Diary and Letters by Captain Robert Allison - part 1

Created: Friday, 11 March 2011 Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 February 2014 Written by Nathan Zipfel Print Email

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The following is a graphic account of the happenings and events which occurred during the march of the members of the Huntingdon Light Infantry to the Canadian Border in the War of 1812.

This account is compiled in chronological order from a diary kept during the march and from the letters written by Captain Robert Allison to his wife, Polly, (Mary Elliott). The letters are in an excellent state of preservation, while the diary is somewhat used and parts of several pages are missing.

It was necessary in order to present a comprehensive account of the experiences of the members of this company, to supply missing words and to insert additional data.
Other liberties were taken in the spelling, punctuation, and construction of sentences.

This account of the march of a military unit from central Pennsylvania to the Canadian border is a remarkable historical record of that day, and is presented as not being an exception to that experienced by the companies recruited in this section of the state, but rather is typical of the trials and privations endured by the soldiers of the war of 1812, who enlisted from this part of Pennsylvania and served on the Canadian Border.

Huntingdon, Pennsylvania. Received from Captain Joseph Wheaton, Assistant Deputy Quartermaster, commissions from the President for myself and two subaltern officers bearing date of the 14th of the present month and orders from the Secretary of War at Washington, to march my Company to headquarters at Niagara,--also received bill of exchange on W. Eutis to be negotiated at Chambersburg Bank in the sum of $632.40, for which purpose I set out for that place and received the money--having spent five entire days in transacting the business. Captain Wheaton stated to me that I was considered as holding a ...... command and would be entitled to double rations.

The Company members and officers are to appear before Dr.... who is to examine the men and report whether any of them have bodily infirmity and unable to perform the duties required of them.

The Doctor reported Henry Swoope as unfit--he is therefore discharged.

Advanced for flour, bags, whiskey and fish $31.50; paid to J. McCahan for hams and bacon $20.75; M. Grafeus for camp kettle $7.00; J. McCahan for bacon $4.62; and A. M.
Connell for sugar and chocolate $13.00.

Reported to the Brigade Inspector and received for use of the Company twelve pounds powder ....... dozen of ball and twelve dozen ....... the property of the State.
Copy of a letter sent to T. H. Cushing, Esq., Adjutant General.

Sir: Agreeable to the instructions from the Secretary of War. I have the honor to inform you that tomorrow at 2 o'clock my Company will march from this place for the headquarters at Niagara. Enclosed I send you a muster roll or what is intended to take the place of one, having never been in service or ever seen a roll, must be an apology for lack of form and military style. There is some variations between the enclosed roll and that furnished to Captain Wheaton owing to some men having joined the Company and others being totally unable from bodily infirmities to march. Other changes will no doubt yet take place.

Twenty-four days is the time for which the allotment of expenses was made by....
and myself for marching to Niagara, allowing for bad weather, and computing the distance at 250 miles by the road I must go, but on further inquiry the distance is greater and my men are all young and inexperienced in the toils of war. I must therefore use great caution and make short marches at the out-set. Every exertion in my power consistent with the abilities of the men shall be made to be at headquarters within the estimated time. I found it would be altogether impractical to transport my Company without the aid of a baggage wagon. I have employed one at the expense of the Company in hopes with economy to be able to save some out of the estimate. Is it improper for me to ask you to intercede and write to the person who employs wagons at headquarters concerning our situation, in order that it might be got into public service on our arrival there. I have the honor to be.

At 2 o'clock P. M. we left Huntingdon and arrived at Petersburg, six miles, at 5 o'clock. Spent a night without much sleep owing in part to anxiety of mind and more to the noise of the soldiers and intemperance and noisy conduct of private citizens. We were handsomely and hospitably entertained by Mr. M ...... who refused taking any compensation.

We left Petersburg at half past five o'clock and arrived at Mr. Marshall's (on Spruce Creek) at half past 9 o'clock, distance nine miles. We were refreshed and well entertained for which Mr. Marshall refused to receive any compensation. At half past
12 o'clock we resumed our march and arrived at Grays (Graysville) at 4 o'clock, distance seven miles, in all sixteen miles, and paid his bill and expense amounting to $9.00.

We marched from John Gray's at half past five o'clock and arrived at Frederick Dale's at 9 o'clock, distance six miles. There we breakfasted and a number of neighboring citizens refused to let the soldiers pay any bill and advanced the amount to the landlord,-- a well disposed liberal man. We then moved to James Johnston's at Centreville where we arrived at half past three o'clock, distance eight miles, making the entire day's march fourteen miles. The men were considerably fatigued, several of them unable to walk.
We were badly entertained, four soldiers obliged to go to bed supperless and the land- lord anxious to receive tavern fees for each man's victuals. With difficulty he accepted....
per man for the midlings and he charged one dollar for a bottle of cherry bounce.
The officers and men generally dissatisfied. Expenses $9.17.

