Example is not the main thing in influencing others. It is the only thing. Hope is renewed each time that you see a person you know, who is deeply involved in the struggle of life, helping another person….Those not tied down by suffering are called to help those who are chained by suffering.
– Albert Schweitzer, Thoughts for Our Times
Penned by a French-German humanitarian-physician who died at his hospital in Central Africa just over a century after the end of America’s Civil War, the words of Albert Schweitzer (above) evoke the spirit of Pennsylvania’s Leisenring family – generations of whom worked to improve the quality of life for men, women and children across the great Keystone State during the 19th century. In so doing, they became exemplars of courage, compassion and public service – genuine role models whose “everyday hero” efforts are still worth emulating today.
Among the most dedicated and inspiring of the public servants who bore the Leisenring surname were several who descended directly from or married into the family lines of Peter Leisenring (28 February 1770-25 February 1833) and Susannah (Schad) Leisenring (1 May 1774-17 May 1837), who both rest at the Sunbury Cemetery in Sunbury, Northumberland County. Two of their grandchildren – Martin and Thomas – are the primary subjects of this biographical sketch.
Martin W. Leisenring and Thomas B. Leisenring
Born in Lehigh County, Pennsylvania in 1838 and 1842, respectively, Thomas Benton Leisenring and Martin Weaver Leisenring were grandsons of the aforementioned Peter and Susannah Leisenring and sons of Sunbury, Pennsylvania native Peter Leisenring (5 August 1813-December 1849) and Katharine M. (Seagraves) Leisenring (23 May 1815-21 May 1883).
According to Charles Rhoads Roberts, the author of History of Lehigh County, Pennsylvania and a Genealogical and Biographical Record of Its Families, their mother, Katharine, was a daughter of James Seagraves, and their father, Peter, “engaged in the livery business at Court and Church streets and … ran stage lines to Berwick and to Philadelphia. He was one of the organizers of Allen Lodge, No. 71, I.O.O.F. [International Order of Odd Fellows], having been a member of the order at Sunbury, and a member of the Lutheran Church.”
The Leisenring brothers grew up in Allentown, along with their siblings: James Peter (1839-1896), Reuben S. (1840-1911), Jacob P. (1843-1862), Susan E. (1845-1856), and Lydia Louisa (1846-1904).
One of the documented facts about the formative years of the Leisenring family is that at least one of Peter and Katharine’s sons – Thomas – was educated at the Allentown Academy. As a student there Thomas B. Leisenring presented the declamation, Make Way for Liberty, during the afternoon exercises at the school’s Annual Festival at Odd Fellows Hall on 31 July 1849, and also acted the role of Evans in The Bashful Man. Later that evening, he then played the part of “Mrs. Shortcommons – something of a “Politician” in The Spirit Whistle of the Allentown Furnace.
But happy as those moments were, that year also brought heartache and worry for the Leisenring siblings with the untimely death of their father, who passed away in Allentown at 11 p.m. on 17 December 1849. The Lehigh Register reported that their family patriarch had been suffering from consumption (tuberculosis), and was just 37 years old at the time of his passing, adding that:
He left a widow and 6 children to mourn the loss of a kind husband and an affectionate father. His remains were deposited in the cool bowels of the earth on Wednesday following, attended by a large concourse of relations, and friends, and finally the Society of Odd Fellows, of which he was one of the Fathers, paid their last respect of honor in very large numbers.
Less than six months after Peter Leisenring’s burial at the Allentown Cemetery on Linden Street, the family experienced another shocking loss when the second youngest of the Leisenring siblings, Susan, was killed in a horse-related accident on Allentown’s Walnut Street Bridge on 12 May 1856. She too was laid to rest at the Linden Street Cemetery (also known as the Allentown Cemetery).
Three years later, according to Roberts, the family lost yet another member. This time, however, it was due not to the actions of the grim reaper, but to a decision made by Reuben Leisenring, the second oldest of the siblings, who felt compelled to leave all he knew in order to strike out in search of adventure. Making his way west in 1859, Reuben ultimately settled in the community of Warren in Trumbull County, Ohio, where he began an apprenticeship in the printer’s trade, “which he followed until the outbreak of the Civil War, when he enlisted in Company C, 84th Ohio Infantry, and served nine months.”
Another departure from the family fold soon followed when eldest sibling, James Peter Leisenring, also headed west. Opting for a far longer trek, he finally reached and settled in California sometime prior to the start of the U.S. Civil War.
Meanwhile, Thomas B. Leisenring was also beginning his own printer’s apprenticeship, learning the trade under Mifflin Hannum at the Allentown Democrat. Subsequently employed in North Carolina, he returned north when he realized that the growing divide between America’s North and South were pushing the country toward war. He found work with the Carbon County Democrat at Mauch Chunk (the Pennsylvania borough now known as “Jim Thorpe”).
Around this same time, Thomas Leisenring’s brother, Martin, was also entering the printer’s trade in Mauch Chunk. The 1860 federal census confirmed that a “Mart Leisenring” was apprenticed to, and residing in that community with the family of printer W. O. Struthers.
As a result, the family’s matriarch – Katharine (Seagraves) Leisenring – had become nearly an “empty nester” by 1860. Continuing to make her home in Allentown’s 3rd Ward with her 12-year-old daughter, Lydia, and 50-year-old Elisa Stein, she was described by the federal census taker as a “Lady” with a personal estate valued at $1,000. She would live to see her nation transformed both by war and the Industrial Revolution while observing with pride as her children became respected civic leaders in their respective communities.
