114th PA, COLLIS ZOUAVES, INSCRIBED COLT 1862 POLICE REVOLVER - LT. JOSEPH T. LEA

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Item Code: 534-34

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Joseph Tatnall Lee served as a lieutenant and regimental adjutant in the Collis Zouaves, and as an aide to Col. De Trobriand and Col Egan as brigade commanders in Fall and Winter 1863. He was wounded in the arm at Chancellorsville, captured and held briefly by the Confederates before escaping in late July 1863, and in the Mine Run campaign was hit in the shoulder by a spent bullet while directing troops forward at Payne’s Farm.

The Colt Model 1862 Police Revolver was popular among Civil War officers for its lightness and, we expect, its .36 caliber, which made it a bit more formidable than Colt’s 1849 pocket series. A total of about 48,000 were produced from 1861 to about 1873, with approximately 32,000 dating before the end of the war. This one has a 6 ½ inch barrel, which emphasizes its streamlined design, and is number 11417, all matching, including the wedge, dating it to 1862. The pistol shows it was carried, but not mistreated. The metal is gray with no finish and some dark gray spotting, but there is substantial visible tarnished silver remaining on the brass triggerguard and a little on the upper backstrap, on the sides below the hammer. The are some dings to the metal around the rear of the cylinder, but the nipples are not battered, the action is good, and the markings are very clear. The single line barrel address is sharp: ADDRESS COL SAMl COLT NEW-YORK U.S. AMERICA, as is the COLTS / PATENT stamp on the left frame and 36 CAL marking at top of the triggerguard and the PAT SEPT. 10th 1850 stamp in one cylinder flute. The grips have a tight fit to the metal and good varnish though with some wear at the lower edges and a number of small dings on the bottom of the butt.

Scratched on the bottom of the butt strap is a real, period identification by the owner in two lines reading at top: “Lt. J.T. Lea” The second line is a little rubbed at left, but the middle and right are completely legible and unambiguous: “114th P V.” To the left of that we can see a couple of incised lines that were probably a company designation. Joseph Tatnall Lea was commissioned 2nd Lieutenant of Co F, 114th Pennsylvania Volunteers, the Collis Zouaves, on 20 August 1862. The regiment was organized around the Zouaves d’ Afrique, a company commanded by Collis with service under General Banks. They completed their regimental organization after moving to Washington and in October joined the 1st Brigade, 1st Division, 3rd Army Corps. Family connections certainly played a part in his commission. Born 7 June 1840, he was the son of a Philadelphia grain merchant, educated at private school, and went to work for his uncle, a dry goods commission merchant in 1857, moving to Baltimore in 1859 to help open a branch office.

Lea and the regiment saw their first fighting at Fredericksburg in December, where as part of Robinson’s brigade they saved the Union left flank after Confederate counterattacks had driven back an initially successful assault by Meade’s division, the subject of a wonderful battle painting. Lea was promoted to First Lieutenant of Co. D in March and some records indicate he was serving as regimental adjutant as of April 11, a post for which his business background likely suited him. On May 3 at Chancellorsville the regiment was hard hit, losing 181 out of some 400 on the field, including 21 killed and 125 wounded, one of whom was Lea, with a wound to the right arm. Interestingly, his role in the battle is not mentioned by Collis in his official report, perhaps from some mutual ill-feelings: Lea’s later letters, held by the University of Virginia, make clear he had little use for his Colonel, a sentiment apparently shared by the brigade and division commanders to judge by their comments appended to his OR report.

Lea spent some time at home recovering from his Chancellorsville wound, though when he returned to the regiment is unclear. His name appears on the regimental panel on the PA state monument at Gettysburg, indicating he was on the field, but a July 16 letter, summarized by UVA catalogers, seems to indicate he had not yet rejoined the regiment. He had perhaps joined and was again absent, but an August newspaper report also implies he had not reached it by July 21, when he was on his way to the regiment and was captured near Harpers Ferry by Confederate cavalry.  He was taken to Winchester and then marched south to Staunton, Va, where he spent two days in a crowded jail cell for tearing up currency in his possession before turning it over to Confederate authorities. Upon release from confinement he managed to elude the guards and escape with four other officers, reaching friendly forces after an eleven-day journey.

Lea’s promotion to adjutant is officially dated to 1 August 1863 at Sulphur Springs, Va., but he seems to have moved onto brigade staff soon after- perhaps to avoid service under Collis, since he managed to get appointed to De Trobriand’s staff in the 3rd Brigade rather than on Collis’s, who had moved up to command the 1st Brigade. Collis twice appealed to division commander Birney to get him back and was turned down. (Lea’s letters imply a social acquaintance with Birney.) Whatever the motive, Lea remained on 3rd Brigade staff under DeTrobriand and then under Egan, seeing further action in October at Auburn, in November at Kelly’s Ford, where they took some 500 prisoners, and in December in the Mine Run Campaign. Apparently referring to Paynes Farm as Morris Farm, he wrote his fiancee that, "the 3rd Division got scared and fell back with very few killed or wounded, and our brigade was put in to stop the Rebels, which we did, never yielding an inch." He reported that he was hit by a spent ball while leading the 17th Maine forward in the thick of the fighting.

CWData and some other sources list Lea as mustering out with the 114th in May 1865, which is likely from Bates’ misuse of muster-out rolls. He seems to have twice submitted his resignation, starting late in 1863, which was finally accepted at Stanton’s direction, with some acknowledged family influence, to date 1 February 1864. Lea had a very prosperous postwar business career in banking and other pursuits. He married his fiancee in December 1865. They seem to have had seven children, three of whom, along with his wife, were still living when he died in Philadelphia in May 1916. To our knowledge, Lea’s correspondence has not been published. From the cataloger’s summary it would seem worth examining to fill out Lea’s story and the background of this pistol.  [sr] [ph:L]

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