JOHNSTOWN — Part III of a four-part series printing Sundays in June.
The second day of 1863 was marked by an arms upgrade to the new .69-caliber rifled musket. Then soldiers
– including Westmoreland County native William Ferguson Leslie – encrusted it on Gen. Ambrose Burnside’s infamous Mud March three weeks later.
Afterward, a demoralized army dug in for the winter. Once again the average soldier had to reach deep into his soul to find inspiration, because it was not coming from the leadership. That was until Gen. Joseph Hooker was placed in charge.
As the Army of the Potomac languished at its headquarters near Falmouth, Va., he responded to a huge morale problem.
Hooker granted furloughs and improved rations and clothing and integrated all sorts of favorable incentives that by spring had renewed their enthusiasm and passion to fight. While at Stafford Heights on April 8, the 11th Pa. joined together with four infantry corps and collectively was ordered into parade formation all the while in suspense.
After a long wait, the 11th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry began marching in review with the dog-mascot Sallie in her typical place at the head of her regiment near the flag and behind Col. Richard Coulter, who was now fully recovered.
Upon approaching the review stand, they saw – to their surprise – President Lincoln among the officers of the high command.
The president appeared fraught and war-weary, burdened with the weight he had carried for so long. But the sight of that little dog leading the regiment stepping with a renewed spirit of honor and dignity gave Lincoln such delight that he tipped his stovepipe hat in salutation and was visibility moved with emotion.
North to Pennsylvania
May opened with the regiment at the Battle of Chancellorsville. The final week of
June 1863 found the 11th in peaceful repose back in the Middletown Valley, guarding Turner’s and Crampton’s Gaps at South Mountain as Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee’s army was again crossing into Maryland. As dreadful rumors circulated among the men, the 2nd Division went to Frederick on June 29.
An early wake-up on June 30 found them moving in the direction of Emmitsburg, Md.
With all excess baggage sent to the rear, they were now rushing north to guard against Lee’s invasion. During a halt, the soldiers were told in unusual specifics how the Confederates penetrated deep into Pennsylvania. Detailed were the enemy’s probable intentions and the crisis at hand.
Gen. George Meade was the Union Army’s new commander and the 11th Pennsylvania was brigaded with the 12th Massachusetts, the 83rd and 97th New York, and the 88th and 90th Pennsylvania under Brig. Gen. Henry Baxter. Chaplain and regiment historian William Henry Locke of Pittsburgh recorded that the Pennsylvania men gave a loud cheer as they crossed the Mason-Dixon line at the Adams County border – impassioned to defend their home state.
Some of the New Yorkers struck the John Brown chorus.
In the early morning hours of July 1, they could hear the swelling sound of artillery to their front and were increasingly hurried north as they passed several wagons of local residents evacuating. At that time and place, there was some question regarding the condition of their First Corps commander, Gen. John Reynolds, who was in Gettysburg – and every man was needed at the front. Just before approaching the Nicholas Codori farm, they turned to the northwest rapidly traveling overland through fields and woodlots. Approaching the Lutheran Theological Seminary just west of Gettysburg, they could see artillery shells bursting over the trees ahead. The walking wounded came streaming back through the lines and an occasional shrill yelp of the Rebels could be heard.
Pvt. Leslie and the 212 soldiers of the 11th Regiment reached the seminary area a little before noon.
Shorty thereafter, the 97th New York and our 11th Pennsylvania, both under Coulter’s command, were ordered to load their weapons and set out from the seminary. They crossed the Chambersburg Pike then a nearby unfinished railroad cut and proceeded north along the west slope of Oak Ridge toward Oak Hill with orders to connect with the 11th Corps coming onto the field – all the while under small arms and artillery fire.