Martin Weaver Leisenring
Born in Allentown, Pennsylvania in 1842, Martin Weaver Leisenring was a member of a very select group of Americans – those who earned the revered 19th century title of “First Defender” – because they were the first to respond to President Abraham Lincoln’s call for volunteers to defend the nation’s capital following the fall of Fort Sumter to Confederate States Army troops during mid-April 1861.
At the age of 18, he was already willing and able to make that quick response because he had been a member of the Allen Guards (also known as the Allen Infantry), one of several local militia units which drilled regularly in his hometown. Formally mustered in as a private on 18 April 1861, he and his fellow Allen Guardsmen were designated as Company G of the 25th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry for their Three Months’ Service as First Defenders, and were placed in harm’s way – much to their surprise – before they could even reach Washington, D.C.
It happened while on a stopover on their train route from Harrisburg to Washington. Required to disembark from one train in Baltimore in order to march with soldiers from other First Defender units to a depot across the city to catch their next ride, they were set upon by an angry mob of Confederate sympathizers who began jeering while hurling bricks at them. Stationed in the center and rear of the column, the Allen Guardsmen helped push the group of First Defenders past the mob – aided by local police units who were positioned on their left and right. Boarding their next train, they reached Washington at 7 p.m. that same night, and were assigned to quarters in Vice President Breckenridge’s room next to the United States Senate chamber in the U.S. Capitol Building. Issued muskets and minie ball ammunition from the Harper’s Ferry Arsenal on 19 April, Martin Leisenring and his new brothers-in-arms were then visited that same day by Lincoln, who took the time to shake each of their hands and thank them for their service to the nation.
After occupying and guarding the Capitol Building for twelve days, during which time they were drilled intensively in Hardee’s Infantry Tactics, Martin Leisenring and his fellow Allen Guardsmen were transferred on 1 May with individual companies from several of the other First Defender regiments to the United States Arsenal two miles south of the city, where they were responsible for guarding 70,000 weapons (rifles, muskets, and heavy artillery guns) and their associated powder and ammunition supplies. Nine days later they were issued the standard blue uniform worn by the regular troops of the United States Army. Sent to Rockland, Maryland on 29 June, they moved on to Poolesville the next day before marching on to Point of Rocks, Sandy Hook, and Harpers Ferry, where they skirmished briefly with Confederate troops on the Fourth of July before occupying that town. Two days later, they marched for Williamstown and across the Potomac River to Martinsburg, Virginia (now part of West Virginia), where they made camp. Marching out with their brigade on 15 July, they briefly made their new home at Bunker Hill before breaking camp again two days later and marching to Charlestown and then back to Harpers Ferry the next day. Upon expiration of their three-month term of service, they were sent back to Harrisburg by train, by way of Baltimore, and formally mustered out on 23 July 1861.
Thomas Benton Leisenring
According to Roberts, Martin’s brother, Thomas Benton Leisenring, was also a First Defender. Born in Allentown in 1838 (alternate birth year 1837), he “enlisted April 22, 1861, as a private in Captain John Craig’s Company I, of the Sixth Regiment, in the three month’s service.” Military records at the time showed that he was a 23-year-old compositor at the time of his enrollment at Mauch Chunk.
Also known as the Anderson Greys, the men from Company I were transported with the other members of their regiment to Philadelphia, where they were initially assigned to guard critical points along the Philadelphia, Wilmington, and Baltimore Railroad. Three weeks later, they were ordered to rendezvous at Perryville and make camp near the Susquehanna River. On 28 May, they were transported via Baltimore and the Northern Central railroad to Chambersburg, where the regiment was personally reviewed by General Robert Patterson and assigned to the brigade of Colonel George H. Thomas. Ordered to prepare two days’ worth of cooked rations on 5 June, they marched for Greencastle the next day. Reviewed by Major-General George Cadwalader on 13 June, they were then ordered onward. On 15 June, they crossed the Potomac River and made camp at Williamsport from 16-24 June before moving on to Downsville, where they remained until 1 July. Engaged in the Battle of Falling Waters on 2 July, they then began their occupation of the town of Martinsburg, Virginia (now in West Virginia), which lasted from 3-15 July, when they advanced on Bunker Hill before moving on to Charlestown two days later. On 27 July 1861, Private Thomas Leisenring then completed his service that same summer, mustering out honorably four days after his brother was honorably discharged.
47th Pennsylvania Volunteers – Three Years’ Service
Knowing that the fight to preserve America’s Union was far from over, Martin and Thomas Leisenring then both promptly re-upped for additional tours of duty; both also elected to join a new regiment – one that had only just recently been created by Tilghman H. Good – the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry. After Martin Leisenring enrolled in Allentown on 20 August 1861, he formally mustered in at Camp Curtin in Harrisburg as a corporal with Company B of the 47th Pennsylvania. Military records at the time described him as being a printer residing in Allentown who was 5’4½“ tall with brown hair, black eyes, and a dark complexion.
Barely a month later, Thomas Leisenring re-enrolled in Allentown, and then formally mustered in at Camp Curtin on 18 September 1861 as a sergeant with the 47th Pennsylvania’s G Company. He was then promoted to the rank of first sergeant (sergeant-major) the next day. Military records at this time described him as being a 23-year-old printer residing in Lehigh County who was 5’4½“ tall with light hair, blue eyes, and a light complexion.
