When the South bombarded Fort Sumter in April 1861, the Ellithorpe family in rural New York answered President Lincoln’s call to defend the Union. For the next four years, the two Ellithorpe brothers and two of their brothers-in-law fought in some of the Civil War’s most storied regiments, on nearly every major battlefield in the East. In this utterly unique Civil War history/biography, John A. Simpson reconstructs the intertwined lives and wars of four Union soldiers, from Bull Run to Gettysburg and beyond.
When the Civil War broke out, Phillip Ellithorpe, Philander Ellithorpe, Asa Burleson, and Oliver Moore did not hesitate to volunteer to fight for the Union. Their service would encompass virtually every branch of the Northern army: infantry (including sharpshooters), cavalry (mounted and dismounted), and artillery as well as commissary, engineering, and ambulance duty. They would serve in six different regiments: the 13th Pennsylvania Reserves (the legendary Bucktails); the 27th New York Infantry (the Union Regiment); the 2nd New York Mounted Rifles; the 5th Vermont Infantry; the 1st New York Dragoons; and the 1st Minnesota, which gained immortality at Gettysburg. They would participate in the major battles of the war’s Eastern theater: First Bull Run, the Peninsula, Second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, and Grant’s Overland campaign through Petersburg. Phillip would die at Gettysburg, and the other three would return home and live under the shadow of the Civil War for the rest of their lives.
All for the Union tells the dramatic story of these four soldiers, weaving their lives and wars into a tapestry of how one family navigated home front and battle front during the Civil War. Based on 180 family letters, voluminous primary and second sources, and visits to homes and battlefields from Allegany County, New York, to Richmond, Virginia, All for the Union is a remarkable contribution to Civil War history.
John A. Simpson is a retired high school history teacher. He earned a doctorate in history from the University of Oregon and has written a handful of books on the Civil War and several on baseball history. He lives in Kelso, Washington.
The Pennsylvania Bucktails have become one of the most famous units in the Army of the Potomac’s storied history. John A. Simpson’s excellent new study reminds us that these fabled marksmen of the Keystone State’s northwest wilderness were real people answering the call to duty. Simpson grounds the story among families and communities impacted by a war far away yet brought close to home by the experiences of men who left the woods to defend a country they were largely geographically isolated from. This is regimental history at its most effective, shedding light not just on a unit with near-mythological skills but also offering insight into the war itself and the homefront it disrupted.