I'll be telling "Roundhead Stories" all this week in honor of the free days for A Scratch with the Rebels. The 100th Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiment was not your typical Civil War unit.
Here's a story that almost made it into my upcoming book
about Laura Towne and the Port Royal Experiment. It illustrates an important
characteristic of the 100th Pennsylvania Regiment, subject of "A Scratch with the Rebels."
Rev. Solomon Peck was the first of the missionaries to
arrive in Beaufort after the Battle of Port Royal. He set up a schoolroom
in the house to which he had been assigned, and sought his first pupils among
the black street urchins who seemed to be running wild in the city.
Within days he managed to meet Colonel Daniel Leasure,
commander of Pennsylvania’s Roundhead Regiment. Peck had heard of a godly
regiment in the area, and he was most curious to see if the rumors were
true. He made his way down Bay Street one morning to the Leverett House,
where the Roundheads had their headquarters. Colonel Leasure welcomed his
arrival and invited him to preach to the regiment.
“It’s almost Christmas, and we find ourselves without the
services of a chaplain,” Leasure explained. “Our own Reverend Robert Audley
Browne lies dangerously ill with the swamp fever he contracted at Hilton
Head. Our men have been used to hearing frequent sermons, and they miss
him. Would you be willing to fill in?”
“I would be delighted, Colonel. But tell me, are your
Roundheads really as godly as they are reported to be?”
“They are, indeed. They come from sturdy
Scotch-Irish and Huguenot stock, Many of them claim direct descent from
the Scotch Covenanters who once fought under Cromwell. They have been
raised in staunchly religious frontier families. They have a strong Presbyterian
faith and almost all believe in the cause of the abolitionists. They believe in
equality and will fight for anyone whose liberty is challenged. They have a
reputation for being the best-behaved regiment in the army. I am
justifiably proud of them.”
“Where could we hold a church service?” Peck asked.
“Oh, the men have already taken care of that. They
cleaned up the local Presbyterian Church just down the street. It’s not
quite big enough for us all, but my soldiers do not object to a bit of
crowding. After the tight quarters on the transport ships that brought us
here, they adapt easily.”
“I look forward to meeting some of them on Sunday.”
“You’ll meet all of them,” Colonel Leasure promised.
True to his word, Leasure led over nine hundred men to
the local Presbyterian church that morning, overflowing the sanctuary and
overhanging balconies. They prayed fervently, sang enthusiastically, and drank
in the new minister’s words. At the end of the service, Leasure asked for
a moment to speak to his men.
“I’m sure we are all grateful to have Reverend Peck among
us. Should we try to hold a second service this afternoon? Let’s see the hands
of everyone who would like to come back around three o’clock.” To a man, they
raised their hands.
Peck was overwhelmed. Surely, he thought, with this
kind of fervor, the Northern mission in South Carolina could be a success.