'What wilt thou have me to do?'

Biographical Profile of Pvt. David Strang, Co. B

Short Biographical profile by Timothy Bennett.


' What wilt thou have me to do?'

               Born in Cambridge, New York on May 22, 1836, David Strang was twenty four years old in 1860 when he started his senior year at Westminster College in Western Pennsylvania.  He was witnessing one of the most tumultuous times in his countries short history.  As the November Presidential elections ended with the victory of Abraham Lincoln, he began to see the great Union of states begin to fall apart.  By the time his final year in college came to an end the country was in the midst of secession fever and the first shots of a great Civil War had been fired.  A time that should have been one filled with happiness and hope for the young graduate was now marred by the dark clouds of war that had settled over the country.

               Westminster College was a Presbyterian institution which produced many good theologians who were taught to teach the word of God and see the good in human kind.  David had been successful in his studies even ending up at the top of his class as English Valedictorian.  On July 6, 1861 the graduating class of Westminster was together for the last time for the 'Annual Exercises' and David Strang was asked to present the valedictorian speech. 

               The 'Lawrence Journal' reporter who sat in the audience that day wrote that "The oration was rather sublime and patriotic in sentiment."  As David began to give his speech thoughts of his days in school began to give way to thoughts of his countries time of crises.  The spirit of the speech was not lost on the audience made up of parents and local notables.  The newspaperman reported, "His interrogatory, in reference to the present crises - What wilt thou have me to do? - passed through the audience as a shock of electricity."  By the time 'Father' Abraham called for 300,000 more men to put down the Southern Rebellion, David Strang would find himself in the ranks of Company 'B' of the 100th Pennsylvania Vols. "The Roundhead Regiment."

               On the 14th of August 1862 the Valedictorian of the Westminster class of 1861 enlisted in the U.S. Army for three years.  At 5 foot 9 & 1/2 inches tall with brown hair, blue eyes and a fair complexion this quiet intellectual man joined the ranks of one of the most hard fought units in the War.  On that day  Captain T. J. Hamilton, the brother in law of Col. Leasure, recruited Private Strang in New Castle, Pa.  The 100th was now a veteran regiment of many hard fought battles which extended from Seccessionville, S.C. to Second Manassas and Chantilly in Virginia.  The 'Roundheads' by Sept 1862 were resting inside the defenses of Washington following the disastrous Pope Virginia Campaign which had cost many Roundhead casualties.

               Like the other raw recruits just enlisted in August, Private Strang was rushed to the regiment and joined it on their march northward on September 10.  By the 14th he found himself in line of battle for the first time facing a strong Confederate force on South Mountain.  Now the fortunes of the 100th would be his own together with his comrades he would fight for his beloved Union on battlefields from Maryland to Mississippi and from Tennessee back to Virginia.  As the answer to his valedictorian question 'What wilt thou have me to do?' became a stark reality.

               That stark reality would culminate in the bloodiest single day of the Civil War at the Battle of Antietam.  After surviving his baptism of fire in Maryland the regiment was ready to take a much needed rest before heading south on the next campaign.  This southern movement would take them further into Virginia to the town of Fredericksburg.  December 1862 would bring another blood bath to the Army of the Potomac but luckily for Private Strang and the other members of the regiment it would not be for them.  Although in the middle of the maelstrom the regiment was spared from sacrificing themselves against the Confederate defenses.

               By February the Roundheads with the rest of the Ninth Corps were ordered out of the line at Fredericksburg and taken on a movement west.  Now transferred to the Department of Ohio,

Private Strang and the regiment found themselves in the state of Kentucky.  While the regiment was encamped in Camp Dick Robinson located about six miles south of the Kentucky River, on April 15, 1863, Private Strang was promoted to 5th Sergeant of Company 'B'.  The qualities that made David the valedictorian of his college class now after only seven months in the ranks,  were the qualities of leadership that were recognized by his comrades in arms.

               Now Sgt. Strang would march with his company as they began their Vicksburg Campaign in June and July of that same year.  After the surrender of the great Confederate bastion the Roundheads were once again on the move and headed back into Kentucky and into Tennessee.  By November they were facing the veteran troops under Longstreets command at Knoxville.  After successfully defending that city against the Rebel force, Sgt. Strang and other members of the regiment faced a decision to complete their first enlistment and go home or reenlist for three more years and see the Confederacy fall.  Sgt. Strang would have to once more face the question that he put to his classmates back in 1861, 'What wilt thou have me to do?'   He had suffered on many battlefields as well as on the long march with his comrades.  Would his devotion to his country and his god call on him to do more?  By Dec. 28, 1963 he apparently had been given the answer to his question when he was discharged by virtue of re-enlistment as a veteran volunteer.  Now Sgt. Strang would see the end of this terrible war or die in the attempt.

               By January David was marching home for his well deserved Veterans furlough.  By February they were once again back in Western Pennsylvania and it is possible during this time he did something that many of his comrades did while they were home, he got married.  The records show that David Strangs new wife was Gella Strang who lived in New Wilmington, Pennsylvania.  That same small town where Westminster College is located and where David spent his years in college.

