History of the "Leasure Guards" of Company K, 100th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry; by John H. Stevenson, 1904  (Transcribed by Barb Nicolls)


Company K "Leasure Guards"

of the 100th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry

by John H. Stevenson


      When the time of the 12th Pennsylvania Infantry (three months' volunteers) was about to expire, Aug. 5, 1861, Capt. [Daniel] Leasure sought the War Department at Washington for power to raise a regiment of infantry for the war.  This was promptly granted to him by Secretary of War [Simon] Cameron and during the month of August of that year recruiting progressed at New Castle for three companies K, H and I.

     Col. Leasure [promoted from captain] appointed the officers of all three companies, and for Company K he appointed Capt. James S. Van Gorder, a school teacher, law student and resident of New Castle; 1st Lt. Joseph H. Gilliland, a printer of the same place; 2nd Lt. Samuel G. Leasure, a son of Col. Leasure's, also a newspaper man.

     They all worked hard to get the company filled before muster in.  J. Ferris McMillen was made orderly sergeant on Aug. 31, the date of muster in, and several companies were recruited to near the maximum.

     The first week of September found the regiment in camp on Kalorama Heights at Washington, D.C.  Many other recruits were added to Company K at this camp, among whom was the writer [John H. Stevenson], whose enlistment dates Sept. 16, and muster in Sept. 23.

     A large number of Capt. Leasure's three months' company [Company H], as also members of Capt. Edward O'Brien's company [Company F] of the "Old Twelfth," joined these three New Castle companies, and the commissioned and noncommissioned officers of the same had seen service therein.  In this way we had skilled officers for squad and company drills.  Weeks passed, and we made ourselves somewhat proficient in the school of the soldier and all other drills including target practice.  Our guns were the old Harpers Ferry Musket of "buck and three balls."  The government was not prepared to give us any better weapons till after the Battle of Antietam.  The old musket was good enough to drill with, but it was an indifferent weapon in battle.  However, it was fortunate for us that Confederates were no better off.

     My mess consisted of David McAlister [McCalister], as noble a man as we had in the company; and George W. Boyles, also a splendid fellow, and who is still living (August 1904) at Los Angeles, Calif., but suffering from paralysis agitans.  The former mess mate was killed July 30, 1864 at the springing of the mine at Petersburg, Va. 

In October 1861, the regiment moved to Annapolis, Md., where it went into quarters in the United States Navy Yard.  Here we camped for about a week and were brigaded with the 50th Pennsylvania, 79th New York and 8th Michigan, under command of Gen. Isaac I. Stevens.  From there we took passage on the Ocean Queen to join the expedition to South Carolina starting from Hampton Roads, Va.

     While lying at the Annapolis Navy Yard an incident occurred that concerns several members of Company K as they were in it, and the writer was one of them.  One of the officers of the regiment had a black servant, a runaway slave, and the master came in to get him.  He first applied to Col. Leasure, who was in temporary command of the brigade, and was told to go out and find him.  This he did and reported his success.  In the meantime, Col. Leasure had invented a scheme that for emancipating a slave was quite unique.  The plan was to have the soldiers gather around the slave holder, a big pompous fellow, and hold him in the human pen until the slave could be taken to the gates and given a good start for his freedom.  This we did, and in a few minutes about two hundred enthusiastic soldiers got around the Southerner and made very interesting to him for ten minutes or more.  He swore and threatened all of us with a zest and said Governor [Thomas H.] Hicks [of Maryland] would see that we got the full penalty of the law.  This did not scare us very much, and our back talk made him furious.  At last we released him and allowed him to depart after his slave.

     At the navy yard we got several recruits for Company K among whom was William Crawford of Pittsburgh, Pa., and Joseph F. Caldwell of Allegheny, Pa.  The former was killed at Bull Run, Va., August 30, 1862, and the latter is living at this date (Aug. 25, 1904) but is a helpless invalid from a long standing disease.  He was my mess mate for about two years.

     The expedition referred to landed at Hilton Head, S.C. on Nov. 7, 1862.  This was a new climate for us, and we had much sickness.  On the 28th day of November our orderly sergeant McMillen died, and on the 27th day of same month Cpl. John W. Simmons died.  He died on the Ocean Queen and was buried at sea off the coast of South Carolina on the 5th day of November.  To our company this was truly a sad scene for the dead soldier was a favorite with the boys, many of whom had known him from childhood.

