Ken Harbaugh tells the stories of service members who have distinguished themselves through an act of valor. These stories feature recipients from the Civil War to present day, including a few who were originally overlooked for the medal.
Corporal James Allen served in the Union Army, and fought in many famous battles including Bull Run, Gettysburg, and Chancellorsville without ever seeing the inside of the hospital. During the Battle of Crampton’s Gap, Allen was separated from the rest of his division, and faced a squad of Confederates. He charged, prompting them to retreat. Allen then realized that they must think he has a squad behind them, because they’d never retreat with only one man in pursuit. Leaning into this, he hopped over a wall, landed amongst the 14 enemies, and convinced them to surrender. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for this impressive trick.
Welcome to the Medal of Honor podcast, brought to you in partnership with the National Medal of Honor Museum. I’m Ken Harbaugh. In each episode, we’ll learn about a different service member who has distinguished him or herself through an act of valor.
CPL James Allen was born in Ireland on May 15th, 1843. At around the age of 7, Allen and his family immigrated to the U.S. and settled in New York.
A month after the beginning of the American Civil War, on May 15th 1861, Allen enlisted in the Union Army. He was 19 years old.
Then Private Allen went on to fight with the Army of the Potomac in many famous battles including Bull Run, Gettysburg, and Chancellorsville without ever seeing the inside of a hospital.
On September 14th, 1862 in South Mountain, Maryland, Allen fought in the Battle of Crampton’s Gap. He and his division were charging through a cornfield at the Confederates when their color-sergeant was shot in the head. Without someone to direct the attack, Allen and another soldier, Private James Richards, were separated from the rest of the division. They quickly realized that they faced a large squad directly in front of them. Richards turned to Allen and asked “Now what have we to do, Jim?" Allen replied, “Charge the wall, I reckon. That was what we came for."
Greatly outnumbered, they charged, and the enemy retreated, but Richardson was hit in the left leg. Allen helped prop him up against a tree where he would be more sheltered, and continued the charge alone, chasing the enemy over a 7ft stone wall when a bullet scraped the skin under his right arm. Taking cover under the wall, Allen reloaded his gun and assessed his options. Retreating would be much too risky- he’d be exposed to enemy fire and he was sure to be hit. But taking on a platoon alone was impossible. Then, Allen realized that the Confederates must believe that he had a whole squad behind him, otherwise they would have never continued their retreat with only Allen in pursuit. Leaning into this accidental ruse, Allen waved his arms and shouted “Up men, up!” and jumped over the wall, landing amongst 14 Confederates, including one color-sergeant. With a brave face, Allen demanded they surrender their arms and their colors. They hesitated, but Allen’s further threats convinced them to comply. Allen quickly separated the men from their weapons, lest they see through his trickery, and had what he called an “interesting conversation” with the captured enemy. Soon enough a Union Colonel reached Allen at his advanced position and relieved him. He returned to the rest of the division with the enemy’s colors in hand as proof of his great deception. He reported Richardson’s location so he could receive medical attention, but they weren’t able to save him. During the charge a third of the division was killed.
Corporal James Allen was awarded the Medal of Honor on September 11th, 1890 for single handedly taking 14 confederates captive during the Battle of Crampton’s Gap.
The Medal of Honor podcast is a production of Evergreen Podcasts.
Nathan Corson is our executive producer and mixing engineer, Declan Rohrs is our associate producer, scriptwriter, and recording engineer, and I’m Ken Harbaugh.
We are proud to support the National Medal of Honor Museum. To learn more, and to support their mission, go to mohmuseum.org. Thanks for listening.