Harpers Weekly

American Civil War Correspondent and Special Artist
James Allen Davis


James Allen Davis

Bold Bohemian James Allen DavisSince I had been fascinated by the American Civil War from childhood, it didn't come as too much of a surprise that one sunny day in April of 1996, I would be drawn to speak to Corporal Mike of the 69th New York State Volunteers (NCWA) unit at the Scottish Games and Gathering in Roseville, California. Mike piqued my already deep-seated interest in living history, and the next month I joined the 69th at the Kelley Park event in San Jose, California, reenacting as a private and later as Union brigade color corporal. For five years, I portrayed an Irish immigrant soldier and provided divertisement to the men and public with a minstrel impression, singing period songs at lyceums and in between battles.

After moving from Sacramento to Bakersfield in 1998, I helped to organize Company D of the 28th Massachusetts Infantry unit at Fort Tejon State Historic Park, but decided that I would like to share my writing skills, sketching talents and profession as a history teacher by taking up a mightier weapon than a musket; that of the pen. Given my background in drawing and writing, I decided to try the largely-neglected role of war correspondent at the Kearney Park event in Fresno, California in the fall of 1999. All I had to wear was a pair of blue wool army trousers, a white shirt, a partially completed civilian vest, and the broad-brimmed straw hat pictured at left.

Having spent over ten years compiling my family's history, I knew of my great-great grandfather, James Allen Davis, who was born in Missouri in 1856 and had ended up in Los Angeles, California with a wife and children. He had died mysteriously in 1894 in a fire at the tender age of 38, coincidentally the same age at which I began using his name on the reenacting field. I continued to take the field as James Allen Davis, Special Artist Correspondent for Harper's Weekly, through the end of the 2008 reenacting season. During those ten seasons of reenacting, I was pleased to see the impression of war correspondent grow in numbers and authenticity across the nation, honoring those brave "gentlemen of the ravenous pen," the famous "Bohemian Brigade."

Biographical Sketch

James Allen Davis was born in Cincinnati, Ohio in 1831, the eldest son of a printer who worked as a conductor James Allen Davis at Ft . Tejon  in April of 2005.on the Underground Railroad. After graduating from Oberlin College in 1852, Davis moved to Iowa to serve as a Presbyterian minister on the frontier. Three years later, he joined the fight against slavery in "Bleeding Kansas" as a writer, editor, artist, and Free State militia volunteer. In 1861 he joined the Union Army as an officer in the 7th Kansas Volunteer Cavalry.

Davis participated in the capture of Fort Donelson and Nashville as captain of scouts in Grant's 1862 Tennessee Campaign. Wounded at Shiloh, he was discharged from the army and hired as an artist by Harper's Weekly to cover McClellan's Peninsula Campaign in Virginia. He remained with the "Bohemian Brigade" throughout the war, witnessing such famous events as Second Bull Run, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the New York Draft Riots, Chickamauga and Chattanooga, Grant's Overland Campaign, the siege of Petersburg, Franklin, Lincoln's second inaugural, and Lee's surrender at Appomattox.

After Union victory, Davis traveled extensively for Harper's Weekly, covering New York City politics, the Franco-Prussian War of 1870, Custer's Black Hills Expedition of 1874, and the Anglo-Zulu War of 1879. He retired to San Francisco, California in 1881 with his longtime partner Mary Willey, where he died at age 76 in 1907.

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