     Our work on shore (Hilton Head Island) was constructing lines of earthwork under directions of skilled engineers.  When this was completed our regiment was sent up Broad River to the city of Beaufort, S.C.  Here we landed about the 8th of December, and the "Round Heads" went into camp close to the town.

     About Jan. 10 the writer was detailed as private secretary to the colonel, which position he held for several years, though I always went into battle with the company from choice.

     The first regiment of colored soldiers was formed at Hilton Head and Beaufort in the early part of 1862 under orders from Gen. [David] Hunter.  This was called the 1st South Carolina Volunteers, though the fact of volunteering was far from being a fact, as many of the slaves were brought in as recruits by squads of armed white soldiers.  The writer was tendered a commission, but Col. Leasure dissuaded me from accepting the same, though quite a number of "Round Heads" were accepted as captains [and] lieutenants, and this regiment was subsequently disbanded as the government did not seem to be ready for such a bold scheme.

     About this time I was offered a school position in Beaufort.  A New England clergyman named Dr. Peck, a near relative of Secretary [of Treasury Salmon P.] Chase, had been sent to start a school system at Beaufort and over the adjacent islands.  I did not accept this very tempting offer as I deemed my duty was in the army as a soldier and not that of superintendent of colored schools.  The first week of January found me in the regimental hospital with intermittent fever.  This lasted about a month, and at one time I was very bad, but Dr. [Horace] Ludington and nurse Nelly Chase [Nellie Leith, the unit nurse] brought me through safely.

     The company lost heavily in the James Island engagement, Jan. 16, 1862, among whom were Thomas Gorman of Company K.  This ended our South Carolina soldiering.

     During the early months of the year 1862, several changes were made in the official staff of Company K, consisting of the promotion of 2nd Lt. Samuel G. Leasure to be adjutant vice powers, and the promotion of Orderly Sgt. Edward J. R. Spence [Spencer] to be second lieutenant of Company K.  Several recruits came to our company while at Beaufort, among whom were Robert A. Smith of Rochester, Pa., James A. Stiles and Samuel I. Stiles.  The latter died at Beaufort, and the former, his brother, is now a resident of Youngstown, Ohio.

     On July 4, 1862 we left James Island and went back to Beaufort and from thence to camp on Broad River at the "Smith Plantation," the spot where landed the first English Colony on the South Carolina coast.  Here we camped for a few days and then were sent back to Virginia, landing at Newport News July 1862.  Our movements soon brought us to the Second Battle of Bull Run [also known as Second Manassas] where we were engaged Aug. 29 and 30, 1862, losing the following in the same:

     Killed and mortally wounded in Company K; Capt. James S. Van Gorder, Lt. Edward J. R. Spence [Spencer], Sgt. J. Smith DuShane severely wounded through the right shoulder.  William McAlister [McCalister] killed, and William Evansford killed.  Sergeants Ephraim Bender and Jesse DuShane were severely wounded.

     Our next engagement was at Chantilly where a severe battle was fought with [Thomas J.] "Stonewall" Jackson's command.  The writer had the distinction of carrying the last message ever sent by Gen. Stevens.  This was a request for support to be sent in on the right flank of Stevens' command.  The order was carried to Gen. [Jesse] Reno, and aid was given soon after Gen. Stevens was killed.

     In the Battle of South Mountain, Md., on Sept. 14, the Federal Battery was routed and went in a panic to the rear.  In this a member of Company K was run over and killed.  This member was Alexander Gordon.  The result of this battle was a Union victory, and the troops moved on the Antietam where a great battle was fought on the 17th of September.  The Hundredth participated as skirmishers advancing up to Sharpsburg, Md.  This was the only military operation in that vicinity, and a few days afterwards we changed our location to Pleasant Valley, Md.

     In the latter part of October 1862, Gen. [David L.] Welsh, a relative of Governor [of Pennsylvania Andrew] Curtin, took command of our brigade, and Col. Leasure assumed command of the regiment.  Many of the company, about this time, received quite a number of recruits, among them in Company K was Robert A. Gilfillan, who afterwards became a minister.  The regiment became well filled up by these recruits, and in the latter part of October the brigade under Gen. Welsh was sent to Frederick City, Md., to intercept rebel Gen. Jed Steward [James Ewell Brown "Jeb" Stuart], who was making a detour around the army at Potomac.

