Wednesday, October 26, 2011

October 1861: Jail-Break of Andrew Hiram Ackerman

At dusk on October 10, 1861, three men broke out of the Northampton County Jail, in Easton, PA.  Two of the men were career thieves, Stephen Gross and a man only identified as Bowen. The third man was a Belvidere soldier,  Andrew Hiram Ackerman, who would die a hero's death at Gettysburg on July 2, 1863.  Gross and Bowen were awaiting trial for a robbery committed in Bethlehem.  Ackerman was awaiting trial for stealing $40 on September 3, 1861 from his uncle, William H. Hutchinson, a magistrate in Mount Bethel.

Ackerman, 25, had joined the Warren Guards in Belvidere on April 18, 1861 as a private.  In early May, he was elected Lieutenant of the Belvidere Company of Zouaves.  On May 20, 1861, he left the Belvidere Zouaves to enlist for Federal Service in Company I, 2nd NJ Volunteer Infantry Regiment as a private. 

The regiment was camped in Newark, NJ for training.  On September 3, while on leave from the 2nd NJ, Ackerman stole $40 from his uncle and returned to camp.  Hutchinson pursued Ackerman to Newark, where Ackerman was arrested.  Ackerman was sent to Warren County Jail in Belvidere, where authorities were leaning toward sending the soldier back to his regiment.  On the insistence of Hutchinson, his nephew was extradited to Northampton County.

Ackerman wanted to return to his regiment.  On October 10, Ackerman, Gross and Bowen cut the iron bars of their jail cell window and lowered themselves into the jail yard.  The men scaled the jail yard wall and "left for parts unknown."  Ackerman returned to his regiment and went off to war.

In June 1862, Ackerman was commissioned 1st Lieutenant of Company A, 11th NJ Volunteer Infantry Regiment.  On March 6, 1863, Lt. Ackerman was transferred to Company C, replacing Captain John Willis, who was disabled from wounds.  On March 29, 1863, Ackerman was promoted to Captain.  Captain Ackerman was with his men in the peach/apple orchard of the Smith Farm  at Gettysburg when the Confederates attacked on July 2, 1863. 

Colonel Robert McAllister, of Oxford Furnace and Belvidere, was wounded as he shouted, "Fire!"  Ackerman and Adjutant John Schoonover, of Oxford Furnace, learned that McAllister and senior Captains Luther Martin and Dorastus Logan were wounded.  Ackerman would have been next in line to command the regiment, but Ackerman was killed instantly after hearing the adjutant's report.  Ackerman was treated to a hero's burial, but had he survived the war, he probably would have been arrested to face Northampton County charges.

Copyright 1997-2011: Jay C. Richards

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