A Life That Fueled Revival - Robert McAllister

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Sunday, June 29, 2014 0 comments

by Michael Homula

Today’s Biblical Truth at Gettysburg post is written by my good friend and brother in Christ, Jim Lamason. Jim will be involved in the retreats we will lead to Gettysburg and he is an expert and author on New Jersey regiments in the Civil War and at Gettysburg. - Michael Homula

The history of the United States of America is filled many notable personalities. From the founding fathers through the intervening years into the present day. Most of us know of these men – Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln, Ford, Rockefeller, Roosevelt, Eisenhower – the list goes on and on.

However, and perhaps most importantly, the history of the United States is also filled with “common” men. Men who were born, raised, had families and served this nation with steadfastness, courage, honor, and duty. Most of them relied on a deep faith in God that gave them the strength to endure incredible hardship and do extraordinary things in times of great strife and war. Unfortunately, most of these men remain unknown to most of us.

One such man, long forgotten along with those who served with him at Gettysburg, is Robert McAllister. Born in 1813 of Scottish descent in Juanita County, Pennsylvania, outside of what we know to be State College, his dad was a farmer and his mother raised young Robert and his brother Thompson. Growing up in a household with a Christian faith as the center piece, the core values of faith in God and Jesus Christ served him well.

He grew up doing the usual things that young boys and then men did during this time in our history. Hard work, daily devotions and prayer time with family developed in the young man a rock solid foundation that would serve him all of his days. Notably, through the four long and bloody years of the American Civil War.

McAllister married his wife Ellen and began to migrate east, eventually settling in Oxford, New Jersey. There they had two daughters, Henrietta and Sarah, who soon become the apple of their father’s eye. It was during this period that McAllister developed his military and leadership skills, recruiting and training militia for both New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

He made a living in the railroad construction business and it kept him busy. Through the economic difficulties that occurred in the late 1850’s he kept the business running, managing to keep as many workers employed as possible. He also saw to it that those who worked for the company had housing, though rough and primitive even for the times. This was all the more challenging during the darker times, such as when a business building was burned to the ground during employee unrest.

When Civil War broke out, McAllister walked into his business office and spoke with his partner who was also well trained in militia tactics. His partner upon thinking it through said, “Robert, you go, for you will have a greater influence than I will. I will see to the business, and come along shortly.”

Commissioned as a Lt Colonel in the 1st New Jersey regiment of volunteers, McAllister was upset not to be given command of the regiment. He noted his unhappiness with the decision in a letter to his daughter. That letter is one of over 900 he would write during the war. Those same letters document his steady, sure approach to the equipping, training, and leading of his regiment to ensure its preparation for the battles that were looming.

In August of 1862, after skillfully leading his men during the Peninsula Campaign, he was finally offered the command he so deeply desired and readily accepted. With his appointment the 11th New Jersey Regiment of Volunteers, to which his name is forever linked, was born.

McAllister cared deeply for his men. Born out of his faith in Christ, he loved them and cared for their every need, even in ways that may not have been clear to them. With an eye towards their survival he used the same keen eye for detail he had practiced during his militia service, and in the 1st New Jersey, discipline and detail were important. Every button was to be in the right place, the accoutrements that the men needed to carry (ammunition, caps, and other equipment) were to be clean and ready for use. All weapons were to be maintained and always at the ready for the deadly work that was sure to come. This dedication to detail earned him the moniker “Mother McAllister” from his men. At the time it was not a term of endearment.

He led the 11th New Jersey into action for the first time at Fredericksburg in December of 1862 and the New Jersey boys performed admirably, suffering only light casualties as the rest of the Army of the Potomac suffered a disastrous defeat. This first taste of fire, death, and human suffering revealed to his men why McAllister was so detailed. From then on, “Mother McAllister” became a term of endearment that would follow him the rest of his days. McAllister’s dedication to the welfare and care of his men increased their devotion to him.

McAllister met regularly with the regimental chaplain for prayer, Bible study, and Sunday services. At first his men resisted but as time wore on, it became clear that it was wise for them to join in. McAllister never verbally ordered his men to do this; they just realized that it would be good to do so. While McAllister never drank nor uttered a foul oath, he did not condemn the men if they wanted to drink or play cards, things he himself would never do. He endeavored to bring on the change by example and deed. As a result, two massive revivals that swept the entire Union Army began in McAllister’s regiment.

The Sunday before Gettysburg, the chaplain of the 12th New Hampshire preached his sermon from Philippians 3:14: “Forgetting what is behind I press on towards the mark, the upward call in Christ Jesus.” Those two words, “press on”, became Colonel McAllister’s watchword for the night of hard marching to the fields just south of Gettysburg on the night of July 1, 1863.

The following day, July 2, found McAllister and his regiment on the Emmitsburg Road among the farm structures of the Klingle (Klingel) family farm, absorbing the brunt of the Confederate assault as it rolled up the Union line. McAllister and his regiment were steadfast as they held their own alongside men of two other Union brigades. It would cost the 11th New Jersey dearly.

The 11th New Jersey Monument along the Emmitsburg Road in Gettysburg

The regiment lost every officer above the rank of 1st Lieutenant and, by the end of the day, was commanded by John Schoonover, the regimental bookkeeper.

McAllister would recover from his wounds at Gettysburg and return to duty by August of 1863. He would rise to the rank of Major General by the end of the war. The Army would pester him to stay but he would muster out in July of 1865 and he would die on February 26, 1891 at the age of 78.

What can we can take from McAllister’s life and his faith?

Perseverance. In the face of incredible odds, both in his life and the horror of the battlefield, McAllister persevered – buoyed by his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Stewardship. In the battles of life, just like the battles of war, God requires us to put to good use all He has given us and all He has taught us. McAllister put his faith to good use through his actions, and the care and discipline of his men. This not only enabled them to perform courageously and well in combat, saving many lives, but McAllister’s acts of faith and love spread a fire of revival through the entire Union Army that led to lives saved for eternity.

Robert McAllister’s life, courage under fire and skill as a Christ following leader of men are a living testimony. His life matched his faith and belief in Jesus Christ. His actions reflected the light, life and love of Jesus.

Does yours?

- Jim Lamason

Author of the forthcoming book Into the Vortex of Fire - an historical novel about the 11th New Jersey in the Gettysburg Campaign.