Shrouded Veterans: Father and Son United in Death

Few experiences are as gut-wrenching as the death of a child. After undergoing a second amputation on his leg following a wound he received at the Battle of Gaines’ Mill, First Lieutenant Robert Allen, Jr. died on July 27, 1862. His father, Robert Allen, Sr., received word while serving as the chief quartermaster of the Department of Missouri. He never fully recovered from the shock his only son’s death.

Robert Allen, Sr., a career soldier, graduated from West Point in 1836. His professors described him as being “exceedingly amiable and ambitious to excel.” After graduating, he gradually moved up in rank from second lieutenant to captain by 1846. During the Mexican War, he served in Major General Winfield Scott’s army, receiving a brevet as major for “gallant and meritorious conduct” at the Battle of Cerro Gordo. In 1849, Allen was appointed chief quartermaster of the Pacific Division and remained in this position, with the exception of a hiatus when he was on leave of absence, until August 1861, when he was called east to St. Louis to serve as the chief quartermaster of the Department of Missouri.

General Robert Allen. (Alexander Historical Auctions)
General Robert Allen. (Alexander Historical Auctions)

Robert Allen, Jr.’s mother Nancy died in 1846 in Portland, Maine, when he was only a child, so he joined his father in California. A accomplished scholar, good mathematician, and master of the French language, the senior Allen reportedly didn’t want his son to join him in soldering. So Allen, Jr. instead worked as a clerk in State Bank of Iowa where his cousin, Benjamin F. Allen, served as a director. Despite his father’s wishes, Allen, Jr. enlisted as a private in the 2nd Iowa Infantry in May 1861. Through the influence and recommendations of Marcellus M. Crocker, his captain and later brigadier general, Major General Samuel R. Curtis, and others, he was appointed first lieutenant in the 1st U.S. Cavalry in April 1862.

On June 27, 1862, at Gaines’ Mill, Allen, Jr. was among the 26 casualties of the two squadrons of the 1st U.S. Cavalry inflicted by Confederate artillery. He wounded in the leg and captured, and Confederate surgeons amputated his mangled leg. He was exchanged and underwent another surgery on the limb in New York City. He died from the effects of the second amputation at the age of 21.

Despite the tragic loss of his son, Robert Allen, Sr. continued to perform his duty. While coordinating the movement of war material and managing supplies wasn’t glamorous or didn’t land his name is the newspapers, Allen’s role was critical to the U.S. war effort, notably in the Western Theater. He had the herculean task of furnishing the necessary transportation and supplies for General Grant’s operations in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi, and General Sherman’s March to the Sea, not to mention various troops in the Southwest. In her book, Quartermaster Support of the Army: A History of the Corps, 1775-1939 (1989), Erna Risch said that “no chief quartermaster carried a heavier burden of responsibility” than Allen.

On May 23, 1863, Allen was recognized for his organizational ability and administrative skill by being promoted to brigadier general. At the end of the war, he was brevetted major general “for faithful and meritorious services” during the war. Brevet Brigadier General James F. Rusling, who dedicated an entire chapter in his book Men and Things I Saw in Civil War Days (1899) to Allen, said he “will live in history as the Great Quartermaster of our Civil War.” Unfortunately people remember great battlefield commanders, not great quartermaster generals.

Quartermasters landing and storehouses, Chattanooga, Tennessee. (LOC)
Quartermasters landing and storehouses in Chattanooga, Tennessee. (Library of Congress)

Brevet Brigadier General Adam Badeau, Grant’s military secretary, reportedly received a letter from Allen after the war in regard to Major General Henry Halleck’s reluctance for Major General Ulysses S. Grant to succeed him when appointed general-in-chief. Before leaving for Washington, D.C. in July 1862, Halleck came to Allen’s tent, who had been in the field with Halleck. Halleck asked Allen what he could do for him before departing. Allen replied that he could not think of anything. “Yes,” Halleck said, “I can give you command of this army.” Allen said he did not hold rank for such a command. “That,” Halleck declared, “can easily be obtained.” Stunned, Allen explained that it wasn’t possible to relieve him of his quartermaster duties with such enormous business and expenditures in the balance. Whether this was Halleck simply expressing his dissatisfaction with Grant or a tale fabricated or embellished by Badeau, Grant could shine without Halleck in the way.

In March 1878, Allen retired from the U.S. Army after 42 years of service. “Few commanders of armies held positions of so much importance to the success of our military operations and the preservations of our nation—none did their works better,” Quartermaster General of the U.S. Army Montgomery C. Meigs wrote to him.

Veteran headstones of Robert Allen, Sr. and Robert Allen, Jr.
Veteran headstones of Robert Allen, Sr. and Robert Allen, Jr.

In July, Allen left for Europe, never returning to the U.S. He traveled to China to be with his daughter and only surviving child, Cornelia, who married Alphonse Bovet of the Swiss watch-making dynasty. When she and Alphonse relocated to London, Allen relocated to be near her and his grandchildren. He followed them a third time to Geneva, Switzerland, where he died on August 5, 1886.

“[Allen’s] many friends suffer an irreparable loss and an honorable career has closed, but, like the afterglow of the setting sun, he leaves behind in their hearts the memory of his character; dying, as he had lived, one of the noblest, purest and best of men,” friend and comrade Major Richard L. Ogden wrote in Allen’s obituary. “Words are inadequate to express the sterling and lovable qualities of the man.”

Allen was buried at Cimetière de Chêne-Bougeries in Geneva, Switzerland. Due to space constraints, a common practice in Europe is to dispose of the remains of the deceased when his or her family doesn’t renew the lease on the plot. Since he was buried in a non-renewed cemetery plot, Allen’s remains were disposed of by the cemetery.

Shrouded Veterans first obtained a veteran headstone for First Lieutenant Robert Allen, Jr.’s unmarked grave and then a veteran memorial headstone to honor Brevet Major General Robert Allen, Sr. The headstones were installed side by side at Western Cemetery in Portland, Maine, uniting father and son in death.

Shrouded Veterans is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to rescuing the neglected graves of 19th-century veterans, primarily Mexican War (1846-48) and Civil War (1861-65) soldiers, by identifying, marking, and restoring them. You can view more completed grave projects at facebook/

1 Response to Shrouded Veterans: Father and Son United in Death

  1. Touching. But the father’s remains are not under his tombstone it seems?

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