An Alfred Pleasonton Question

    The Pennsylvania Memorial contains bronze standing sculptures of President Lincoln, Pennsylvania war-time Governor Andrew Curtin, Major Generals George G. Meade, John F. Reynolds, Winfield Scott Hancock, David B. Birney, and Alfred Pleasonton, and Brigadier General David McM. Gregg.  I can understand why Lincoln is on the monument even though he was not a Pennsylvanian. Curtin grew up in Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. Meade and Birney were from Philadelphia. Hancock was from Norristown. Gregg came from Huntington, Pennsylvania. Pleasonton lived his life before and after the army in the District of Columbia. How did he end up on the monument? A search through our files in the park library offered not a clue. But his family offers some circumstantial evidence that might explain it.

Alfred Pleasonton. LOC

    Pleasonton did have a Pennsylvania connection through his mother, Mary Hopkins, who was from Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and whose father, besides being a successful farmer had served in the state senate. Mary married Stephen Pleasonton and the couple resided in the District. It was Stephen, by the way, who saved the Declaration of Independence, the U.S. Constitution, Articles of Confederation and other priceless documents of the early Republic from being burned by the British in 1814. Stephen and Mary spent their lives together in the District and it was here that Alfred and his older brother (by 23 years) Augustus were born. Both sons attended West Point. Augustus graduated in 1826, when Alfred was 2, served four years and resigned his commission. He moved to Philadelphia and became an attorney. But he continued his involvement in things military by serving in the state militia for many years. At the outbreak of the Civil War, he was recalled to service by the state and promoted to brigadier general in the militia.  In June 1863, during the Confederate invasion of Pennsylvania, he was placed in command of the defenses of Philadelphia.  Augustus may also have had a son for Francis Heitman’s Historical Register of the United States Army lists an Augustus Pleasonton from Pennsylvania who was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the 1st U.S. Dragoons on April 26, 1861, promoted to 1st Lieutenant on May 14 that same year, transferred to the 1st U.S. Cavalry in August, and was retired August 16, 1862 for reasons not explained.
    Given Augustus’s long service to the state of Pennsylvania, it seems likely that there is some connection between it and his brother Alfred ending up on the Pennsylvania Memorial. Augustus died in 1894 so he was not the one behind it. It has even been suggested that the Pleasonton on the Memorial is Augustus and not Alfred. This is unlikely. Although Augustus had a connection to the campaign he was not present at the battle and Philadelphia was never threatened. Secondly, at the dedication of the Memorial the references made in dedication speeches to the bronze sculpture are clearly to Alfred, not Augustus.

Alfred Pleasonton on the Pennsylvania Memorial. NPS

    Who then was behind getting Alfred Pleasonton on the Pennsylvania Memorial? To any of our readers who are interested in tackling this question, we are interested in what you learn.

D. Scott Hartwig

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Staff of Gettysburg National Military Park
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4 Responses to An Alfred Pleasonton Question

  1. Edward Vogt says:

    The most likely explanation to me is that the monument depicts equal representation. Note that the four sides of the monument represent the different branches: infantry, artillery, cavalry, and signal corps. The vast majority of PA general officers are in the infantry. At Gettysburg, there were no PA commanders in the artillery or signal corps. But perhaps they didn’t want eight statues just to infantry commanders. Instead, they would choose four of the many infantry commanders, two cavalry commanders, and two civil leaders. Lincoln and Curtain are understandable as the two civil leaders. But of the cavalry general officers in the AOP, only the two Gregg cousins are directly from PA. Instead of having two Gregg statues, they would’ve chosen Pleasonton because he’s the only other cavalry general officer with even a loose connection to PA. Thus, Gregg and Pleasonton become the two cavalry commander statues. But that’s just my hypothesis.

  2. Lisa Kelley says:

    It seems very likely that Augustus did indeed have a son, also Augustus, aforementioned in the military records. He was born in 1836 in Philadelphia Pa. In 1850 (source US 1850 census) he was attending school in Cornwall, Orange Co., New york. Subsquent records include: 1871 England census at which time he was residing in St. Martins in the Fields, London England. His death occured September 24, 1881, source Philadelphia PA death certificate, which stated his residence as London England. So…his father Augustus died some 13 years later. As yet I have not found documentation definitely stating first Augustus was his father, but one can be fairly certain. Perhaps the figure on the Memorial is the son Augustus rather than Alfred? Clearly further research is needed, if I find anything further…will post

    • The Staff says:

      Lisa,

      Thanks for information. The evidence is pretty strong that the figure on the Memorial is Alfred rather than his brother Augustus, or Augustus’s son, since he is regularly referred to as Major General Pleasonton in dedication day comments. Alfred was the only major general of the three. Also, one of the speakers at the dedication was General David Gregg, who definitely knew who the statue was meant to represent.

      Let us know if you uncover any new information about Augustus’s son.

      Scott H.

  3. Craig Caba says:

    Scott — an interesting question which confounded me for years, along with other scholars in the early days of the Harrisburg Civil War Round Table. Did anyone research the PA Archives? This was a PA monument complete with state appropriations. It was subject, like all such projects of PA Governmental committees, to retaining developmental information, inquests, hearings, and significant correspondance, etc. A maroon covered book was produced at the time dealing with the statue topic, design, complete with Tipton photos of the bronzess, etc., etc.
    There is a complete group of said Tiptons preserved in the Wert Collection, as Prof. Wert previously wrote “Monuments and Indications” and lived near the State Capitol itself. No mention is made of Pleasonton statue.
    As the Commonwealth’s history arm, the PHMC or governing Commission, has authorized the PA CW 150th Program. Perhaps a John Seiders, its administrative director, would have more information. Later in September (I believe the 19th) the Commission will have their public meeting at the State Museum. If the “Park” has any plans regarding the PA Monument for the 150th, it is suggest a representative visit the Commission and in a spirit of co-operation inform them. Perhaps the PHMC could assist in discovering this oddity.
    As I reflect upon the subject, Governor Geary, General Crawford, and a few others both distinguished themselves in the battle and were interested veterans.

    All the best.
    G. Craig Caba

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