Following their brief training in light infantry tactics at Camp Curtin, the Leisenring brothers and their fellow members of the 47th Pennsylvania were transported south by rail to Washington, D.C. Stationed roughly two miles from the White House, they pitched their tents at “Camp Kalorama” on the Kalorama Heights near Georgetown beginning 20 September. On 24 September, they officially became part of the U.S. Army when the 47th Pennsylvania mustered in for federal service. Three days later, their regiment was assigned to Brigadier-General Isaac Stevens’ 3rd Brigade, which also included the 33rd, 49th and 79th New York regiments. By that afternoon, their regiment was on the move again. Ordered onward by Brigadier-General Silas Casey, the Mississippi rifle-armed 47th Pennsylvania infantrymen marched behind their regimental band until reaching Camp Lyon, Maryland on the Potomac River’s eastern shore. At 5 p.m., they joined the 46th Pennsylvania in moving double-quick (165 steps per minute using 33-inch steps) across the “Chain Bridge” marked on federal maps.
Marching toward Falls Church, Virginia, they arrived at Camp Advance around dusk. There, about two miles from the bridge they had just crossed, they pitched their tents in a deep ravine near a new federal fort under construction (Fort Ethan Allen). They had completed a roughly eight-mile trek, were situated close to General W. F. Smith’s headquarters and were now part of the massive Army of the Potomac. Under Smith’s leadership, their regiment and brigade would help to defend the nation’s capital from the time of their September arrival through late January when the men of the 47th Pennsylvania would be shipped south.
On October 11, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers marched in the Grand Review at Bailey’s Cross Roads after having been ordered with the 3rd Brigade to Camp Griffin. In a mid-October letter home, Captain John Peter Shindel Gobin (the leader of C Company who would be promoted in 1864 to lead the entire 47th Regiment) reported that companies D, A, C, F and I (the 47th Pennsylvania’s right wing) were ordered to picket duty after the left wing companies (B, G, K, E, and H) had been forced to return to camp by Confederate troops.
On Friday morning, 22 October 1861, the 47th engaged in a Divisional Review, described by historian Lewis Schmidt as massing “about 10,000 infantry, 1000 cavalry, and twenty pieces of artillery all in one big open field.” On 21 November, the 47th participated in a morning divisional headquarters review by Colonel Tilghman H. Good, followed by brigade and division drills all afternoon. According to Schmidt, “each man was supplied with ten blank cartridges.” Afterward, “Gen. Smith requested Gen. Brannan to inform Col. Good that the 47th was the best regiment in the whole division.” As a reward – and in preparation for bigger things to come, Brigadier-General John M. Brannan obtained brand new Springfield rifles for every member of the 47th Pennsylvania.
Next ordered to move from their Virginia encampment back to Maryland, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers left Camp Griffin at 8:30 a.m. on Wednesday, 22 January 1862. Marching through deep mud with their equipment for three miles in order to reach the railroad station at Falls Church, they were transported to Alexandria, and then sailed the Potomac via the steamship City of Richmond to the Washington Arsenal, where they were reequipped before being marched off for dinner and rest at the Soldiers’ Retreat in Washington, D.C. The next afternoon, the 47th Pennsylvanians hopped cars on the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad, and headed for Annapolis, Maryland. Arriving around 10 p.m., they were assigned quarters in barracks at the Naval Academy. They then spent that Friday through Monday (24-27 January 1862) loading their equipment and other supplies onto the steamship Oriental.
As the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers commenced boarding the Oriental during the afternoon of 7 January, they were ferried to the big steamship by smaller steamers with the officers boarding last. Per the directive of Brigadier-General Brannan, they then steamed away for the Deep South at 4 p.m. – headed for Florida which, despite its secession from the Union, remained strategically important to the Union due to the presence of Forts Taylor and Jefferson in Key West and the Dry Tortugas.
Arriving in Key West with their fellow members of the regiment, the Leisenring brothers were assigned to garrison Fort Taylor. Drilling daily in heavy artillery tactics, they also helped to strengthen the fortifications at that federal installation. The 47th’s early days here were not easy, however; more than a few members of the regiment fell ill due to the poor sanitary conditions and water quality.
From mid-June through July, the 47th was stationed in and around Hilton Head and Beaufort, South Carolina. Picket duties north of the 3rd Brigade’s camp were commonly rotated among the regiments present there at the time, putting soldiers at increased risk from sniper fire. According to historian Samuel P. Bates, during this phase of their service, the men of the 47t“received the highest commendation from Generals Hunter and Brannan” for their “attention to duty, discipline and soldierly bearing.”
During a return expedition to Florida beginning 30 September, the 47th joined with the 1st Connecticut Battery, 7th Connecticut Infantry, and part of the 1st Massachusetts Cavalry in assaulting Confederate forces at their heavily protected camp at Saint John’s Bluff overlooking the Saint John’s River area. Trekking and skirmishing through roughly 25 miles of dense swampland and forests after disembarking from ships at Mayport Mills on 1 October, the 47th captured artillery and ammunition stores (on 3 October) that had been abandoned by Confederate forces during the bluff’s bombardment by Union gunboats.
From 21-23 October, under the brigade and regimental commands of Colonel T. H. Good and Lieutenant Colonel George W. Alexander, the 47th engaged Confederate forces in and around Pocotaligo, South Carolina – including at Frampton’s Plantation and the Pocotaligo Bridge – a key piece of southern railroad infrastructure which Union leaders felt should be destroyed.
Harried by snipers en route to the bridge, they met resistance from an entrenched, heavily fortified CSA artillery battery which opened fire on the Union troops as they entered an open cotton field. Those headed toward higher ground at the Frampton Plantation fared no better as they encountered artillery and infantry fire from the surrounding forests. The Union soldiers grappled with Confederates where they found them, pursuing the Rebels for four miles as they retreated to the bridge. There, the 47th relieved the 7th Connecticut. But the enemy was just too well armed. After two hours of intense fighting in an attempt to take the ravine and bridge, depleted ammunition forced the 47th to withdraw to Mackay’s Point.
