DEATH OF COLONEL ALANSON E NILES
SKETCH OF A PROMINENT MILITARY OFFICER AND WELL-KNOWN CITIZEN
Last Thursday morning Colonel Alanson E Niles, of this borough, died at the German hospital in Philadelphia, where he went on the 21st of September to undergo a delicate surgical operation. He stood the operation well and seemed to be on the way to recovery, when Bright’s disease was developed and he rapidly grew weaker until the end. Mrs. Niles and his son Lieut. Nathan E. Niles were at his bedside. The remains were brought home on Friday, and on Saturday afternoon the funeral was held at his late residence on Main street, the burial being with military honors.
Alanson Erric Niles was a son of Mr. Nathan Niles, one of the early settlers of Charleston township. He was born on his father’s farm near this borough October 5, 1816. He inherited the homestead and was engaged in farming until 1857, when he came to this borough and engaged in the mercantile business with Mr. Aaron G. Elliott, the firm of Niles & Elliott doing business in the old wooden building which stood on Main street on the corner just below the First National bank.
In 1861 Mr. Niles was among the first to respond to the call for volunteers to suppress the Rebellion. He enlisted in this borough, recruiting a company of men, and was elected Captain of Company E of the First Pennsylvania Rifles, better known throughout the country as the “Bucktails.” He was mustered into service May 31, 1861.
At Dranesville on December 20, 1861, the Bucktails are credited with winning the first victory of the war for the army of the Potomac. Here Captain Niles was severely wounded, being shot through the lungs. He was in the hospital some time, but as soon as he was able he hastened back to his regiment.
On the morning of the second day of the battle of Gaines Hill six companies of the Bucktails were stationed on a hill above a swamp to guard a bridge, the only crossing for miles in either direction. When the armies retreated, Companies D and E, with Captain Niles in command, were left to hold the bridge. The boys stood their ground until a Rebel brigade came up in their rear to within ten rods, when they retreated over the brow of the hill to fall into Jackson’s advancing corps. They were completely surrounded and taken prisoners. Company E was the color company of the regiment and rather than have their flag fall into Rebel hands they burned it in the swamp. Captain Niles was in Libby prison for 49 days, when he was exchanged, together with most of the members in his company, and they at once went to the front again.
Captain Niles was promoted to the rank of Major on March 1, 1863, and on the 15th of May following he was made Lieutenant-Colonel of the regiment. It was while with the Bucktails in their charge on Little Round Top at Gettysburg, on the 2d of July, 1863, that he was wounded in the left thigh.
Lieut Col Niles was afterward transferred to the Veteran Reserve Corps with promotion to the rank of Colonel. He commanded the corps during the raids of the famous Mosby in eastern Virginia, and at White House Landing he held the field against Mosby’s men for one whole day, when he was relieved by Gen. Sheridan.
Colonel Niles was then sent to Point Lookout, a general depot for prisoners, where he remained in charge until after Lee’s surrender. He then went to Washington.
On the night that President Lincoln was assassinated Col Niles was in Ford’s theater, and he heard the pistol shot and hastened to the hallway and saw the wounded President being carried out.
Col Niles participated in the following battles during the war: New Creek, Hunter’s Mills, Dranesville, Gaines Hill of the seven days fight before Richmond, Fredericksburg, South Mountain, Antietam and Gettysburg.
When the war closed and the grand review was held in Washington Colonel Niles was selected from among the thousands of officers to be the officer of the day, and he had full military charge of the city at the time.
Col Niles was then commissioned as Captain in the regular Army, and for three years he was stationed at Plattsburgh, N.Y., in command of the military barracks.
On account of disability by reason of his wounds he was retired in 1869 with the rank and pay of a Captain, and he came to this borough to reside. After his retirement he lived here quietly, enjoying the respect and esteem of his neighbors, and always taking a lively interest in the affairs of the Government. He was an ardent lover of rifle-shooting and recently notwithstanding his years, he made some remarkable scores on the rifle range.
It can truthfully be said of Col Niles that he was a stranger to fear and a martyr to duty. His record during the war was one of great personal courage and of thorough devotion to the exact discharge of military duty in every station. At home among his friends although of a naturally retiring nature, he was cheerful, genial and steadfast.
Col Niles was married November 10, 1842 to Angeline Austin, of Charleston. Two sons and two daughters were born to them. His widow and Lieut Nathan E. Niles of the Navy, survive him.
The funeral was held last Saturday afternoon at the family residence and it was largely attended. Rev. Dr. A.C. Shaw conducted the service. The Cook Post, G.A.R. attended in a body, and twenty five members of Col Niles’s company acted as a military escort to the cemetery and tenderly committed the remains of their late commander to the dust. Each member wore the distinguishing bucktail on his hat. Among the many floral tributes was a buck constructed of white flowers, which was a testimonial of Company E of the Bucktails. At the cemetery the service was in charge of the Cook Post No. 315, G.A.R.
Currently a resident of Burke, Virginia - I'm originally from the City of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. I have been a student of the Pennsylvania Reserves since 1997 and thoroughly enjoy telling their story. By trade I'm a former IT Professional but presently working as a Letter Carrier for the United States Postal Service.