A Trooper's Death, a Lasting Memory in Lancaster, 1865
by Gordon Thorsby
Of the over 3.5+ million men who served in Union and Confederate Armies, of over 700, 000+ that died, an encounter with an individual or a minor incident often had great impact on people.
LeRoy Van Coney became officially involved the Civil War when at 21, the private in Co. G, 138th Ohio National Guard Infantry was activated for one hundred days starting on 5/2/1864. Their role was guard duty and the 138th was in the Bermuda Hundred Peninsula of Virginia. He mustered out as corporal on 9/1/1864. It was then he decided he might do more.
Nineteen days later he enlisted as a private in Co E, 10th Ohio cavalry that was Atlanta, Georgia. When Van Coney reached the Tenth Ohio Cavalry, much of the 1864 campaign action was over. He participated in various operations pursuing Hood north from Atlanta and similar expeditions. The unit was part of Kilpatrick’s Cavalry and Sherman’s Marh to the Sea, and the Siege of Savannah. In January, the Tenth proceeded north with Sherman, and in the second half of February, LeRoy and the Tenth Ohio were screening the Federal infantry movement as Sherman advanced toward Charlotte. It was while the cavalry was screening that Pvt. LeRoy Coney came to camp in and around Lancaster in late February,1865.
example of a 10th Ohio Cav trooper
Samuel Ellison Belk was a native of Lancaster, South Carolina and at the time of the Civil War, he lived seven miles to the north of Lancaster toward the state border. He was involved in banking prior to the war when he enlisted as Sergeant in the First Dragoons and served in the Mexican War. Belk returned to work and family until the Civil War was in its full fury enlisting in the 53d NC on 30 April,1862 as 1st Lieutenant Co. B at 48 years of age. The 53rd NC became part of the Army of Northern Virginia for the Gettysburg Campaign. On July1, 1863, the 53rd advanced across McPhersons Ridge and Seminary Ridge as part of Daniel’s Brigade toward Robinson’s Division of the I Corps. Belk wasn't scratched during the regiment’s fighting of that day. Sometime on July 3, he took a severe bullet wound (likely skirmish fire) in the left arm (at the shoulder) and had to be left when the ANV retreated from Pennsylvania. His arm was amputated, was captured and became a patient at Camp Letterman Hospital to stabilize his wounds. He was transferred 11/3/63 to a Baltimore hospital, to Ft. McHenry, MD when he contracted nephritis and upon recovery became a POW at Camp Lookout, MD until his exchange on March 3, 1864. Suffering from the effects of his wound and imprisonment, Belk was placed on sick leave until he resigned February 8, 1865.
It was on February 28, that LeRoy and Sam's story came together. Sam recounted in 1915:
"One day in February (28)1865, during Sherman’s raid a number of Kilpatrick’s Cavalry came to the home of my father, John W. [called Washington] Belk who lived near Camp Creek Seven miles northeast of Lancaster Court House, SC. This was supposed to be the picket line between Wheeler’s Confederate cavalry and Kilpatrick’s Federal cavalry. Kilpatrick’s men came dashing up into our yard and went to our smoke house and took a number of hams and shoulders and tied them to their saddles. There were about fifteen of the cavalrymen. A half a dozen or more of them went up to the house and asked my mother if she had any silverware or any money. While they were talking to my mother about fifteen of Wheeler’s cavalry dashed in at the yard gate and commenced firing. In a great deal quicker time that it takes to tell it the Yankees cut the hams and shoulders of meat from their saddles and fled for their lives down a hill., the Confederates in hot pursuit. The running fight kept up for a distance of a quarter of a mile.” One Federal trooper tumbled from his horse shot and “another Federal soldier was mortally wounded, being shot in the small of the back. His name was Smith, but I do not know where he was from. A Federal soldier named Williams was badly wounded being shot in the breast and shoulder. Two yankees were taken prisoner.” The trooper shot from his horse that Belk described was “Leroy Van Coney, from Ohio, shot through the head and instantly killed.”
After the battle was over Wheeler’s men came back to our house and told my mother to try and get the wounded yankees to the house and not let them die if she could prevent it. The wounded men were calling for water over in the woods where they had fallen. My mother told Wheeler’s men that she would do everything in her power to save the men’s lives, that she would get them into the houses if it was possible for her to bring them. My mother and my sisters (Jane 29 and Mary 11?), after both the Confederates and Federals had left, went and brought the two wounded men to the house and carried one of them in a sheet.
After the men were taken to the house, mother and sisters dressed their wounds and nursed them as best they could until the evening of the next day when some Federal soldiers, under a flag of truce, came from their camp four or five miles away and took their wounded comrades away. The ones who came after the wounded men started from their camp with an ambulance but could not get it to our house as heavy rains had put a creek near our house far past fording. They left their ambulance at the creek and crossed it on a foot log and carried the wounded in sheets (borrowed from Elizabeth Belk) across the foot log and to the ambulance.” The sheets were never returned.
Belk was not finished, went on to explain, “Leroy Van Coney, was killed at our house. My father buried him near a spot where he fell and a patch of grass now marks his grave. I visited his grave about a year ago.”
Belk lost an arm, in poor health for almost two years, a POW for five months while still recovering and for the next 50 years Sam's nagging concern was notifying loved ones of LeRoy Van Coney. He needed to let them know of LeRoy's whereabouts and that his remains were well cared for.
Lancaster Courthouse of 1865 era
In official records, Van Coney was reported killed on February 28,1865 in Lancaster, SC. Van Coney was killed 40 days before Appomattox on some small farm, in a small town that didn’t really matter to anyone. Did Sam Belk understand his death?
LeRoy's grave is unmarked.
A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion, Dyer, Frederick H. (Des Moines, IA: Dyer Pub. Co.), 1908.
National Tribune, 1915, Samuel Ellison Belk, Monroe, NC.
Official Records of the Rebellion, 1861-1865.
National Data Systems, Inc., P.O. Box 35, Duxbury, MA 02331.
Find - a Grave, S.E. Belk, Washington Belk, Elizabeth Belk.