     When at Frederick City, Col. Leasure sent a message by the writer, who was acting as orderly, to Gen. Welsh suggesting that he take the brigade and go out to New Market, about three miles distant [to the east], where the rebel command with its jaded horses and worn out men were in camp.  I took the order to Gen. Welsh, who read it and sent a reply saying that he was only ordered to Frederick City.  Col. Leasure sent me again with a second message requesting that he be permitted to take the Hundredth Pennsylvania alone and go out and attack Gen. Stuart's command.  Gen. Welsh refused the request, and the next morning the "rebs" were gone.  I firmly believe that the Hundredth Pennsylvania, at that time fully 700 strong, could have routed and captured Gen. Stuart's cavalry that night.

     While in camp in Pleasant Valley, our captain James S. Van Gorder died, his wounds received at Bull Run.  First Lt. Gilfillan [1st Lt. Joseph H. Gilliland] was promptly promoted to be captain, and in an election by the company, Cpl. Richard P. Craven was elected first lieutenant.  First Lt. Craven had been wounded twice at South Mountain when carrying the regimental flag.  Pvt. Richard McChesney, one of the colored guards, was also wounded in the same battle.

     After [Gen. Ambrose E.] Burnside took command of the army, along in November 1862, he moved the same towards Fredericksburg, Va., and at a little village called Waterloo, Va., we ran out of provision.  Company K was detailed to forage and with a number of baggage wagons, under 1st Lt. Craven, we went out in the country and found plenty of corn unhusked.  We returned to camp with our wagons loaded with corn, and the men of the regiment gathered around the wagon and were treated with ears of corn, which they took as voraciously as they would have taken loaves of bread, for they were very hungry.  This corn they made into hominy and parched it and made meal of it, thus sustaining life for a short time until the regular commissary wagons came up.

     In July 1864 Gen. [Edward] Ferrero had occasion to move his command to Prince George Court House, three miles below Petersburg, Va.  The medical director, Dr. Ludington directed the ambulances to follow.  To do this it was necessary to pass along the Jerusalem Plank Road for quite a distance, and over all of that distance the rebels commanded with a six gun battery.  The drivers of the ambulances all knew this, and they considered it a perilous undertaking, so that neither one of them would take the lead.  The officer in charge of the ambulances urged them all he could, but they would not start.  I was standing alongside of the officer and, although I knew the rebel battery would rake the plank road, I bantered the leading driver to get down off his ambulance and I would take the lead.  He promptly got [down], and I as promptly got up, took hold of the lines and whip and started.  I knew nothing of the plank road, never having been over it, only I knew of the battery.  I easily got on to the road, and the battery opened at once throwing shells but recklessly.  The other ambulances, several in number, followed, and we whipped up so as to get off the road as soon as possible.  The battery continued to fire over us, around us and behind us, some of the shells bursting.  We continued on our journey until we found a good place to turn off.  This we did and were soon in a position of safety.  I then turned my ambulance over to the regular driver who seemed very much relieved.  It was a very perilous drive and might have been worse for us had the battery boys been in readiness.

     At Petersburg in the spring of 1865, a great many deserters came to our lines, and sometimes this was arranged for.  A noted case is one in which a member of Company K played a prominent part.  His name was Robert A. Smith, and he is living yet at Rochester, Pa.  Smith's regular turn for picket was the night before, and that night he arranged with some rebels to desert and bring their guns over with them.  He told me that he was a little afraid that there was to be treachery, but he was going to risk it.  At this time, I was in command of the company but knew nothing of this arrangement between Smith and the rebels until the next evening when Smith came to me and asked to be allowed to picket again.  I suggested that he had just come off picket duty that morning, and then he told me about the proposed desertion of the rebels.  Smith carried out his part admirably, for in the middle of night he came to my tent having in charge three rebel deserters, as many as he had arranged for.  He asked me what he would do with them.  I told him to take them up to brigade headquarters, which he did, and then went out on picket again.  It was not long until he was back with two more, and bringing them to my headquarters, I gave him the same directions as at first.  A deserter usually got $14.00 for his gun.

     About March 1865, when I was in command of the company, we received several batches of recruits, from four to seven at a time, they mostly were drafted men or substitutes.  Among these recruits there were many very worthless ones, and a large portion of them deserted.

