Allen was Confederate Governor of Louisiana
during Civil War period

By Dr. Terry L. Jones
Special to The Journal

• Henry Watkins Allen (Louisiana State Library)

Most prominent Civil War figures made names for themselves through either a military or political career. A few, like Henry Watkins Allen, did both. He was appointed a brigadier general in August 1863 and was elected Louisiana's governor three months later.

Allen was born in Virginia on April 29, 1820, moved with his family to Missouri when he was thirteen, and finally settled in Grand Gulf, Mississippi. There he worked as a teacher and was elected captain of a local militia company. Allen fell in love with Salome Ann Crane, and the couple eloped when her wealthy parents refused to grant them permission to wed (apparently because of Allen's lack of means). Four days later, Allen fought a duel to defend a friend's reputation. The duelists used pistols loaded with buckshot at ten feet, and both were severely wounded in the stomach.

Salome's parents soon reconciled with the couple and gave them a plantation, but Salome died childless a few years later. Allen moved to West Baton Rouge Parish to become a sugar planter and served in the state legislature from 1853-54 and 1859-61 (he had also served one term in the Mississippi legislature).

During the secession crisis, Allen joined a volunteer company as a private, but he later became colonel of the 4th Louisiana and gallantly led his regiment at the Battle of Shiloh. He suffered a severe facial wound when a bullet tore through both cheeks, but he stayed with his men. One officer wrote "the last I saw of him he was off with them like a whirlwind into the thick of the battle." At the Battle of Baton Rouge, Allen commanded an entire brigade and led a charge against a Yankee artillery battery. The cannons opened fire with grapeshot when he was just fifty feet away, killing Allen's horse and gravely wounding him. When his men gathered around and saw that one leg was shattered and the other riddled with holes, they broke down and cried. Allen refused to allow the surgeons to amputate and kept both limbs, although he was forced to walk with crutches for the rest of his life and suffered from chronic pain.

While Allen was recovering from his wounds he was appointed a brigadier general and then was elected Louisiana's Confederate governor in November 1863. At the inauguration, he was still in intense pain but dramatically hobbled to the podium to give his address. The speech was so inspirational that it was carried in newspapers across the South.

• Henry Watkins Allen (Louisiana State Library)

From the Rebel capital in Shreveport, Allen worked tirelessly to support the war effort and provide relief for the exhausted people. He was so successful in regulating finances that Louisiana's state currency was more valuable than Confederate money by war's end. Allen sent thousands of bales of cotton to Mexico and traded them for badly needed food, shoes, coffee, tobacco, flour, medicine, and other essential items that were in short supply. State-owned stores then sold the goods to citizens at reduced prices and even provided supplies to poor families free of charge. Allen also created militia units to fight Jayhawkers, urged the enlistment of slaves into the army, kept public schools open, provided $11 a month pensions for disabled veterans, and encouraged private citizens in Shreveport to sponsor plays and concerts for the soldiers to boost morale.

Allen was particularly active in providing medical support for the Confederacy by constructing new hospitals and pharmaceutical facilities. One of the latter was located at the Mount Lebanon Female University in Minden and produced turpentine, medicinal whisky, and castor oil. Native wild poppies were even used to make opium (for a pain killer).

Allen was so effective that noted historian E. Merton Coulter claimed "it was Henry W. Allen who showed the rest of the Confederate governors how good a Confederate state governor could be." Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Douglas Southall Freeman agreed and credited Allen with being "the single great administrator produced by the Confederacy."

When the war ended in June 1865, Allen fled to Mexico because he thought federal authorities might arrest him for his role in the rebellion. There he published the English language newspaper Mexican Times. Having suffered from poor health since his dueling wound, Allen died in Mexico City on April 22, 1866-one week shy of his forty-sixth birthday. His remains were eventually interred on the old state capitol grounds in Baton Rouge. Today, Port Allen, Louisiana, is named in his honor.

Dr. Terry L. Jones is a professor of history at the University of Louisiana at Monroe and has published six books on the American Civil War.