Losses for the 47th Pennsylvania were significant. Sergeant-Major Thomas Leisenring’s commanding officer, Captain Charles Mickley of G Company, was killed in action. And Leisenring’s younger brother, Corporal Martin Leisenring of B Company, was among the wounded. On 23 October, the 47th Pennsylvania returned to Hilton Head, where it served as the funeral Honor Guard for General Ormsby McKnight Mitchel, the commander of the U.S. Army’s 10th Corps and Department of the South who had succumbed to yellow fever on 30 October.
Having been ordered back to Key West on 15 November 1862, much of 1863 was spent garrisoning federal installations in Florida as part of the 10th Corps, Department of the South. The Leisenring brothers joined their fellow soldiers from Companies A, B, C, E, G, and I in continuing to garrison Fort Taylor in Key West while Companies D, F, H, and K garrisoned Fort Jefferson, the Union’s remote outpost in the Dry Tortugas off the coast of Florida.
As with their previous assignments, the men discovered that disease would be their constant companion and foe – which makes it all the more remarkable that, during this phase of service, the majority of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers chose to re-enlist when their three-year service terms were up.
Among those re-upping were Corporal Martin Leisenring and his brother, Sergeant-Major Thomas Leisenring, who re-mustered at Fort Taylor, respectively, on 10 and 21 October.
On 25 February 1864, the Leisenring brothers and their 47th Pennsylvania comrades next set off for a phase of service in which their regiment would genuinely make history. Steaming first for New Orleans aboard the Charles Thomas, the men arrived at Algiers, Louisiana on 28 February and were then transported by train to Brashear City. Following another steamer ride – this time to Franklin via the Bayou Teche – the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were attached to the 2nd Brigade, 1st Division of the Department of the Gulf’s 19th Army Corps. In short order, the Leisenrings and their fellow 47th Pennsylvanians became part of the only Pennsylvania regiment to serve in the Red River Campaign spearheaded by Union General Nathaniel P. Banks.
From 14-26 March, they passed through New Iberia, Vermillionville, Opelousas, and Washington while en route to Alexandria and Natchitoches. Often short on food and water, they encamped briefly at Pleasant Hill the night of 7 April. The next, they moved on, and marched until mid-afternoon when they met the enemy face to face.
Rushed into battle ahead of other regiments in the 2nd Division, 60 members of the 47th were cut down on 8 April during the volley of fire unleashed during the Battle of Sabine Cross Roads (Mansfield). The fighting waned only when darkness fell. Exhausted, the uninjured collapsed beside the gravely wounded and deceased members of their brigade. After midnight, they finally withdrew to Pleasant Hill.
The next day, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were ordered into a critically important defensive position at the far right of the Union lines, their right flank spreading up onto a high bluff. By 3 p.m., after enduring a midday charge by the troops of Confederate General Richard Taylor (a plantation owner who was the son of Zachary Taylor, former President of the United States), the brutal fighting still showed no signs of ending. Suddenly, just as the 47th was shifting to the left side of the massed Union forces, the men of the 47th Pennsylvania were forced to bolster the 165th New York’s buckling lines by blocking another Confederate assault.
Once again, casualties were severe. The regiment’s second in command, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander, was nearly killed, and the regiment’s two color-bearers, both from Company C, were also seriously wounded while preventing the American flag from falling into enemy hands. A number of enlisted men were also killed in action or died later from their wounds. Still others were captured by Confederate troops and marched roughly 125 miles to Camp Ford, a Confederate Army prison camp near Tyler, Texas, where they were held as prisoners of war until released during a series of prisoner exchanges beginning on 22 July.
Following what some historians have called a drubbing by the Confederate Army and others have called a technical Union victory (or at least a draw), the 47th Pennsylvanians fell back to Grand Ecore, where they resupplied and regrouped until 22 April. They then scored another victory against the Confederates, this time in the Battle of Cane River near Monett’s Ferry.
Placed temporarily under the command of Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Bailey from April 30 through 10 May, the brawn of the 47th Pennsylvania was harnessed to help build a dam that enabled federal gunboats to successfully traverse the fluctuating waters of the Red River.
Beginning 16 May, the Leisenring brothers moved with most of the men from their regiment from Simmsport across the Atchafalaya to Morganza.
By 20 June, they finally were calling New Orleans their latest home.
But their sojourn here would prove to be just another temporary one. On the Fourth of July, they received word from their commanding officers that their regiment had received new orders.
Sheridan’s 1864 Shenandoah Valley Campaign
After receiving orders to return to the East Coast, the members of the regiment did so in two stages. Beginning 7 July, Companies A, C, D, E, F, H, and I steamed for the Washington, D.C. area while the men from Companies B, G and K remained behind on detached duty and to await transportation. Led by F Company Captain Henry S. Harte, they finally sailed away at the end of the month, arrived in Virginia on 28 July, and reconnected with the bulk of the regiment at Monocacy, Virginia on 2 August. As a result, the Leisenring brothers missed out on a memorable encounter with President Abraham Lincoln, and also missed the fighting at Snicker’s Gap, Virginia.
