America’s Civil War is sometimes referred to as the Brothers’ War, although rare were the occasions when brother literally battled brother.
There are a number of famous examples of siblings choosing to fight on opposite sides. US Senator John J. Crittenden, of Kentucky, had one son, Thomas, become a major general in the Union Army, while another, George, attained the same rank in the Confederate army. Union General William Terrill was killed in action at the battle of Perryville in October 1862, while his brother, James, wearing the Confederate gray, was slain at Bethesda Church in May 1864. And, of course, there was Mary Todd Lincoln, wife of the US president and First Lady of the United States, who had one brother, three half-brothers, and three brothers-in-law fight for the Confederacy.
Rather than brother fighting brother it was much more often the case of brother fighting alongside brother. In any given Civil War regiment, North or South, one is bound to find many cases of two, three, four, and sometimes even more brothers serving side-by-side, and the 48th Pennsylvania was certainly no exception. Scores of brothers served together in the 48th, and although it is well beyond the scope of this post to identify every pair or more of siblings, I thought I would make mention of a few.
There were, for example, the Huckey brothers: Albert and Samuel. Albert, a machinist from Port Clinton, enlisted in 1861 at the age of 22, and rose to become captain of Company A, while his younger brother Samuel, a laborer, enlisted in February 1864 at the age of 18. Although Albert received a wound at Spotsylvania, both made it back home alive. The same could not be said of the Dentzer brothers.
Twenty-four-year-old George Dentzer enlisted in October 1861. He was killed less than one year later, along the banks of the Antietam Creek in western Maryland. George’s death did not deter his older brother John from enlisting into the 48th. He did so in January 1863, and throughout the next two years survived some of the war’s most savage fighting at the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor only to be killed by a ten inch Confederate mortar shell on December 28, 1864, while sitting in his "bombproof" in the trenches of Petersburg. The remains of the two Dentzer brothers were buried side-by-side in their native Cressona.
The remains of George and John Dentzer were buried side-by-side in their native Cressona
The 48th Pennsylvania was raised and organized by James Nagle, and for the first year and a half of its existence, could have very well been referred to as the Nagle Regiment. James’s younger brother Daniel served as the regiment’s major, while younger brother Philip captained Company G. Two more Nagle’s, Levi & Abraham, musicians both, served in the regimental band. All five Nagle’s survived the war.
Even more remarkable is the story of the Christian brothers. Daniel Christian, a native of Pottsville, served in the War of 1812. When the American Civil War broke out in April 1861, all seven, yes seven, of his sons volunteered their services. Daniel, Jr., John, and Benjamin Christian all served together in the 67th Pennsylvania, while Charles fought with the 6th PA and saw some service in the US Navy. William Christian served in the ranks of the 173rd PA, while George and Henry F. fought shoulder-to-shoulder in Company H, 48th PA. Amazingly, all seven survived the war unscathed.
The same was not true, however, for the Allison brothers of Port Carbon. Agnes Allison has been called the “Lydia Bixby” of Schuylkill County. Students of the Civil War, or anyone who has seen Saving Private Ryan for that matter, are familiar with the story of Lydia Bixby. . .how she allegedly lost all five of her sons in combat, and how President Lincoln, hearing of this tragedy, wrote Bixby a letter in which he attempted to “assuage the anguish” of her bereavement. Whether or not Bixby did indeed lose all five of her sons to Confederate fire (records reveal that two were killed, two others deserted, while the fifth was honorably mustered out of service), and whether or not it was actually Lincoln who wrote the letter (some maintain it was Lincoln’s secretary John Hay), the story is still touching and tragic.
Mrs. Agnes Allison received no letter from Lincoln but did “lay so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of freedom” when all four of her sons were killed in action. Twenty-three-year-old John Allison of the 96th Pennsylvania was killed in the fighting near the Salem Church during the Chancellorsville Campaign on May 3, 1863. Mortally wounded that day was John’s older brother, Lieutenant Alexander Allison. He died two days later. The following year, on May 23, 1864, George Allison, the oldest of the brothers at thirty-three, died of wounds received at Spotsylvania while serving in the 56th PA. Scarcely had George been laid to rest when Agnes received word that her fourth son, Private James Allison of the 48th Pennsylvania, had been killed in action at the battle of Cold Harbor in early June. Forty three years after Agnes Allison lost her last son in battle, a memorial was erected in Port Carbon’s Presbyterian Cemetery in tribute to her and to her sacrifice.
Agnes Allison lost all four of her sons in combat during the Civil War. The Allison brothers are seen here surrounding the monument erected in honor of Agnes Allison's sacrifice.