               By March 1864 the Roundheads were once again back in camp and getting ready for the upcoming spring offensive in Virginia.  This time under the command of General U.S. Grant and this would be the fight to the finish.  Now maybe Sgt. Strang would finally get the answer to his question that he continued to think about in his mind.

               By May 5th the 'Roundheads' were crossing the Rapidan River and marching into the Wilderness.  Sgt. Strang during his service in the regiment had taken the time to engrave his initials, company letter and regimental number onto the spout of his 'Bullseye' canteen;  "D.S."  Co. B' 100.  The same canteen that was issued to him and the one he was about to carry into the maelstrom of the Wilderness.  By using this form of identification Sgt. Strang would be assured that when someone took the canteens off to fill them up at a nearby spring, he would get his back.  After fighting in the thick woods of the Wilderness the Roundheads continued south and once again came face to face with the enemies of his country and this time Sgt. Strang would not be so fortunate.

               By May 12th the Roundheads were once again in line of battle and ready to charge the Confederate defenses during the Battle of Spotsylvania Court House.  With approximately 800 men in the ranks of the 100th  along with fewer than 200 men of the 21st  Mass they were about to attack some of the most formidable breastworks ever faced by Civil War Soldiers.  As William G. Gavin stated in his Regimental history of the 100th, the site of this magnificent charge by the 'Roundheads' "remains a shrine to heroismů..".  It was during the gallant charge that Sgt. Strang leading his men was struck down by a Rebel Mini ball.  The bullet entered the front of his thigh and traveled downward exiting approximately 6" from the point of entry without striking the bone and thereby saving his leg.  Strang was one of the 135  'Roundheads' who were either killed, wounded, or missing that day.  David made his way to the field hospital and later transferred to the Emory General Hospital in Washington, D.C.  This would keep Strang in the hospital for the remaining months of 1864 as the wound slowly healed.

               By February 1865 Sgt. Strang was once again welcomed back to the ranks of the Roundheads by his men.  Still carrying the bloodstained canteen that he wore during the past years campaign.

As he reentered the ranks little did he realize that he was shortly to be a part of yet another Great Roundhead victory.  On March 24, 1865 Lee made the last bold offensive movement of the war by his Rebel army with the Battle of Fort Stedman.   Here the 'Roundheads' made possibly their greatest charge, when they attacked the Rebel occupied  Ft. Stedman and successfully defeating the Confederate defenders and capturing their battle flags.  With this defeat the fall of the Rebel Capital was eminent and the events of the next few weeks found Sgt. Strang and the 'Roundheads' in pursuit of a retreating enemy.  With the surrender of General Lee's army at Appomattox Court House the fighting for the 'Roundheads' had finally come to an end.  Sgt. Strang would take part in the Grand Review through Washington on May 23rd, 1865 and one week later on May 30th  he was discharged by General Order 22.

               With his wound undoubtedly continuing to give him trouble, David made his way back home to Western Pennsylvania to pick up where he left off after graduating from college.  After three years of terrible warfare and fighting on some of the worst Battlefields known to mankind, David Strang finally got an answer to his question that had haunted him.  'What wilt thou have me to do?  After seeing brother killing brother and witnessing all the pain and sorrow in the hospitals and battlefields, David knew what he had to do.  He would devote his life to preaching peace and the word of the Prince of Peace.

               By 1867 David was officially listed in the Westminster College class of 1861 Alumni Catalogue as a Minister in the Presbyterian church.  By 1869 his ministry had led him to Cairo, Egypt where he was working for the church as the Superintendent of the Mission Printing Department.  Reverend Strang would spend the next ten years in Cairo and would earn the title of Licentiate in the Church. 

               By 1877 Reverend Strang would return to the United States and become the Minister of the Presbyterian Church in Lincoln, Tennessee.  A small town in South Tennessee close to the Alabama state line and to old battlefields during his 'Roundhead' days.  David would remain at Lincoln for the next eighteen years of his life.  When at the age of 59 he would once again return to  Egypt in the Middle East, this time in the capacity as minister and missionary .  He would continue his missionary work in the cities of Maghagha and also at Beni Sef.  Here he would remain and with the coming of the 20th Century the old Sergeant from the 'Roundheads' would sit to have his image taken.  Even after sixty four years one can still see the strength and vigor which he had exhibited in his days of youth.

               By 1911 at the age of 75 years old David Strang would again return to his beloved Country and once again settle in South Tennessee, in the city of Fayetteville and continue ministering to his countryman.  By the time when the country was yet to face another war but on foreign soil, in 1917, the 81 year old Veteran of long ago battlefields died in Kelso, Tennessee.

               Several years ago I was lucky enough to spot a Civil War canteen that was about to be auctioned off and looking closely on the pewter spout I observed the initials of this remarkable 'Roundhead'.  The Canteen still retaining the original blue wool cover bore the stains of what appeared to be the soldiers blood.  This along with the image of the 'Roundhead' that carried it on the battlefields has become a special part of my Civil War collection.  As I walk the grounds of the Westminster College in the small town of New Wilmington, Pennsylvania I can still imagine that day in 1861 when the young theologian addressed the audience and in a patriotic tone that sent a wave of electricity through the crowd asked, 'What wilt thou have me to do?'   A spirit of patriotism that is some how lost in our modern day world.


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