Attached to the Middle Military Division, Army of the Shenandoah beginning in August, the fully regrouped 47th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry was assigned to defensive duties in and around Halltown, Virginia during the opening days of that month, and then engaged in a series of back-and-forth movements over the next several weeks between Halltown, Berryville and other locations within the vicinity (Middletown, Charlestown and Winchester) as part of a “mimic war” being waged by Sheridan’s Union forces with those commanded by Confederate Lieutenant-General Jubal Early. From 3-4 September, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers fought in the Battle of Berryville.
September also saw the promotion of several men from Company B and the departure of others, including Corporal Martin Leisenring’s superior officer, B Company Captain Emmanuel P. Rhoads, and several other company captains, who mustered out upon expiration of their respective three-year terms of service at Berryville, Virginia on 18 September 1864. For the remaining members of the 47th, the fighting was not yet over; those still on duty were about to engage in their regiment’s greatest moments of valor.
Together with other regiments under the command of Union General Philip H. (“Little Phil”) Sheridan and Brigadier-General William H. Emory, commander of the 19th Corps, the Leisenring brothers and their fellow 47th Pennsylvanians helped to inflict heavy casualties on Lieutenant General Jubal Early’s Confederate forces at Opequan (also spelled as “Opequon” and referred to as “Third Winchester”). The battle is still considered by many historians to be one of the most important during Sheridan’s 1864 campaign; the Union’s victory here helped to ensure the reelection of President Abraham Lincoln.
The 47th Pennsylvania’s march toward destiny at Opequan began at 2 a.m. on 19 September 1864 as the regiment left camp and joined up with others in the Union’s 19th Corps. After advancing slowly from Berryville toward Winchester, the 19th Corps became bogged down for several hours by the massive movement of Union troops and supply wagons, enabling Early’s men to dig in. After finally reaching the Opequan Creek, Sheridan’s men came face to face with Early’s Confederate Army. The fighting, which began in earnest at noon, was long and brutal. The Union’s left flank (6th Corps) took a beating from Confederate artillery stationed on high ground.
The 47th Pennsylvania and the 19th Corps were directed by General William Emory to attack and pursue Major General John B. Gordon’s Confederate forces. Although some success was achieved, casualties mounted as another Confederate artillery group opened fire on Union troops trying to cross a clearing. When a nearly fatal gap began to open between the 6th and 19th Corps, Sheridan sent in units led by Brigadier-Generals Emory Upton and David A. Russell. Russell, hit twice – once in the chest, was mortally wounded. The 47th Pennsylvania opened its lines long enough to enable the Union cavalry under William Woods Averell and the foot soldiers of General George Crook to charge the Confederates’ left flank.
The 19th Corps, with the 47th in the thick of the fighting, then began pushing the Confederates back. Early’s “grays” retreated in the face of the valor displayed by Sheridan’s “blue jackets.” Leaving 2,500 wounded behind, the Rebels retreated to Fisher’s Hill, eight miles south of Winchester (21-22 September), and then to Waynesboro, following a successful early morning flanking attack by Sheridan’s Union men which outnumbered Early’s three to one. Afterward, the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were sent out on skirmishing parties before making camp at Cedar Creek.
Moving forward, the surviving members of the 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers would continue to distinguish themselves in battle, but they would do so without two more of their respected commanders: Colonel Tilghman Good and Good’s second in command, Lieutenant Colonel George Alexander, who mustered out 23-24 September upon the expiration of their respective terms of service. Fortunately, they would be replaced with leaders who were equally respected for their front line experience and temperament, including Major John Peter Shindel Gobin, formerly of the 47th’s Company C, who had been promoted up through the regimental staff to the rank of Major (and who would be promoted again on 4 November to the rank of Lieutenant Colonel and responsibility of regimental commanding officer).
It was during the Fall of 1864 that General Philip Sheridan began the first of the Union’s true “scorched earth” campaigns, starving the enemy into submission by destroying Virginia’s farming infrastructure. Viewed through today’s lens of history as inhumane, the strategy claimed many innocents – civilians whose lives were cut short by their inability to find food. This same strategy, however, almost certainly contributed to the further turning of the war’s tide in the Union’s favor during the Battle of Cedar Creek on 19 October 1864. Successful throughout most of their engagement with Union forces at Cedar Creek, Early’s Confederate troops began peeling off in ever growing numbers to forage for food, thus enabling the 47th Pennsylvania and others under Sheridan’s command to rally and win the day.
From a military standpoint, it was an impressive, but heartrending day. During the morning of 19 October, Early launched a surprise attack directly on Sheridan’s Cedar Creek-encamped forces. Early’s men were able to capture Union weapons while freeing a number of Confederates who had been taken prisoner during previous battles – all while pushing seven Union divisions back. According to Bates:
When the Army of West Virginia, under Crook, was surprised and driven from its works, the Second Brigade, with the Forty-seventh on the right, was thrown into the breach to arrest the retreat…. Scarcely was it in position before the enemy came suddenly upon it, under the cover of fog. The right of the regiment was thrown back until it was almost a semi-circle. The brigade, only fifteen hundred strong, was contending against Gordon’s entire division, and was forced to retire, but, in comparative good order, exposed, as it was, to raking fire. Repeatedly forming, as it was pushed back, and making a stand at every available point, it finally succeeded in checking the enemy’s onset, when General Sheridan suddenly appeared upon the field, who ‘met his crest-fallen, shattered battalions, without a word of reproach, but joyously swinging his cap, shouted to the stragglers, as he rode rapidly past them – “Face the other way, boys! We are going back to our camp! We are going to lick them out of their boots!’”
