"Exploits of Dr. Leasure and Roundheads"
by: Joseph Leasure, lateral descendant of Col. and Dr. Daniel Leasure
Part of a Saturday, June 19, 1993 Special Civil War Feature in the Washington Times Newspaper
On Aug. 29, 1862, the Army of the Potomac was again engaged on familiar fields. Desperate fighting had broken out on the evening of Aug. 28 on the old battlefield of Bull Run, and the tide ran dramatically back and forth throughout the next day.
By 5 p.m., Col. Daniel Leasure, commanding the 100th Pennsylvania and the 46th New York, was ordered to move north from the Dogan house to support an assault in progress. Advancing across the field, Col. Leasure and his brigade encountered the retreating remnants of that Union assault and hurried to form a line of battle. As the deployed, Brig. Gen. Isaac Stevens reported to Maj. Gen. Phillip Kearny that his men were in place.
"Will these men fight?" asked Kearny, fuming over the failrure of the last attack.
Stevens snapped in retort, "By God, Gen. Kearny, these are my Roundheads."
"Who commands them?" asked Kearny. Stevens motioned toward Leasure, and Kearny was quickly by his side, pointing toward the enemy's position. "That is your line of advance," instructed Kearny, "Sweep everything in your path. Look out for your left, and I'll take care of your right."
At the command, Leasure threw out Co. A of the 100th and Co. A of the 46th as skirmishers. At Stevens' request ("Send none but the Roundheads"), the 46th was recalled and Co. B of the 100th was designated instead.
The Pennsylvanians made their way across the field as it rose to a dense forest. As the union infantry entered the woods, the Confederates opened a deadly fire. At the sound of the rebel rifles, the Union artillery opened up, sending shot and shell over the heads of the Federals.
In the midst of the woods, the Union troops in command began returning the fire of the 8th and 28th North Carolina. Leasure noticed his left flank had advanced too fast and was being hit by withering fire. He ordered a staff officer to order the Union right moved to compensate. The officer was too dumbstruck to move.
Gen. Stevens, observing the precarious situation, rode up and offered his assistance, and soon the Roundheads were facing the Confederate line squarely.
For brief moments the firing halted and Leasure learned that the North Carolinians had taken position in an unfinished railroad cut not 100 feet from his front. Entrenched behind the cut, they opened fire as Leasure ordered his men forward. The men advanced through the murderous fire to the rim of the cut, charged the Tarheels and occupied the position.
Within minutes, however, the rebels had re-formed and were advancing. Stevenss sent word for the brigade to fall back to it's original line. Meanwhile, Leasure and his son, George, were wounded.
"The Roundheads" re-enlisted en masse for three years.
The ammunition of the 100th was almost expended, and he gave the order to fall back. Bleeding from his wounds, Leasure remained briefly watching the Confederates advance "as if on parade", he would later remember. He then fell back with his remaining few men.
Leasure was wounded by a ball that entered his leg just below the knee. He was taken to Philadelphia to be treated by his friend and former professor, Dr. S.D. Gross. The ball could not be extracted and would remain in his leg for the rest of his life.
Daniel Leasure was born near Pittsburg, Pa., in 1819. A surgeon by training, he also engaged in various commercial affairs around his community, as well as being a colonel in a local militia company.
On April 15, 1861, as Leasure prepared to visit patients in Lawrence County, the news arrived of the firing on Fort Sumter as well as President Lincoln's call for 75,000 volunteers to put down the rebellion. Within hours the doctor had turned over his practice, bid farewell to his wife, and began to form a regiment. By September, the regiment was guarding the railroad line above Baltimore. At the suggestion of Winfield Scott, the predominantly Scotch-Irish regiment was christened "The Roundheads" in honor of the Scotch participation in the English civil war. At the end of 90 days, when it became apparent that the war would be a long one, "The Roundheads" re-enlisted en masse for three years.
Trying to get his unit designated a Pennsylvania regiment met with little success until Leasure called upon the president personally to intercede. Lincoln did, and "The Roundheads" became the 100t Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.
In camp, Leasure instructed his unit in the art of war while keeping a physician's keen eye on sanitation and hygiene. Sickness was relatively low in the ranks because of Leasure's care, and his methods were adopted by other commanders. The colonel often was found in the hospital tents assisting the surgeons after an engagement.
The 100th was assigned to the 9th Corps, with Leasure given command of the 2nd Brigade. The brigade took part in the amphibious assaults along the Carolina coasts and suffered severe casualties in the disastrous battle of Secessionville. Several times during the war Col. Leasure was considered for promotion to general, but the rank always seemed to elude him. The governor of Pennsylvania, still smarting over Leasure's appeal to President Lincoln for the regiment's designation, is said to have quashed a promotion for him in the battle of Secessionville.
Gens. Kearny and Stevens, both impressed with his actions at Second Bull Run, were killed a few days later at the Battle of Chantilly. (Ironically, in 1865, he was brevetted major-general by Ulysses Grant after he resigned from the Army.)
Leasure rejoined his command in time to take part in the Vicksburg campaign and the 9th Corps' excursions into Tennessee and Kentucky. While in the field, he contracted malaria and spent the remainder of 1863 in Cinncinnati.
The spring of 1864 found the colonel again in command of his brigade as the Army of the Potomac opened its final campaign, beginning in the Wilderness. Deep forests with dense underbrush hampered the men at every step. Confused orders and impossible terrain made this battle horrible even by Civil War standards.
By mid-afternoon on May 6, 1864, Leasure and his Roundheads were in the position at the intersection of Orange Plank and Brock Roads in the middle of a desperate attack by Gen. James Longstreet's corps. Union forces managed to repulse Lee's veterans and the battle was fought to a bloody stalemate. During the battle, Leasure clambered atop a cannon to rally his men, and was again wounded.
Being a physician, he realized that no amount of recuperation would fully restore his health. Over the next few months he agonized over his military career. And in early August he learned that his son had been killed in action at the Battle of the Crater, July 30. He tendered his resignation on Aug. 30, 1864.
He returned to Pittsburgh to resume his medical practice. He found himself limited as a doctor, as he could not stand or ride for extended periods. His wife, Isabella, died in March 1867. In February 1870, he married Nancy Warden, whose husband had died in the war. In the late 1870s, in his late 50s, his health worsened. He and his wife moved to St. Paul, Minn., where he became active in veterans' affairs.
He also repeatedly applied for a pension. Finally, in January of 1882, he was awarded a partial pension--$7.50 a month for his wound at Bull Run-after a barrage of statements and affidavits from former members of his command. The Pension Office even dispatched an Army surgeon to St. Paul to examine Leasure.
By 1884 he found it almost impossible to walk and intensified his efforts to secure a full pension. The bureaucracy was urelenting, however, and continued to request additional documentation until, finally, a letter arrived from Leasure's wife, her anger revealed in the content.
"In regards to what you desire Dr. Leasure to do I would say Dr. Leasure died last Oct. It seems to me you are not very prompt in regards to those [who] fought and risked their lives for their country if it takes ten years to reach an application as it is nearly that long since Dr. Leasure removed from Arab St. [in] Allegheny, Pa. To St. Paul, Minn."
On Oct. 1, 1890, by an act of Congress, Nancy Leasure, widow of Daniel Leasure, late colonel of the 100th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry was awarded a full widow's pension.
Joseph Leasure is a lateral descendant of Col. Daniel Leasure of the 100th Pennsylvania
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