like to ride on a boat first rate but we have awful water to drink.

The Mississippi is one of the biggest or longest mudholes that I ever saw. We will probably get to New Orleans about Saturday night. I tell you, Marth, that there is a great deal to be seen by riding fifteen hundred or 2,000 miles on these big rivers.

Tell Pa to let Em have five or ten dollars of that money to pay for what she sent me. I expect to be home about next Christmas and I guess we will go back by New York and then we will have seen quite a heap of this southern country. The river is a mile wide here. We are on the hurricane deck and have a good chance to see a great deal but have to sleep in the open air.

Well I can’t think of anymore at present. My respects to all. Write often.

This from Ise


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