The Union’s counterattack punched Early’s forces into submission, and the men of the 47th were commended for their heroism by General Stephen Thomas who, in 1892, was awarded the Medal of Honor for his own “distinguished conduct in a desperate hand-to-hand encounter, in which the advance of the enemy was checked” that day. Bates described the 47th’s actions:
When the final grand charge was made, the regiment moved at nearly right angles with the rebel front. The brigade charged gallantly, and the entire line, making a left wheel, came down on his flank, while engaging the Sixth Corps, when he went “whirling up the valley” in confusion. In the pursuit to Fisher’s Hill, the regiment led, and upon its arrival was placed on the skirmish line, where it remained until twelve o’clock noon of the following day. The army was attacked at early dawn…no respite was given to take food until the pursuit was ended.
Once again, the casualties for the 47th were high, but once again, the Leisenring brothers had been spared while others fell dead and wounded around them. Following these major engagements, the 47th was ordered to Camp Russell near Winchester from November through most of December. Rested and somewhat healed, the 47th was then ordered to outpost and railroad guarding duties at Camp Fairview in Charlestown, West Virginia. Five days before Christmas they trudged through a snowstorm in order to reach their new home.
1865 – 1866
As the New Year dawned in 1865, a new mantle of responsibility fell on Thomas Leisenring’s shoulders. Commissioned as a captain that day, he was officially placed in command of his unit (G Company). Assigned in February to the Provisional Division of the 2nd Brigade of the Army of the Shenandoah, he and the other members of the 47th Pennsylvania moved back to Washington, D.C., via Winchester and Kernstown.
By 19 April, theLeisenring brothers and their fellow 47th Pennsylvania Volunteers were once again responsible for helping to defend the nation’s capital – this time following the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln. Encamped near Fort Stevens, they received new uniforms and were resupplied. Letters home and later newspaper interviews with survivors of the 47th indicate that at least one 47th Pennsylvanian was given the high honor of guarding President Lincoln’s funeral train while others may have guarded the Lincoln assassination conspirators during the early days of their imprisonment and trial.
As part of Dwight’s Division of the 2nd Brigade of the Department of Washington’s 22nd Corps, the 47th Pennsylvania also participated in the Union’s Grand Review of the Armies on 23-24 May.
On their final southern tour, the Leisenring brothers and their fellow members of the 47th Pennsylvania served in Savannah, Georgia from 31 May to 4 June. Attached again to Dwight’s Division, this time they were with the 3rd Brigade, Department of the South. Relieving the 165th New York Volunteers in July, the soldiers of the 47th Pennsylvania next quartered in Charleston at the former mansion of the Confederate Secretary of the Treasury. Duties during this time were Provost (military police) and Reconstruction-related, including rebuilding railroads and other key aspects of the region’s infrastructure that had been damaged or destroyed during the long war.
Finally, beginning on Christmas day of that year, the majority of the men of the 47th Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers – including the Leisenring brothers – began to honorably muster out at Charleston, South Carolina, a process which continued through early January. Military records indicate that Martin had been reduced to the rank of private sometime during his tenure. Following a stormy voyage home, the 47th Pennsylvania disembarked in New York City. The weary men were then shipped to Philadelphia by train where, at Camp Cadwalader on 9 January 1866, the 47th Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers were officially given their discharge papers.
What Happened to Martin and Thomas Leisenring after the War?
Following his honorable discharge from the military, Martin Leisenring returned home to the Lehigh Valley, and resumed his work as a printer. On 21 August 1869, he wed Mary Miller (1846-1904), who was a daughter of Walter A. and Mary Miller (stepmother), and a stepsister of Mrs. Wesley Keck. They welcomed the birth one child, Annie, who later became the wife of Edwin D. Meixell. Toward the end of his life, he changed careers, taking a job as manager of the American Hotel Café. He ultimately lived to see the dawn of a new century and was finally felled not by a bullet but by illness on 16 January 1901. According to reports in The Allentown Leader in its Thursday and Friday editions (17-18 January):
FIRST DEFENDER DEAD. MARTIN W. LEISENRING SUCCUMBS TO PARALYSIS AT THE HOSPITAL. Martin Weaver Leisenring; died at the Allentown Hospital from the effects of paralysis, with which he was stricken, on Sunday afternoon. His left side was affected. He lost consciousness soon after and died in this condition. He was 58 years of age and learned the trade of printing. He followed various occupations, and for a short time before his death was manager of the American Hotel Cafe. He fought in the Civil War and was a First Defender, having been a member of Captain Yeager’s Company, which left Allentown for Washington and participated in the quelling of the Baltimore riots. He enlisted in the 47th Regiment and fought to the end of the war. He is survived by his wife, one daughter, Mrs. Rev. Edward Meixell of Newport, Perry County; two grandchildren, one brother. Reuben Leisenring, and one sister, Miss Lydia L. Leisenring, both of Allentown. He was a son of the long-deceased Peter Leisenring and wife Catharine, nee Seagreaves. His brother James died in California some years ago, and the late Capt. Thomas B. Leisenring of Allentown was also a brother. Mrs. Leisenring is lying very sick with typhoid fever at the home of her mother Mrs. Miller of North Seventh Street.
DEATHS Suddenly, January 16, 1901, Martin W. Leisenring, aged 58 years. Relatives and friends, Encampment No. 18, Union Veteran Legion, First Defenders and all ex-soldiers of the 47th Regiment are respectfully invited to attend the funeral services at the residence of his sister, Miss Lydia Leisenring, No. 912 Walnut Street, on Saturday afternoon at 1:30 o’clock. Interment in Allentown Cemetery.