     There was one very peculiar fellow in one of these batches.  I learned about him from his mess mates.  They said that he was a preacher.  I sent for him, and he reported in due time, when I examined him and found the information was correct.  He was a preacher for the Free Church of Scotland.  As we had no chaplain, I presented the matter to Lt. Col. [Joseph H.] Pentecost and asked him to give the soldier a trial sermon.  This he consented to do, and that evening he preached to the regiment.  He was a young man of about twenty-four, tall and slender and was quite eloquent.  He pleased the regiment, and Lt. Col. Pentecost agreed that I might relieve him from all other duties.  He preached for the regiment regularly every Sunday that it was possible, while we were at Petersburg and at Washington, D.C., and on several occasions he preached to the brigade.  In the meantime, the reverend gentleman began to go down hill morally.  He drank to excess and got to be an expert at cards.  Some of his mess mates were also experts at cards, and on one occasion after he had preached to the brigade and had pronounced the benediction, one of his mess mates called out in a very loud voice asking him "what was trump."  He never preached after that.  He continued, however, to go down, and when mustered out he was practically one of the worst men in the company.  He has never shown up at any of the regimental reunions nor have we ever heard of him.

     In getting our recruits in the spring of 1865, Company K was filled to the maximum of one hundred and one (101), and our commissioned officers were absent from the company, the labor of drilling these recruits fell on me, and at the same time I had all the duties of the commissioned officers.  This lasted until after the fall of Petersburg.  In the meantime on the 25th of March before daylight, a rebel army broke through our lines at Fort Steadman [in Petersburg], and a division of about six thousand commanded by Gen. [John B.] Gordon got to the rear of it.  Lt. Col. Pentecost ordered all of the companies on my right to the rear as skirmishers leaving Company K in the trenches facing Petersburg.  In a short time the army fire commenced to come from the rear of us, and as Fort Haskell was near by, I without any orders from anybody, promptly ordered the whole company into the same, while the Confederates continued their advance towards Fort Haskell with a view of its capture.  I promptly placed about half of my seventy men around the parapet facing the rear and in face of the coming enemy.  Another part of the company I faced towards Fort Steadman, the fort that the enemy had captured.  My men began firing on the enemy at once, and other soldiers coming into the fort aided by loading the guns for them so that there was a very rapid fire in the face of the enemy, resulting in the rebels hunting shelter.  This they did by taking protection in our camps where they found plenty of provisions and were not willing to renew the battle.  This was a part of the Stonewall Brigade.  The enemy did not follow up, and the result was that Gen. Gordon considered the movement a failure.  Pvt. Theodore DuShane lost an arm and so did Pvt. Joseph King.  Silas Stevenson was badly wounded on the head.  There were also quite a number of others wounded who belonged to Company K.  Members of the company succeeded in gathering in possibly a hundred prisoners after the battle was over who had taken refuge in our camps.  This in my opinion was one of the important engagements in the front of Petersburg.  It was the last offensive movement of Gen. [Robert E.] Lee's army.  The prompt reinforcement of Fort Haskell by Company K being as it was the first it may have been the turning point in the whole battle, as the Stonewall Brigade was repulsed in its first charge.  One of the members of Company K, James P. Sankey, found five prisoners in his tent all of whom he took over to brigade headquarters.  This was Company K's last battle experience.

     A couple of days after this battle, we were ordered to pick out eight of the best soldiers for some special duty, we did not know what it would be, and that night the report was that it was dangerous to be on picket line.  The soldiers all knew this, and one of them who had been selected for picket duty laid his plan to keep from it.  He resorted to pouring hot grease on one of his hands so as to escape the duty.  After investigating his case, I decided to insist that he should go on picket.  I told him to go over to the medical department and get his hand tied up.  He thought this was letting him off, as he had tried this same game once before and succeeded, but he didn't succeed this time.  In the evening after dark, he was called out like the rest of the pickets and went on duty.  Sure enough, in the night both of the armies bombarded each other for over an hour as they had never done before at that point.  The infantry were told to each one fire a shot in the direction of Petersburg every fifteen minutes.  This shot over the heads of our pickets, and our burnt hand Hero(?) left his picket post with his accoutrements including everything that he could throw away, then he made his way back to camp.  He clamored over brushes, rocky places and other very rough ground, until he came within hearing distance of Company K.  Our boys all leveled their guns on him not knowing what it was, but he approached our rifle pits directly in front of Company K.  He was promptly dragged over the parapet in a perfectly exhausted condition, so that much sympathy went out for him.  He was partly unconscious, but after a few hours rest he was able to go back to his picket post.

     The last special duty of Company K was on the evening of April 2, 1865.  Being still in command of the company, I was ordered to take the same and place them along the rifle pits east from Fort Haskell to cover a front of about 250 yards, where we took up position and remained there all night and were among the first to see the conflagrations break out in Petersburg, which was the beginning of the rebel collapse.

Source:  Typewritten copy available in the History Room at the New Castle Public Library, New Castle, PA.

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