January 1864 marked the expiration of the term of enlistment for William Ferguson Leslie of the Ligonier Valley and the rest of the original three-year enlistees of the 11th Regiment of Pennsylvania.
Out of patriotism and devotion – as well as a generous bonus – more than three-fourths of the men re-enlisted as veteran volunteers.
This earned 204 soldiers a 35-day furlough. They were permitted to travel as a group, taking their arms and equipment with them. By Feb. 10, the men were back at Camp Curtain, separating into companies and coordinating their journey home. Sallie Ann Jarrett, their dog mascot, traveled to Greensburg with Col. Richard Coulter.
By April 3, the men returned to camp near Culpeper, Va., and new recruits brought the regimental strength up to 590.
With Gen. Ulysses S. Grant now in command, the Army was reassembled and readied to his satisfaction.
The 11th Pennsylvania was attached to the Fifth Corps, Second Division, Second Brigade.
On May 5, Grant attacked the army of Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee at the Wilderness. A corporal described this three-day battle as a “whirlpool of death,” and the 11th lost hundreds of men.
Next came Spotsylvania Courthouse during mid-May.
Again, casualties were high, and Sallie was hit in the neck by a Minie ball. One flag-bearer was killed and the next wounded. Coulter received a chest wound and was carried from the field.
Sallie’s wound was later examined and deemed nonlethal. However, the bullet could not be removed. She soldiered on, and months later the ball dropped out on its own.
Marching by night and fighting by day, the war-weary troops of the Overland Campaign grew ever so fatalistic.
Most wrote their names on shards of paper pinned to the inside flap of their uniforms so their bodies could be identified.
Chaplain and regiment historian William Henry Locke of Pittsburgh observed, “Time was the first thing to be done after a halt was to make coffee. ... Now the first thing the men do is entrench.”
Sallie’s last march
Grant pushed them ever harder as they participated in the Battle of Cold Harbor from May 31 to June 12. The 11th saw action during the assault and the long siege operations against Petersburg. In the interim they battled at and then took part in the destruction of the Weldon Railroad. In action near the “Yellow House” they captured the colors of the 24th North Carolina.
Winter found the 11th in the vicinity of Sussex Court House in front of Petersburg, filling the ranks with new recruits, reorganizing and drilling. They were on the move by the first week of February 1865, and late in the afternoon of Feb. 6 were hotly engaged with the enemy at Hatcher’s Run, Va. This battle would be Sallie’s last.
Among the men who first advanced and in line with the file closers, she received a devastating head wound from a Confederate bullet and died instantly. She was found lying with the bodies of two soldiers with whom she had shared a tent the night before.
While still under fire, some men buried her where she fell so their faithful dog might receive a respectful interment.
In the ensuing days, the men missed their mascot terribly, carrying the war to its end without her.
The next two months found the regiment making scores of frenzied moves in pursuit of Lee’s army in this area of Virginia. The Confederate government in Richmond was evacuated on April 2, and thereafter Lee withdrew from Petersburg.
Palm Sunday morning broke calm and clear. The troops were exhausted from another seemingly unending week of marching, which had begun exactly seven days prior at Gravelly Run Church southwest of Petersburg.
The day before that they fought at White Oak Road and captured the battle flag of the 32nd Virginia. Moving west, they crossed the Appomattox River on April 7 and put Prince Edward’s Courthouse behind them the day after.
Early on this Sunday morning of April 9, 1865, the 11th Pennsylvania moved out of it’s bivouac and had just criss-crossed a railroad in the vicinity of Appomattox Court House when at 9 a.m. it received orders to halt, cease hostilities and remain in place. The end was at hand.
Honors and eulogies
On the afternoon of this day, two extraordinarily principled men would meet to begin the process of healing. As their comrades in arms departed Virginia, the Fifth Corps remained an additional five weeks to carry out the terms of capitulation. They marched in the Grand Review in Washington on May 23.
All staffs on parade were draped in mourning, but the 11th Regiment paid a special homage. The soldiers outlined the center red stripe of their tattered grand old battle flag with strips of black crepe and edged its border in black as a unique tribute to their friend, Abraham Lincoln. The regiment then mustered out on July 1, 1865.
Leslie’s term of service ended with the 11th on Dec. 14, 1864.
Upon re-enlistment, he attached to Co. K, 3rd Regiment United States Veteran Volunteer Infantry and served until Feb. 27, 1866.
From the beginning, the 11th Regiment gained a reputation as tough and dependable.
As if robotic, they could always be counted on to do their duty in a professional and courageous manner.
Research can find few instances when a single member ever acted disgracefully in the face of battle. By war’s end, two members were awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor – Hiram DeLavie of Co. at Five Forks, Va., and George Reed of Co. E at Weldon Railroad, Va.