Just over a year later, the same newspaper reported that the county where he was born would foot the bill for his headstone:
SOLDIERS’ BURIALS. Last year Lehigh County contributed a total of $1220 for burials and tombstones for old soldiers as follows: Burials (28) at an expense of $35 each Henry Eckensberger, Tilghman Smith, Henry E. Hein, Henry Stettler, Charles L. Koch, Conrad Wagner, Hilton H. Ritter, Uriah Keck, John McCloskey, Martin W. Leisenring, Stephen Bears, Peter Haas, John Burns. Michael Kline, Jonathan Moyer, George H. Minnich, Franklin Smith, William Moat, Harrison S. B. Mohr, Valentine Valtz, Moses Guth, George Neitz, Henry A. Brown, John W. Smith, Andrew Snyder, Noah Sacks, Valentine C. KIeckner and William H. Steckel. Total, $9S0. Tombstones (16) at an expense of $15 each John Kern, Stephen Beers, Peter Eck, Aaron Fahringer, Conrad Wagner, Henry E. Hein, Franklin Stahler, Tilghman Smith, S. Otto, Henry Eckensberger, James Krause, Uriah Keck, Noah Sacks, Jonathan Moyer, Adam Keller and Martin W. Leisenring. Total, $240.
His wife followed him in death two years later and was laid to rest beside him. Her obituary was published in the 29 July 1904 edition of the Easton Daily Argus.
Meanwhile, Martin’s brother was initially engaged in a similar field of business According to Roberts:
For some years [Thomas B. Leisenring] was editor of the Lehigh Valley Daily News, but left journalism and engaged in the insurance and real estate business…. Captain Leisenring was a member of Allen Lodge, No. 71, and Unity Encampment, No. 12, I. O. O. F., of the Military Order of the Loyal Legion, and the Episcopal Church.
Based on records which indicate that J. Peter Correll was the editor of record in 1866 for the Lehigh Valley Daily News (which operated from 1865 to 1875, according to the Library of Congress), and because Thomas Leisenring was described on the 1870 federal census as an insurance agent, it is therefore likely that Thomas served as that newspaper’s editor sometime between 1867 and 1870.
As of 1870, federal census records showed that insurance agent Thomas Leisenring had not yet married and was instead residing in Allentown’s Ward 3 with Abigail and Louisa Seagraves.
But by the time of the next census, he had finally begun his own family, having fallen in love with, and married, teacher Annie E. Weiser (1851-1942), a lineal descendant of Conrad Weiser. A granddaughter of War of 1812 veteran and grandfather clock craftsman Martin Weiser, she was the daughter of Nelson and Elemina R. (Massey) Weiser. Together, they welcomed the birth of children: Mary K. Leisenring, who died young; Abigail E. Leisenring (1875-1965), who later wed John S. Correll, a painter who became a reporter for the Easton Sunday Call; Annie S. Leisenring (1877-1884); Louise A. Leisenring (1879-1945); George H. Thomas Leisenring (22 February 1881-4 August 1943), a leading figure with the Grand Army of the Republic and Sons of Union Veterans; and Peter Weiser Leisenring (26 March 1884-23 March 1970), who became business manager, of the Allentown Morning Call newspaper.
According to the Seventh Annual Report of the Insurance Commissioner of the State of Pennsylvania and other sources, during the early 1880s, Thomas Leisenring served as Secretary-Treasurer of the Allen Mutual Fire Insurance Company in Allentown, which had total cash assets of $1,227.66. He died in 1887 and was laid to rest at the Linden Street Cemetery (also known as the Allentown Cemetery).
His widow, Annie, forced to suddenly support four young children (none of whom had yet reached their teen years), had no other choice but to become a working mother. In fairly short order, she then began making news headlines herself as a highly regarded factory inspector for the State of Pennsylvania.
This is the first in a three-part series regarding the Leisenring family. Check back to learn about the remarkable life of Annie (Weiser) Leisenring, as well as about what happened to the siblings and children of First Defender Thomas Benton Leisenring.
1. “Allentown Woman on the Roll of Honor: Gov. Brumbaugh Retires Mrs. Anna S. Leisenring, Factory Inspector, with Half Pay.” Reading, Pennsylvania: Reading Eagle, 20 January 1918.
2. “Allentown Woman to Come to Reading to Inspect Bake Shops and Textile Establishments: Mrs. Annie Leisenring Is Lineal Descendant of Conrad Weiser, the Great Colonial Pioneer Who Lived Near Womelsdorf. Was First Appointed to Factory Inspection Service in 1893.” Reading, Pennsylvania: Reading Eagle, 20 May 1914.
3. “Anna Jones Mengel: EASD Teacher 35 Years.” Allentown, Pennsylvania: Allentown Morning Call, 15 June 1994.
4. Annie (Weaver) Leisenring (obituary). Easton, Pennsylvania: Easton Daily Argus, 29 July 1904.
5. Bates, Samuel P. History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-5. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: B. Singerly, State Printer, 1869.
6. “Couple and 4 Children, Evicted, Are Housed in Hospital and Mission” (report of Louise Leisenring’s work as a court probation officer). Allentown, Pennsylvania: Allentown Morning Call, 5 August 1943.
7. “End of a Life of Service” (obituary of Louise Leisenring). Allentown, Pennsylvania: Allentown Morning Call, 3 April 1945.
8. “G. T. Leisenring Dies of Heart Ailment.” Allentown, Pennsylvania: Allentown Morning Call, 5 August 1943.
9. “G. Thomas Leisenring Is a Candidate for S. of U.V. Commander.” Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Harrisburg Telegraph, 20 June 1932.
