Category Archives: Veterans

Lt. Colonel Allen Allensworth – A Significant First

Picture 1Allen 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. AllensPicture 2worth 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.

With compliments,

Keith

Civil War Generation Database – Los Angeles

IMG_0412 I have just kicked off an ambitious project to catalog the Civil War generation who moved to – and then died (and were thus buried) in Los Angeles. I am beginning with those who I can positively identify as veterans of the United States Army and Navy. I am also checking up on all of those who fit the Civil War generation’s bill as well. Today I came across the grave of Moses Pratt in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery on Santa Monica Blvd. His grave is located near the south-east corner of the cemetery, underneath a pair of supportive beams holding up some shrubbery, next to a few implements used to feed feral cats. My guess is that Pratt, a former private with the 154th Illinois Infantry, has been forgotten in this rarely visited section of Hollywood Forever. So I think I will get a little United States flag for his grave.

Pratt’s unit was mustered in late in the war – February 1865 to be exact – and never saw any real action. He spent his life in the army guarding the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad in Tennessee (Department of the Cumberland) until he was mustered out in September of the same year. I wonder what brought him to the Golden State?

With compliments,

Keith

PS – Naturally, once the database gets a little meat on its bones, I will make it available to all…with pictures and everything. You’re welcome.

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Citrus is a Good Place to Start

IMG_0117Those of you who were Cosmic America readers may remember a while back when I stumbled across a Union Civil War veteran’s grave in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery. Unsure of exactly who this person was, I turned to my readership to discover  – with the help of a few people much better at these things than I – that said veteran, one F.A. Whitehead, had served in two branches of the armed forces, had a run-in with the government over desertion (he name was eventually cleared) and wound up as a citrus farmer in Florida and ultimately…Southern California.

As we all know citrus farming was a primary motivating factor for a number of the Civil War era generation when it came to pursuing their livelihood in the West. Of those who moved to the region to proceed with this lucrative vocation, almost all were well-to-do middle class or higher types, and most were middle aged or older.

It took money, patience, and experience to succeed in the citrus business – something perhaps not best suited for a younger, perhaps insolvent individual.

I revisited Hollywood Forever Cemetery today to pay my respects to Whitehead and look for other Union veterans. I found plenty. So again…I turn to my readers. Any information on these fine fellows would be greatly appreciated. I wonder if they were in the citrus business too.

With compliments,

Keith

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Who is Harrison Gray Otis?

400px-Harrison_Gray_OtisYou didn’t have to search for long in late-nineteenth century Los Angeles to find a Union Civil War veteran. Sometimes, you would find one who had made quite a name for himself since the war. I give you Harrison Gray Otis – an Ohio native who left journalism to join the army in 1861 as a private, received two wounds in the conflict, and mustered out in 1865 as Captain Otis. Huzzah!

Otis went on in his journalistic career on the West Coast, first in Santa Barbara and finally in Los Angeles, where he took over the editorial position of the fledgling Los Angeles Times. During the war with Spain in 1898, he again left his career to serve in Union blue as General Otis, commander of volunteers in the Philippines.

Otis was a conservative nationalist his entire life. And his service in the Civil War and Spanish-American War reflected his attitudes toward subversives and those he deemed “un-American.” Thus his political stance against Socialism – a movement that was taking hold in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century Los Angeles – was vehement. You were either “with me or against me,” he was known to say…leaving no room for fence-sitters.

I’ll be looking more into his career as this project unfolds. For starters we should know that he was instrumental in the promotion of Los Angeles, took part in the San Fernando Valley “land grab’ to benefit from the Owens Valley aqueduct, and was around to see his LA Times building dynamited as part of the battle between conservative “open shop” forces and those who wished to organize labor.  Fun times.

With compliments,

Keith