Westward expansion took people to some interesting places in the 19th century.
It brought people to Warren County who stayed for generations.
At times, Warren County served as a launching point further west.
Add in some national political clout, though, one can go ever further.
Such is the case of Harrison Allen — Civil War brevet brigadier general, to the state House, to the state Senate, to state Auditor General to national presidential delegate to multiple posts in presidential administrations (with a failed gubernatorial shot) to Arlington National Cemetery.
And that’s all for a man born in 1835 in Russell, the son of a Virginia-born and Pennsylvania-raised pioneer.
According to his Senate bio, Allen was a great grand-nephew of General Anthony Wayne, a famed Revolutionary War General. Though with the nickname of “Mad Anthony,” it’s unlikely this was a boon to his future prospects. Wayne has some interesting regional connections of his own but that will have to wait for another day.
Allen attended local schools before moving to more formal education options in Jamestown, Randolph and Fredonia.
“Harrison taught school, pursued the lumber business, studied law and joined the Warren bar in 1859,” per his Senate biography.
That in and of itself isn’t a particularly unique track for up and coming men in the community in that period.
But for many in that period, the American Civil War- should they survive it — would prove to provide an incredible launching point for a career.
And Allen was in on the ground floor of that conflict, serving in a militia unit that predated the outbreak of hostilities.
In the wake of the southern assault of Ft. Sumter, Allen was part of a local organization advocating measures in response to “Treason and Rebellion” and in “in favor of maintaining the Supremacy of the laws and the government of our common country…,” per Schenck’s 1888 History of Warren County.
He was one of the speakers when the famed Bucktails left Warren in May 1861, as well.
But he wasn’t just a man of words — he recruited his own company that left Warren on May 30, 1861.
“It’s members, nearly 90 in number,” Schenck wrote, “were for the most part natives of Warren County.”
Those men were mustered in a Co. 8 of the 10th Pennsylvania Reserves and went into service in defense of Washington.
“Having been for a long time in ill health,” Schenck wrote, Allen was forced to resign his commission in Feb. 1862.
But he wouldn’t stay out of the Union army for long — he recruited another company for a nine month term. What would become Co. F of the 151st Pennsylvania Volunteers left Warren in Oct. 1862. That effort resulted in Allen’s promotion from captain to colonel commanding the entire regiment.
Gettysburg would be the only major action the regiment would be involved in and Allen missed it for illness.
“After contracting typhoid fever at Falmouth, Va.,” his Senate bio states, “Allen received a 40-day sick-leave furlough to Washington, June 8, 1863, before rejoining his regiment at Gettysburg on July 4, 1863.”
That was three days after the regiment was heavily engaged on July 1.
While missing combat would often be a black mark on an officer’s character, that doesn’t appear to have been the case for Allen — he was promoted to brevet brigadier general on July 16, 1867 to date from March 13, 1863 for “faithful and meritorious services.”
“Brevet” promotions were issued frequently up and down the ranks as a means of recognizing special service. At the time, the Medal of Honor was the only real recognition that had been developed so brevet honorary titles filled the void for some of those lower-level of recognitions.
Back from the service in one piece, Allen took up a career in politics.
He served in the state House for both 1866 and 1867 and in the senate from 1870 to 1872 as a Republican.
But his involvement was much deeper than just service in the legislature.
He was an at-large delegate to the Soldier’s National Convention in 1868 (soldier’s groups become very powerful political groups in the years and decades after the war) as well as a delegate to the 1868 Republican National Convention, which selected war hero Ulysses Grant as the party’s candidate.
Later in his career, Allen would be named commander of the Grand Army of the Republic, the most powerful of the veteran organizations.
He served in the administration’s of two governors — John Geary and John Hartranft, both Civil War generals — as Auditor General from 1872 to 1875.
“After election in 1872 to State Auditor,” his Senate biography states, “Allen was hailed by the county’s Democratic Caucus as ‘the poor man’s friend’ in response to his benevolence to the less fortunate.”
It was the 1880 presidential election that would bring Allen national influence.
He was a delegate to the 1880 Republican National Convention but also shepherd campaign efforts for eventual election winner James Garfield.
While Garfield was assassinated early in his term, the new president, Chester Arthur, didn’t forget about Allen and named him U.S. Marshal for the Dakota Territory, where he served from 1882-1886 before shifting to char of the Territorial Central Republican Committee of Dakota as the committee was considering statehood later in the decade.
“Perhaps there is (no person) in Dakota more widely known and more justly popular than General Harrison Allen,” the Fargo Daily Sun reported at the time. “A thoroughbred gentleman in all that the word implies.”
A 2019 article published by The Forum, Fargo’s daily newspaper, gives us a look at the period of his life spent in North Dakota.
As U.S. Marshal, that article reports that Allen “remained active in Republican politics while pursuing stagecoach robbers and horse thieves” and concludes that “opinions varied as to the quality and efficiency of Allen’s work.
They report Allen tried to run for delegate to Congress, first governor of North Dakota and one of its first senators but was unsuccessful each time.
According to an article on the K Street mansions in Washington by Greater Greater Washington — ggwwash.org — Allen went to Washington in 1901 to be the second deputy auditor of the Post Office, appointed by President William McKinley.
“On September 22, 1904, he spent the evening playing cards with his wife and friends in the downstairs parlor at 1017 K and appeared to be in perfect health,” they write. “However, the next morning he was found dead in his upstairs bedroom, the apparent victim of a heart attack.”
As of that article’s writing in 2012, Allen’s mansion was still standing, though covered by a massive billboard.
Returning from Dakota, Allen lived in Washington D.C. where he received a position with the Post Office Dept.
Allen died at his K Street Washington D.C. in 1904 at the age of 68 and is buried at Arlington Cemetery.
According to his death certificate — the Warren County Historical Society has a copy — the primary cause of death was “mitral insufficiency” with “heart failure” added as an immediate cause.
Allen was married twice — first to Anna Page, the widow of contemporary Col. George Cobham, who was killed at the Battle of Peach Tree Creek in 1864 and then to a Susanna Wade.
Page died in 1896 — and the couple’s only child, Maude, died in her early 20s in 1904. Wade is buried with Allen at Arlington Cemetery.
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