Thursday, July 5, 2018

Private Joseph (Melvin) Leonard's Congressional Medal of Honor Story

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

On 4 June 1899 the Washington Times published an article entitled An Ensign Praised by Admiral Dewey. I re-published the first part of the article as part of my post yesterday, honoring the service of Private Joseph Leonard, who enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps as Joseph Melvin and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his service in the Philippine-American War. He was stationed on the USS Helena (PG-9) when Ensign Cleland Davis, who led the Colt automatic gun crew on which Joseph Leonard served, volunteered to support the Army during what became known as the Malolos Campaign.

"Ensign Davis' Account

The report of Ensign Davis is addressed to Commander W. T. Swinburne, of the Helena. He reported to General MacArthur, under orders received February 27, and remained on the firing line at Caloocan until March 23, when, with the army's artillery he went to La Loma church. His description of the campaign and comments on the Colt gun follow:

On March 25 operations commenced. The general plan of advance was as follows: General MacArthur was in command. His division consisted of the First Brigade, Brig. Gen. H. G. Otis, on the left, composed of the Third Artillery, Kansas and Montana regiments, and the Second Brigade, Brigadier General Hale, on the right, composed of the Pennsylvania, South Dakota and Nebraska regiments. The divisional artillery was in the centre, which rested at La Loma Church.

La Loma Church in 1900; courtesy of Wikipedia

This general formation was maintained until Malinta was reached, the centre advancing along the Caloocan-Novaliches road to Cabalahan [sic] thence along the Malinta-Novaliches road to Malinta, the right wing swinging so as to preserve the front. At Malinta, the division was joined by Brigadier General Wheaton's independent brigade, consisting of the Third and Twenty-second infantry, the Oregon and part of the Minnesota regiment, which had advanced along the railroad from Caloocan. From there on this brigade was in reserve, guarding the railroad communications. The front was now contracted and the advance continued with the centre along the railroad track.

Railroad north from Manila to Dagupan from Fighting in the Philippines;
courtesy of Internet Archive

The character of the country was extremely favorable for defensive warfare. The fields were rice land covered with numerous copses of dense bamboo thicket. There was a network of tide water rivers, mostly unfordable. In addition the enemy had built strong entrenchments from ten to twenty-five feet thick at short intervals along the roads, on the river banks and especially along the railroad. These trenches were of modern type. The advance of the army was so rapid that the enemy had no time to destroy the iron railroad bridges and the unfordable streams were crossed on these with little delay, the mules and horses swimming.

U.S. Army artillery battery near Caloocan. Private Leonard's gun detachment
spent most its time during the Malolos Campaign with the artillery. Philippine-
American War, 1899-1902; courtesy of Center for Military History

The detachment[1] under my command went into action in the following engagements: Near Cabalahan [sic] on March 25, covering with artillery the advance of the Montana and Pennsylvania regiments against strong entrenchments on the Malinta-Novaliches road. In the afternoon of the same day a platoon of thirty men from Fourth Cavalry found the enemy strongly fortified on the opposite bank of the Tulihan River and engaged with heavy loss to themselves. The Colt gun with one piece of artillery went into action under heavy fire on the left of the road and the enemy shortly fled from his entrenchments.

At the Marialo River March 28, the detachment advanced under cover to within seventy-five yards of the enemy's trenches, strongly thrown up on the bank across the river and my a sweeping fire covering the trench, which was about 150 feet long, silenced the enemy's fire and enabled the artillery to come up on the open road to within seventy yards of them. Twenty-three of them surrendered in this trench, though a deep river was between. Some twenty-odd who attempted to escape were nearly all shot down. As an instance of the accuracy of the Colt gun, Colonel Funston, of the Twentieth Kansas and Assistant Surgeon Smith, attached to the artillery, reported that one man was found dead with five holes in his body in a space that could be covered with a hand, all made by the 6-mm. bullets from the Colt gun as he attempted to escape.

