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 my earlier book, "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 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, his own mission could be a success.