Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Joseph Leonard (1876-1946): Cohoes, NY Resident and Medal of Honor Recipient

Pete and I walked through West End Park in Cohoes, New York, one Sunday afternoon, photographing honor roll memorials for Heather Wilkinson Rojo's Honor Roll Project. On Veterans Day 2017 a dedication ceremony was held to commemorate the refurbishment of the Cohoes Civil War Memorial, which was originally erected in 1910.

Civil War Memorial in West End Park, Cohoes, New York.Recently refurbished and
re-dedicated; personal collection

The park may be accessed from Columbia Street between Matsen Avenue and Walnut Street. Behind the Civil War Memorial are several honor rolls and other veterans monuments. Of special interest to me was the monument honoring the service of Sgt. Joseph (Melvin) Leonard during the Philippine Insurrection. It is a period of history and geography about which I have recently been studying.

Monument honoring the service and sacrifice of a Cohoes Medal of Honor recipient;
personal collection

Aug. 28, 1876-Sept. 23, 1946
Philippine Insurrection
Cohoes' Recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor
in the Philippine-American War

Born in Cohoes and entered the USMC as Joseph Melvin on June 7, 1897.
Leonard attached to the 8th Army Corps was involved in the jungle fighting,
clearing the insurgents from the vicinity of Manilla. He was cited for "distinguished
conduct in the presence of the enemy in battle" for action on March 25, 27, 29 and
April 4, 1899. Honorably separated on June 6, 1902, he would once again serve
in World War I with the USMC and ranked out as Sergeant July 3, 1919.
Died and buried in Yountville, CA.

J.M. Leonard Camp No. 188, Cohoes, NY,
Sons of Spanish American War Veterans (SSAWV)

Joseph Leonard; courtesy of Find A Grave volunteer,
Greg Speciale

The Philippine-American War, also known as the Philippine Insurrection, lasted from 4 February 1899 until 2 July 1902. The Filipinos saw it as the continuation of their revolution against the Spanish but the U.S. viewed it as an insurrection in territory acquired from Spain through the Treaty of Paris which ended the Spanish-American War in 1898.

The war started when fighting broke out in Manilla and ended with the capture of the Philippine president by U.S. forces, though Philippine groups continued to battle for several more years. It was guerrilla warfare at its most brutal. Nearly a half a million Filipino soldiers and civilians died during the conflict.

When the Spanish-American War began, Joseph Leonard served on the USS Helena (PG-9), a Wilmington class gunboat. Joseph Leonard was part of a Marine marine detachment responsible for were responsible for security and defense of the ship. They operated the ship's brig, fought shipboard fires, and fought onshore as the occasion warranted.

USS Helena joined the Asiatic fleet in the Philippines on 10 February 1899 after transiting the Suez Canal. On 27 February 1899 Private Leonard (who served as Joseph Melvin) was temporarily attached to Gen. MacArthur's 2nd Division, along with the remainder of his gun crew, which included Ensign Cleland Davis, Corporate Thomas Francis Prendergast, and Private Howard Major Buckley. They were responsible for aiming and firing their Colt automatic gun and were assigned to MacArthur's artillery. During their assignment with 2nd Division, they participated in the Malolos Campaign.

USS Helena (PG-9) at anchor sometime between 1897-1901; courtesy of the
Library of Congress

On 4 June 1899 the Washington Times published an article entitled, An Ensign Praised by Admiral Dewey, and included an account of the fighting which earned Private Joseph (Melvin) Leonard the Medal of Honor:

"Admiral Dewey's Report

In his report Admiral Dewey says:

Ensign Davis was a volunteer for this duty ashore with the army. He was engaged in all action against the insurgents that took place on the northern front of the army between February 27 and April 4, 1899. I therefore commend him to the department, and recommend that he be advanced ten grades.

The crew of the Colt's gun consisted of Corporal Thomas Francis Prendergast and Privates Howard Major Buckley and Joseph Melvin, U.S. Marine Corps.

While the crew was not composed of volunteers, none being asked for, the men performed their duty under the most trying conditions of war in the most exemplary manner, and deserve high praise. I hope the department will reward in a suitable manner their services..."