Alexander, Joseph H. The Battle History of the U.S. Marines: A Fellowship of
(New York, NY: HaperCollins, 1997), page 26
At Guigunto on March 29 the enemy was encountered in force on the opposite bank of the river retreating before the advance of our troops to a fringe of woods about 1,500 yards distant, from which they poured in a heavy and destructive fire as we crossed the river on the railroad bridge. Our troops were here under a great disadvantage, their Springfield rifles not being effective at this range. My detachment crossed the bridge under this fire and opened up at a range of from 1,600 to 1,900 yards with, it is believed, good effect.

Near Malolos, on March 31, the artillery and the Colt gun commenced the action and in a few minutes the enemy retreated from behind strong entrenchments. After the artillery had driven them from their works the Colt gun kep up a fire on the retreating enemy up to a range of 2,000 yards. Malolos was then occupied with little resistance.

Bocaue Burns from Philippine-American War, 1899-1902; courtesy of the
Center for Military History

On April 4 I took part with my detachment in a reconnaissance northward as far as the Quingua River, where the enemy was encountered in some force, fortified on the opposite bank.

I returned to the ship on April 5 in obedience to your orders of the 3rd instant.

In my opinion the efficiency of the automatic gun in operation on shore was amply demonstrated in this campaign. The light weight of the gun and ammunition and its simplicity of handling makes it available for varied uses. As an adjunct to artillery, especially as the modern tendency seems to be toward close ranges, it would seem to be invaluable. A gun, tripod, and 2,500 rounds of ammunition, the whole weighing less than 260 pounds, could be readily carried on the limber of each piece. But two men would be required to set it up and operate it, and it would be equivalent to the support of a company of infantry with the additional advantages of being able to fire over the heads of advancing troops with perfect safety, as was done at Guiguinto. Its portability is such that it could form part of the equipment of each infantry company or cavalry, and it is so small and compact that it can be taken with its tripod almost anywhere a man can go. Another point is its value for high angle fire. The value of a battery of such guns to a regiment is obvious. During the campaign about 4,500 rounds were fired from the gun. An examination of the barrel and mechanism shows the whole to be in excellent condition after a total of over 7,000 rounds had been fired from it. The Winchester ammunition furnished proved to be defective and not fit to be used in the gun. The U. M. C. ammunition was satisfactory in every respect. The last 2,500 rounds were fired without a single jam.

The conduct of the detachment is deserving of commendation.

I cannot refrain from expressing my admiration at the skill with which the campaign was conducted and of the valor, endurance and cheerfulness of the American troops."

Very Respectfully
Ensign Cleland Davis, U.S. Navy

It should be noted that Ensign Davis' report was forwarded by Commander Swinburne up the chain of command and to the Navy's Bureau of Navigation. The Bureau Chief did not agree with Admiral Dewey's commendation for Ensign Davis but did recommend Davis, Prendergast, Buckley and Melvin for the Congressional Medal of Honor on 8 June 1899. The Nation's highest military honor was conferred on the three enlisted men, but not Ensign Davis, on 8 July. Private Joseph Leonard was presented with his medal in December 1901 when he was stationed at Marine Barracks, Washington Navy Yard.

The first two endorsements required for the Congressional Medal of
Honor. Congressional Series Set, Annual Reports of the Navy Department
for 1899. (Washington, DC: Government Printing Office, 1899), pages
942-946; courtesy of Google Play

Private Leonard was honorably discharged from the Marine Corps on 6 June 1902.

Cleland Davis invented the Davis gun, the first recoiless gun in 1910. It was known as the Davis gun. He died in 1948 and was interred at Arlington National Cemetery. Corporal Thomas Francis Prendergast has not been located. Private Howard Major Buckley died in 1941 and was interred at Wheeler Cemtery in Wheeler, New York.

[1] Ensign Cleland Davis' detachment consisted of Corporal Thomas Francis Prendergast and privates Howard Major Buckley and Joseph Melvin.

Joseph Leonard (1876-1946): Cohoes, NY Resident and Medal of Honor Recipient
Joseph Leonard's Service in World War I: Just in Time for Meuse-Argonne

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