Allen Allensworth was born into slavery in Kentucky in 1842. Like many others, the Civil War brought an opportunity to escape to Union lines. Allensworth took this opportunity and joined with the Union hospital Corps after escaping to an encampment of the 44th Illinois Volunteer Regiment – a unit camped near Louisville. In 1863, he joined the US Navy, where he was soon promoted to Captain’s Steward serving on the Gunboat Queen’s City.
After the war, he pursued a life of preaching, married, and eventually returned to the Army as the Chaplain of the 24th Infantry Regiment – the Buffalo Soldiers – holding the rank of Captain, he was among the few black officers in the Army. By the time of his retirement in 1906, he had reached the rank of Lt. Colonel – the first black man to do so.
Allensworth is quickly becoming a person of great interest to me. After his retirement, he moved to Los Angeles, California and worked to develop a black community north of Bakersfield. The town of Allensworth, founded in 1908, was meant to be entirely self sufficient – free from racism, and free from the travails of the post Reconstruction South.
Sadly, the town failed. The problem – no water: a problem that comes up a lot in California. Allensworth returned to Los Angeles where, in 1914, he was ingloriously killed in a motorcycle accident. He is buried in the GAR plot at Rosedale Cemetery in Los Angeles.
Allensworth is among several men in my current study of Union veterans who moved Southern California after the war. Did Allensworth develop an identity as a westerner? What sort of identities was he dealing with in a post-Union victory United States that helped inform a possible western outlook? Several identity layers may indeed surface – racial, sectional, gender, class. We shall see – I am planning several trips to the archives including a road trip to the remnants of what was once Allensworth, California.
One thing that is great about this project – it turns out that Los Angeles has a much richer Civil War connection than I had previously thought.