Major Richard W. Young described the gun crew's services to the Army as follows:

"...February 27 by General MacArthur's direction, he reported to me for assignment with a Colt automatic gun and a detachment of three Marines. From that date until March 23 he was stationed at Caloocan, where on several occasions he materially assisted in quieting the firing of the insurgents. March 25, with his gun and detachment, he accompanied the artillery in the forward movement toward the Tulihan River. The gun was employed against the enemy about noon of that day near Cabalahan [sic], and toward evening a scouting party of about twenty-five dismounted cavalry from the Fourth Regiment had developed the enemy in considerable force strongly entrenched behind very elaborate works on the right or west bank of the Tulihan. The cavalry suffered severely, about 35 percent of their number being wounded or killed, when a Utah gun and Ensign Davis with the automatic gun were ordered forward and brought into position behind a fence screen within 125 yards of the insurgent position. During the approach to position, the time consumed removing obstacles and in preparation to fire, the detachments were under vicious fire, which was redoubled as soon as the guns opened. The enemy was, however, soon silenced, the automatic gun having contributed largely to the result.

March 27 Ensign Davis at his own request took a position on the Marilas [sic] River opposite the insurgent trench not more than seventy-five yards distant. Though under a heavy fire, he poured in a well-directed fire, which enabled artillery to come forward, protected by advancing infantry and assisted materially in bringing about the surrender of the insurgents in the trenches.

March 29 he brought the gun in action well to the front over the railway bridge at Garquinto [sic], under a very dangerous cross fire.

March 31 he cooperated in the artillery attack on the trenches in front of Malolos.

April 4 he went forward on a reconnaissance to the Quingua River, where he temporarily commanded one of Lieutenant Fleming's guns during the latter's absence with the other gun, and this under a heavy fire. He also pushed the automatic gun forward to a position within 250 yards of the enemy, entrenched on the opposite bank of the Quingua. Here the enemy's fire was intense. Owing to orders to return, the gun was not fired..."

"...His detachment served faithfully and bravely."

Ensign Cleland Davis' account will be told on this blog tomorrow.

Joseph Leonard was born on 28 August 1876 in Cohoes, New York, to James and Mary (Melvin Leonard); he was the fourth of five known children. His parents were born in County Sligo, Ireland, but had migrated at an early age to Blackburn, England, where his father worked as a spinner in a mill processing cotton from British India. Sometime between 1871 and 1874, the family immigrated to the United States and settled in Cohoes, New York, joining Mary (Melvin) Leonard's brother, Patrick. Joseph's father likely worked for Harmony Mills, spinning cotton from the southern U.S. The parents, James and Mary, returned to Blackburn by 1891 with at least their three surviving children. Joseph worked as a spinner along side his father in the cotton mills. James returned to the U.S. in 1893, the year after his mother died. He sailed on White Star Line's SS Germanic. The ship left Liverpool on 18 October and arrived in New York City on 27 October. On 7 June 1897 he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps in Brooklyn, New York. He was discharged on 6 June 1902 in Washington, DC. During his term of service he fought in the Philippine Insurrection and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. By 1911 he lived in Coyote, Montana, and worked as a miner. Her married Grace G. Cunningham on 1 November 1911 in Lewistown. They had two children before Grace died on 16 October 1915. Joseph and Grace's children remained in Montana and were raised by their maternal grandparents. Joseph's whereabouts are not known until he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps again on 19 April 1918 in Cleveland, Ohio. He had likely been living in Youngstown at the time of his enlistment, his youngest sister settled there after returning to the U.S. in 1894. During World War I, Joseph served in France. He was discharged on 3 July 1919 in Washington, DC, as a Sergeant. He made his way back to Montana and lodged with Mr. and Mrs. Albin Stenius in Butte, where he worked as a copper miner. In 1928, he was admitted to the Pacific Branch of the U.S. National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Sawtelle, California, suffering from chronic constipation, lumbago, chronic cystitis, and hemorrhoids. His daughter, who lived in Denton, Montana, was listed as his nearest relative. He planned to live in Los Angeles when he was released. He still resided at the National Home when the 1930 census was enumerated. By 1940, he lived in San Francisco and was not working. In 1944, he became a resident of the Veterans Home of California in Yountville, where he remained until his death on 23 September 1946. He was buried at the Veterans Memorial Grove Cemetery. After his wife's death, he never remarried and his daughter predeceased by when she died in 1937 at the age of 25.

Joseph Leonard's Service in World War I: Just in Time for Meuse-Argonne
Honor Roll: Veterans Memorial Park, Cohoes, New York 
Honor Roll: Cohoes First Ward Memorials

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