We marched from Johnston's to Bellefonte where we found an elegant breakfast prepared at the house of Evan Miles and given at the expense of the citizens. We remained there until 5 o'clock P. M. to get washing done for Company.

Thursday afternoon--My dear Polly: We have got this far on our journey without any particular trouble or misfortune. Some of the men have complained of fatigue but none of them have any serious reason for it. I appear to be the hardiest fellow among them all and have no doubt but the march will be of great service and make me stronger than I have ever been. The people generally on the road have been very kind and attentive to us. Our men are getting some washing done today and this evening we contemplate marching about three miles further. John will give you all the particulars of our march and I will write again by next mail. I pray you to be contented and if possible make yourself happy. It will add much to my satisfaction to know that you do not fret on account of my absence. It would surprise you to see what fine spirits I appear to be in.
Give my kind love to the children and tell Catherine I kissed her when she was sleeping before I left home. That God may bless you and them, shall be my constant prayer till I return. Write to me and direct your letter "Lindley Town, State of New York" put it into the post office on Friday next. Your truly affectionate husband.

We marched down the Nittany valley to George N .... s and remained there during the night, an obliging man. Paid expenses for the Company amounting to $4.00. The whole day's march was eleven miles.

We marched to Isaac McKinney's who had prepared an excellent breakfast and the whole Company partook of it with great cheerfulness, and each Sergeant and Corporal had his canteen filed with whiskey for his men all gratuitously bestowed. We then moved on to Alexander Robinson's. Making the march of the day fourteen miles, taking into view that we went half a mile out of the road to Mr. McKinney's. Paid expenses at Alexander Robinson's $9.20.

We marched from Alexander Robinson's to Sebastian Shade's for breakfast, distance five miles, and were well entertained by a liberal man. Paid expenses $7.20.
We then
proceeded to the ferry on the Susquehanna opposite Dunnsburg, paid ferriage of the soldiers at three cents per man, $1.44. We then arrived at John White's in Dunnsburg, distance six miles. We were well entertained. Paid expenses $8.20.

We marched this morning from Dunnsburg to Stephen Duncan's, distance nine miles. Had breakfast and were liberally entertained without expense. Moved on to Jersey Shore, distance three miles. Here the citizens had provided a handsome entertainment for us at their expense.

We left Jersey Shore and marched to Bennett's, distance six miles, for breakfast. A number of citizens paid the soldiers' bill. We then moved on to Williamsport, distance ten miles.

We remained at Williamsport to get washing and baking done. A detachment of Regular Troops under command of Colonel Parker arrived, which determined me to remain one day longer in order they might go ahead. Paid expenses of cleaning fish, an axe, and baking bread.

Paid Henry Pickle expenses of the soldiers.

Marched to John Hays for breakfast, distance six miles. Paid expenses $7.20.
to Reynolds, distance eight miles, making this day's march fourteen miles.
a slight rain at 12 o'clock and appearance of bad weather. Mr. Reynolds was a very liberal man, charging us 12 cents a man. Total expense paid $6.62 1/2.

My Dear Polly My company remained at Williamsport until this morning in order to give Colonel Parker's detachment an opportunity of being one day before us on the march. They march as soldiers and always pitch their tents. We march yet as gentlemen soldiers and are gladly received by the inhabitants. We had a quantity of herring cleaned and dried, and bread baked at \Williamsport, in order to carry us through the wilderness which we are to attack tomorrow morning, but from all the information I can collect we will be able to quarter in a house and barn each night by making long marches. We have fared remarkably well and are in good quarters for this night. We marched fourteen miles and arrived here at 2 o'clock. Something is being prepared to eat and I could not delay the pleasure of writing to you this letter, which must be left to be taken up by the post boy and deposited in the next office. I am perfectly in health and walking agrees with me.  All the men are in good health and spirits as usual.

Mr. Rose died yesterday morning at his residence near Williamsport. I have made and will make arrangements with the different post-masters to forward any letters directed ro me, provided I should have passed the offices to which I directed them to be forwarded.
Tell my friend McCahan that I am as yet too much engaged to write to him, but will when I arrive at headquarters. The next letter you write direct it to me at "Williamsburg, York". I do not know whether any of the soldiers intends writing or not--but you may inform their friends and families that they are well and able to eat hearty and laugh.

I have promised to write to a great many people when I get to Niagara but fear I will neglect my  promises. You, my Dear, cannot be forgotten. We have 218 miles march before us on starting this morning . God bless and protect you and our dear children and all my good Huntingdon friends, is my constant prayer. It is not necessary to say that 1 shall expect a letter from you every week.

We left Reynolds and marched up Trout Run at the head of which, about six miles, we breakfasted on cold bacon, herring, etc., previously prepared. We then moved on to Hew's one of the worst roads ever traveled either by man or beast. The total distance to be fourteen and one-half miles, to the place called the Blockhouse. Paid expenses for company $9.60.

(to be continued)

(Source: Soldiers of Blair County, Hoenstine, 19140, pp. 67-86.)