BY KENDRA DEBANY / February 2017
On Dec. 23, 1864, Theodore McAllister stepped off the train at the Gettysburg Train Station. After a seven-month stint at Andersonville Prison, Georgia, followed by a one month stay at Florence Prison Pen, South Carolina, he was finally home. He had survived his Civil War imprisonment, but just barely.
As he limped along the platform, using the two crudely fashioned pieces of wood he had gathered at one of his stops on the long journey home as crutches, he took in his surroundings. Immediately he recognized a familiar face across the street and called out to his old friend, Levi Spangler. Spangler turned and stared but did not respond, whereupon Theodore called out to him, “Levi, it’s me, Theodore. Do you not recognize me?” Using a “very emphatic word,” Spangler responded, “no, I did not recognize you,” as tears fell down his cheeks. At six-feet one-inch tall, a once healthy Theodore McAllister had weighed 190 pounds. The figure standing before Levi Spangler weighed a mere one hundred pounds. He had survived, but just barely.
Although Andersonville would remain his most unforgettable experience, McAllister’s time spent there was just one of the many amazing events that would eventually make up his life story. For the time period in which he lived, McAllister would travel farther, see more, and do more than most men.
Theodore McAllister lived the majority of his life in Cumberland Township. A son of James McAllister, Theodore was instrumental in helping his father hide runaway slaves in the family’s mill on the Baltimore Pike in the decade leading up to the Civil War. When war came he signed up with a Maryland Cavalry unit, and fought with his company, until he was wounded and taken prisoner. After recuperating from Andersonville, he rejoined his regiment as their color-bearer, and served in that capacity until the end of the war.
After the war, McAllister travelled west to visit relations in other states. Once in St. Louis, he became “slightly interested in some mining claims in Virginia City, Montana Territory,” Nevada. Although he never found riches, he did have amazing experiences along the way, including fighting with Indians.
After arriving home in October 1868, McAllister married and settled down to a life of farming and raising a family. He became interested in local politics, and eventually held nearly all Cumberland Township offices. He was nominated as the Republican candidate to the State Senate in 1886. In 1894, he was elected to the state House of Representatives, and during his tenure sat on many important committees.
In addition to his interest in local and state politics, McAllister was also an active member of the Grand Army of the Republic (G. A. R.). He became Commander of the Gettysburg Corporal Skelly Post No. 9 of the G. A. R. in 1891, and also served in the capacity of senior vice, junior vice, historian, and adjutant. In addition, he served as the district president of the Southern District of the G. A. R., which was composed of members from five counties.
Throughout his life, Theodore McAllister wrote detailed accounts about his experiences. During the war, and his time out West, he wrote home frequently, and later in life he gave speeches and lectures about his experiences. His words tell the story of a man who lived through a harrowing, near death experience, survived, and went on to live a full and rewarding life.
On Monday, March 6, Kendra Debany will present a program for the Cumberland Township Historical Society that will bring to life this mostly forgotten about former Cumberland Township resident. Plan on attending the 7 p.m. event at the Church of the Brethren, 1710 Biglerville Road, Gettysburg. The program is free and open to the public.
Kendra Debany is the owner of Gettysburg House Histories, a business specializing in historical property research for homeowners in Adams County.