Tag Archives: Henry A. Allen

The Return of Henry A. Allen

Screen Shot 2014-05-13 at 2.56.33 PMA long time ago, I embarked on a little side project that concerned a Confederate soldier named Henry A. Allen. I came across his papers at the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia back in grad school – his wartime letters had no direct bearing on my research but I thought they were interesting so I made copies and tucked them away for a later date.

Allen was a captain in the 9th Virginia Infantry Regiment and was captured at the Battle of Gettysburg. He spent the remainder of the war in northern prisons – where he wrote his wife, Sarah, on a regular basis…explaining the goings on of prison life and sending her instructions as to how best conduct their household while he was away.  Long after the war Allen joined a veterans’ organization called the Immortal 600. Now, the 600 were some angry ex-Rebs, which is what drew me to Allen in the first place. What happened to him during the war and behind enemy lines that brought out the animosities later in life?

My plan was to present the letters in unedited form online – to make them available to the public. I made a good start until the letters dated after June, 1864 went missing from my files. Well, after relocating Harristorian archives a while back, the 1864-65 letters resurfaced. Thus the project is complete! Have a look to find out what happens to Allen as the months turn in to years by clicking HERE. You might just find a few surprises!

The next step is to edit this collection for publication, which means a few more trips to the archives. Allen was from Portsmouth, Virginia – and strangely…after years of living in the Old Dominion, I never made it there. I suppose a visit is in order.

With compliments,


The Prison Life of Henry A. Allen

Screen shot 2014-02-19 at 10.06.13 AMHenry Archibald Allen served as a company grade officer in the Army of Northern Virginia and was captured at Gettysburg on July 3, 1863 – the Pickett-Pettigrew assault would be his last action as a soldier.

Allen finished out the war as a prisoner in a number of camps across the North including Johnson’s Island, Pt. Lookout, Fort Pulaski, and Hiton’s Head. He suffered the privations of prison life and was even used as a human shield by his captors. After the war, he returned to Portsmouth, Virginia and eventually became an active member in the Immortal 600, an organization of Confederate veteran officers who had seen time in Yankee prisons.

His letters written to his wife, Sarah while serving as a prisoner of war are revealing in a number of ways. For example, he discusses little about the suffering in camp – the harsh conditions, the death, disease, and filth associated with incarceration. Was he trying to gloss over these things for the sake of easing his wife’s concern? An interesting question that is worth further investigation. He also makes a solid attempt to run his household in absentia. You can really feel his annoyance when it comes to decision making – what his wife should do about certain events and with whom. Finally, he is clearly a Confederate nationalist. Though he misses his wife and children dearly, he refuses to sign a loyalty oath and return to them.

There is a lot we can learn from Allen’s letters. Years ago, I transcribed them all and posted them HERE. Have a look and feel free to weigh in. I can see a potential project here in the near future – and an insights would be welcome.

With compliments,