JOHNSTOWN — Part I of a four-part series printing Sundays in June.
William Ferguson Leslie was born and raised in the Ligonier Valley, Westmoreland County, and answered President Lincoln’s appeal for three-year volunteer soldiers to confront the Confederate rebellion.
He was recruited and fought alongside those he knew. And like so many other young men, patriotism, the opportunity to be part of history and the promise of a great adventure summoned Leslie.
The recruits eagerly left their farms, schools and occupations in and around Ligonier, responding to the call of native son Richard Coulter and became proud soldiers of the 11th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. And also like so many others, they would re-enlist to see the war to its conclusion.
Wounded at the battle of Antietam and recuperating at a Washington hospital, Pvt. Leslie missed the battle of Fredericksburg. But aside from that, he was in the midst of many major battles and campaigns of the Army of Virginia then the Army of the Potomac in the Eastern Theater.
Mustered out of service in 1866, he married a girl from a neighboring farm. They moved to Derry, purchased a home and began a family that eventually numbered 10 children. Working for the railroad, he followed opportunity to Johnstown where in 1889, Leslie was a survivor of that city’s great flood. He buried his mother, his wife and four of the children before his own death at age 77.
‘Fighting Dick Coulter’
Born Oct. 26, 1843 to Annie Leslie, William was the only child of a single mother. The small family lived in a rented house located several hundred yards south of the Ligonier-Cook Township line near the tiny village of Pleasant Grove.
Later they moved to nearby Mechanicsburg, known today as Rector, to reside at the head of a small valley along present Jacob Miller Road. It was there, at the age of 17 while he was working as a laborer, that the Civil War would find Leslie.
Recruited at Latrobe, he joined with close friends, neighbors and acquaintances in the summer of 1861. The boys rendezvoused at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg and were included into the reorganizing 11th Regiment PVI. Originally assembled in April 1861 and commanded by Col. Phaon Jarrett, theis regiment included soldiers who were eager to re-enlist - having shouldered the distinction of giving in battle Pennsylvania’s first blood and treasure for the Union.
They were proud of their service and accomplishments, earning commendations for conduct and discipline and wanted to keep their number designation and unity.
The new three-year 11th Regiment would become known as the “Old Eleventh.”
Greensburg native Lt. Col. Richard Coulter was recommended by Jarrett and commissioned a colonel. A prominent lawyer and businessman, Coulter was an experienced war fighter dating back to the Mexican War. Three horses were shot out from under him and he would be wounded at the Battle of Fredericksburg, Gettysburg and Spotsylvania. His tenacity and courage earned him the nickname “Fighting Dick Coulter.”
Nine companies began reorganization at Camp Curtain in late summer. Five were from Westmoreland County - C and E were recruited at Ligonier and Latrobe.
William Leslie enrolled for Civil War service on Aug. 27, 1861 at Latrobe. His mustered-in date at Harrisburg was Sept. 9, and he was assigned to Company C. Jacob Bierer, a carpenter from Latrobe, was commissioned as captain, and his brother Samuel as first sergeant.
Pittsburgh-area resident William Henry Locke was the regimental chaplain, and kept a daily diary and later wrote a book documenting the regiment’s war history. He stated in 1868 that it was the fortune of the Eleventh Regiment to be connected with most of the principal operations of the army to which it belonged.