The Execution of Private Winslow N. Allen

September 27th, 1863. ... another hundred men joined the Regiment. They were mostly substitutes and conscripts.

Among the number was Winslow N. Allen, formerly a private in Company H, who had deserted while the Regiment was stationed at Washington, in the spring of 1862. Eight of these new men were assigned to Company H, and, strange as it may appear, Allen was assigned to the same Company from which he had deserted. He was possessed of a beautiful wife and one child, but, tempted by the bounty of three hundred dollars, he had sold himself as a substitute, trusting to fortune to make his escape again. As he was marched by the sergeant down the company street, though dark, his voice was recognized by his former comrades. This coming to the ears of the officers, he was arrested and placed in confinement to await his trial for desertion. He was soon after tried, convicted, and sentenced to be shot to death on the eighteenth of December, 1863.

So many had been arrested and either returned to duty or punished by imprisonment and loss of pay, that he could not believe he would be sentenced to death. Others who had been sentenced to be shot had been pardoned, so that after the decision became known to him he still indulged in hope. As the hour drew near, however, Captain Swan, as kindly as possible, assured him that all hope was vain, and that he should prepare for his awful doom. A day or two before his death he began to realize his situation, and to set about making preparations to enter "The undiscovered country, from whose bourne no traveler returns."

He seemed calm and collected, and declared himself ready to die, if such must be his fate. So self-possessed was he, that an hour before his execution he sat at the table with his Captain, and ate a hearty dinner, after which he engaged in writing. As the drum beat the signal to march to the place of execution, he said: "Captain, you have been kind to me, which I can only return by my prayers for your welfare." Handing the Captain his pocket-book, "Take this, it is all I have, and when I am gone, please lay this," (a fervent prayer for one in his situation, printed on a card), "on my breast."

The Captain promised to do as requested. As they marched to the mournful measure of the death march, and neared the fatal spot where the rough coffin and gaping grave were waiting to receive their victim, he seemed suddenly struck with terror, and, seizing the Captain's hand with a vice-like grasp, thus remained until they arrived at the coffin. Around him were formed his companions whom he had deserted. The grave which was to receive him as a loathsome criminal, was fresh beside him. It was a severe test of his physical courage. To none but the Captain was there the exhibition of the least emotion.

The condemned man was placed upon the foot of his coffin; the bandage placed over his eyes; his hands pinioned. The charges, specifications, findings and order for his execution bad been read. The Captain bent over him, and, his heart almost too full for utterance, whispered: "Winslow, I can go no further with you ; the rest of your dark journey is alone. Have you any last word for your wife and child?"

"No, Only tell them I love them all!" These were his last words. The Captain stepped back a few feet; the officer gave the signal to the executioners; the report as of a single gun rang out, and Winslow N. Allen fell lifeless upon his coffin. He had, on that day completed his twenty-sixth year. He died without a perceptible movement of a muscle.

This was the only execution that ever occurred in the Seventy-sixth Regiment.

- From the "History of the 76th NY Volunteers" by A.B. Smith, Cortland, NY 1867 (1988 reprint) pp. 260-262

Camp of the  7th Ind. Vols
Kelly’s Ford, Va
Dec  18th 63

Dear Cousin

            It has been some time since I read your last but when I tell you the reason for not writing I think you will excuse me. When I read yours we were under marching orders and sure enough the next morning we left at daylight. We crossed the rapidann river as you have probably learned by this time, so I will not try to describe our march only will say we had a hard time of it. The losses in our retg’t was thirty I believe only the left wing was engaged only one man killed the rest wounded and five missing. You asked me to send you some trophies fro the battle field, well I will do so as soon as possible. I will admit here that I did not think of it while we were over the river but the nest time I will try and get something for you. We are now in winter quarters but how long we will stay is hard to say, perhaps all winter. We have not got a very good camp it is on low ground consequently the water stands. Oh there is one thing I like to forget there is a man to be shot in our brigade to day at two o’clock, he belongs to the 76 New York he deserted a long time ago and about three months {hence?] was drafted and queer as it may seem was sent to the same reg’t and company to which he formerly belonged and to day he suffers the penalty of desertion. It is hard  I know but without such punishment there could be no army!

I recd a letter from home a day or two ago. Ma is going to send me a box from home. I  shall look for it in about two weeks. Last winter I got a box from home which was very nice. Ann sent me a box last summer I got it while we layed at Robb station. I do not think of  any thing more at this time. So you must excuse a short letter.

Give my love to all the folks and my friend Miss Fiddis and write soon to your aff. Cousin.

Phil J. Carleton
7 Ind. Vol.
2 Brig. 1 Div 1 A.C.

Letter courtesy Conrad Bush

Footnote: According to Roundtable member Col. Pete Moore, while Allen’s was the only execution in the 76th, he was not the only member of the 76th to be executed during the war. Six Union soldiers were hanged by the Confederates at Andersonville for preying upon their fellow prisoners. One of these was a member of the 76th New York, a replacement from Rochester.

Another account of the execution of Pvt. Allen, written by Uberto Burnham.

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- Last Updated January 12, 2012