Coulter would be brevetted a brigadier general, and the unit earned the distinction of being the oldest in continuous service from Pennsylvania fighting in both the first and last infantry battles of the war. Two other unique outcomes are that they retained their original flag and their commander, either at the regimental or brigade level, for the duration.
Locke returned to his civilian ministry and at the time of his retirement in 1904, serving a total 52 years as a pastor.
In his book, he recounted his thoughts as the wounded and dying began to fill the Hoffman yard just above the banks of the Big Antietam.
As chaplain, he was tasked with keeping death records and burial registration. He knew each soldier’s relationship with Christ and felt compelled to write about it. He recalled throughout the previous year, no matter how long and tiring the forced marches or strenuous the duties or how terrifying the battles, there were always men of the 11th Pennsylvania who were “faithful to their Divine Master” and would find time and a place to gather and hold a evening prayer meeting.
He described these men as coming from Christian families and how faithful they were to God and country. Faithfulness that translated into incredible brave and courageous warriors who would readily make the ultimate sacrifice for the convictions they held for themselves, the preservation of the Union and the United States as a whole.
Locke eulogized that it was many of these who were the first to fall at Thoroughfare Gap, Second Bull Run and now Antietam Creek.
When the 11th Pennsylvania designed a monument to be erected on Oak Ridge in Gettysburg, the survivors demonstrated their admiration and unanimously resolved to include a tribute to their loyal mascot.
A likeness of Sallie Ann Jarrett fashioned from the only known photo is represented on the front of the base facing the field. From the left side they listed their battles, which include: Hoke’s Run-Cedar Mountain-Rappahannock Station-Thoroughfare Gap-Bull Run 2d- Chantilly-South Mountain-Antietam-Fredericksburg-Chancellorsville-Gettysburg-Mine Run-Wilderness-Spotsylvania-North Anna-Totopotomoy-Bethesda Church-Cold Harbor-Petersburg-Weldon Railroad-Dabney’s Mill-Boydton Road or Gravelly Run-Five Forks-Appomattox.
Leslie returned to Mechanicsburg after the war. He married longtime acquaintance Elizabeth Rector, who lived within the same Ligonier Valley farming community. She was the daughter of Lewis and Phoebe (Critchfield) Rector, and the two were wed by Squire Louther of Laughlintown on Jan. 30, 1867.
They moved to Derry, where they bought a home to begin their family and had their first five children.
Leslie worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad at the St. Clair Station. About 1874, the growing family moved to within close proximity of the Pennsylvania Railroad station at Sang Hollow, just west of Johnstown, where they would spend the next 10 years and have three more children.
In 1884, they moved again, east and slightly closer to Johnstown, where Leslie purchased a small farm along the banks of the Conemaugh River in the area now known as Morrellville and they had their final two children. They attended the Calvary Methodist Episcopal Church on Chandler Avenue after transferring from Coopersdale United Methodist.
Johnstown and the G.A.R.
Leslie continued with the Pennsylvania Railroad as a foreman until age 38.
Then he went to the fast-growing Cambria Iron Co. in Johnstown in 1881.
After 32 years of service, he retired as a manager on
Nov. 1, 1913, upon reaching the mandatory retirement age of 70.
Tragically, the Leslies lost two teenage daughters in 1882 and 1890 to unknown reasons.
As a family, they survived Johnstown’s great flood of 1889, then Leslie's mother, Annie, died that December.
All three daughters originally were buried in the old Decker Cemetery in Morrellville then later reinterred at Grandview Cemetery in 1906. The couple lost an adult son in 1903 and Elizabeth died in 1911 following an extended illness. An adult daughter died of a throat ailment in 1915.
Leslie was a member of the Emory Fisher Post No. 30 chapter of the Grand Army of the Republic fraternal organization. The 1890 special census of Union veterans of the Civil War revealed many members of the “Old Eleventh” living in and around Johnstown.
The Leslie home in Morrellville still stands today.
Located within the 200 block of D Street, it is modernized and delightfully kept.
The barn remains as well and has been renovated into an attractive home.
The family was often described as “well known.”
Nearby Leslie Street, which once adjoined the property, is named in tribute.
It now connects lower Chandler and Butler.
In his final years of life, Leslie was cared for in the nearby home of his youngest son. The family lived within the 400 block of Dorothy Avenue in Morrellville and there he died at 7:30 p.m. on Jan. 7, 1921, after a short illness.
He was 77.
Leslie is buried alongside his wife, both teenage daughters and his mother in the Leslie family plot at Grandview Cemetery, in section Prospect 1.