10. J. Peter Correll, in Lehigh Valley Daily News, in “Historic Newspapers,” in “Chronicling America.” Washington, D.C.: U.S. Library of Congress.
11. James P. Leesenring, in Registers of National Homes of U.S. Disabled Volunteer Soldiers (Sawtelle, Los Angeles County, California). Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, 1892-1896.
12. James Peter Leesenring, in California Great Registers, 1866-1910 (Voter Registration, Soldiers Home, Los Angeles, California, United States, 6 June 1896; Family History Library microfilm 976,931). California and Salt Lake City, Utah: Family History Library, 1896.
13. Lecture Presentation by Annie E. Leisenring, in “Addresses and Discussions: Fourth Annual Welfare and Efficiency Conference, Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, November 21, 22, 23, 1916.” Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Monthly Bulletin of the Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry, William Stanley Ray, State Printer, March 1917.
14. Leisenring, Abigail E. and John S. Correll, Thomas B. and Annie Leisenring, and John P. and Rebecca Correll, in Marriage License Docket. Allentown, Pennsylvania: Lehigh County Orphans Court, 1907.
15. Leisenring, Annie, in U.S. Census of Union Veterans and Widows of the Civil War. Washington, D.C. and Pennsylvania: 1890.
16. Leisenring, Annie E., in United States Veterans Administration Pension Payment Cards (Certificate No.: 240043). Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, 1887-1920.
17. Leisenring, Lydia Louisa (obituary). Allentown, Pennsylvania: The Allentown Democrat, 12 October 1904.
18. Leisenring, Martin W. (obituaries). Allentown, Pennsylvania: The Allentown Leader, 17-18 January 1901.
19. Leisenring, Martin W. and Thomas B. and Thomas R., in Civil War Veterans’ Card File, 1861-1866. Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Pennsylvania State Archives.
20. Leisenring, Peter W. and Helen M. Yoder, Thomas B. and Annie Leisenring, and Peter B. and Mary Yoder in Marriage License Docket. Allentown, Pennsylvania: Lehigh County Orphans Court, 1910.
21. Leisenring, Peter Weiser, in World War I and World War II Draft Registration Cards and U.S. Passport Applications (1924). Washington, D.C.: U.S. National Archives and Records Administration, 1918, 1924 and 1942.
22. Leisenring, T.B., in Seventh Annual Report of the Insurance Commissioner of the State of Pennsylvania, “Part I: Fire and Marine Insurance.” Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Lane S. Hart, State Printer, 1880.
23. Madsen, Brigham D. The Shoshoni Frontier and the Bear River Massacre. Salt Lake City, Utah: The University of Utah Press, 1985.
24. Misses Leisenring and Fischel, in “Here, There and Elsewhere” (notice regarding an Easter event at Lydia Louisa Leisenring’s private school). Allentown, Pennsylvania: The Allentown Leader, 2 April 1896.
25. “Ordered to County: Judge Remarks That the Salvation Army Home, Whose Children Used to Sing on the Square, Was a Refuge For Tramps Case Brought by Associated Charities.” Allentown, Pennsylvania: The Allentown Leader, 23 June 1913.
26. Peter W. Leisenring (obituary). Allentown, Pennsylvania: Lehigh Register, 20 December 1849.
27. Reuben S. Leisenring (description of Reuben Leisenring’s business partnership with Daniel Walker and Leisenring’s 1911 accident and death), in “Descendant of an Old Family and one of the Most Substantial Citizens of Allentown Noted For His Civic Pride and Was First President of Chamber of Commerce.” Allentown, Pennsylvania: The Allentown Leader, 15 February 1915.
28. Reuben S. Leisenring. Allentown, Pennsylvania: The Allentown Democrat, 6 June 1911.
29. Reuben S. Leisenring, in “News of the Day.” Alexandria, Virginia: The Alexandria Gazette and Virginia Advertiser, 5 June 1911.
30. Reuben S. Leisenring, in “Runaway in Yosemite Valley.” Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: The Philadelphia Inquirer, 5 June 1911; and Scranton, Pennsylvania: The Scranton Republican, June 1911.
31. Roberts, Charles Rhoads and Rev. John Baer Stoudt, et. al. History of Lehigh County Pennsylvania and a Genealogical and Biographical Record of Its Families, Vol. III. Allentown, Pennsylvania: Lehigh Valley Publishing Company, 1914.
32. Schmidt, Lewis G. A Civil War History of the 47th Regiment of Pennsylvania Veteran Volunteers. Allentown, Pennsylvania: Self-published, 1986.
33. Shankweiler, Fred. L. Men of Allentown. Allentown, Pennsylvania: Self-published, 1917.
34. “Shopping Nights Are Agreed Upon.” Allentown, Pennsylvania: The Allentown Leader, 17 December 1917.
35. “Soldiers’ Burials” (gravestone purchases for Martin W. Leisenring, et. al.). Allentown, Pennsylvania: The Allentown Leader, 23 January 1902.
36. Stern, Leon, Curtis A. Williams, et. al. A Study of Behavior Problems of Public School Children in Allentown and in the Juvenile Court of Lehigh County, Pennsylvania (description of Louise Leisenring’s work as a female probation officer). Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: The Pennsylvania Committee on Penal Affairs or the Public Charities Association, 1930.
37. U.S. Census. Washington, D.C., Pennsylvania and California: 1860, 1870, 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930, 1940.
38. “Violate Child Labor Law: One Employer Heavily Fined and Others to Be Arrested. Special to The Telegraph.” Harrisburg, Pennsylvania: Harrisburg Telegraph, 8 September 1911.