“He is hard to fool and to catch”

On May 21, 1863, Lieutenant Lemuel Keith, Company G, 61st Regiment North Carolina Troops, was put in charge of a detail to find and arrest Lieutenant John McAllister. McAllister, 51st North Carolina, Company A, was absent without leave after overstaying his sick furlough. Keith and his detail searched near McAllister’s home at Hilton in New Hanover County.

John W. McAllister began his military career in 1861 as the second lieutenant (and later, captain) of the 23rd NC Militia. On February 8, 1862, the 25-year-old farmer was appointed a second lieutenant of State Troops by North Carolina’s military department. McAllister joined George Walker’s infantry company in New Hanover County. In April, Walker’s company was mustered into service as Company A, 51st Regiment North Carolina Troops.

Lieutenant McAllister was frequently absent sick, missing at least three months of duty during 1862. In April 1863, he once again left the regiment on sick furlough. On May 4, 1863, McAllister was listed as AWOL for not returning to his unit when his latest leave expired.

On May 26, Lieutenant Keith was camped near Hilton. He sent a report to General Clingman’s Adjutant, Major T. Brown Venable. In the report, Keith states that he and his men are “badly wearied” and “broke down” after four days and nights of searching for the AWOL McAllister. “[H]e is hard to fool and to catch,” explained Lieutenant Keith. But word had reached Lieutenant Keith that McAllister was returning to his company that day.

Lieutenant Keith turned out to be correct. McAllister returned to the 51st North Carolina’s camp the day Keith wrote his report. Lieutenant Colonel Caleb Hobson, temporarily commanding the regiment, had McAllister arrested immediately and notified General Clingman.

McAllister had submitted his resignation not long before being arrested. But now that he was detained, he decided to withdraw the request. “I fear that a tender of my resignation at this time with such charges threatening me, might persuade some that my conduct had been such as to make me fear an investigation,” wrote McAllister. It didn’t matter. On August 24, 1863, a General Court Martial found McAllister guilty of being absent without leave, disobeying orders, and engaging in conduct prejudicial to good order. John W. McAllister was dismissed from the service.

McAllister later joined the Confederate Navy and served as a landsman on the CSS Arctic and the CSS Raleigh.

Reference: Clingman Papers, Folder 12, Scans 145, 146, 149, 165, and 166.

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