Ever been to an old cemetery and you could hardly find the stones for brush or because they were crushed-up? Well, this soldier has a similar problem. His small stone with no information as to his war years is being gobbled, as in literally swallowed up by a huge old tree. Now, he will be blessed with a beautiful new government stone with his info included, thanks to Kim Hancock and Suzi Petrie.
Although our soldier, Thomas Franklin Leech was born in Flat Rock, Shelby County, Indiana two days after Christmas in 1840, his parents, David and America (Taylor) Leech were both born and raised in Virginia. The Leeches were of Irish descent, their progenitor, George a Revolutionary Soldier, coming to America prior to 1775. Young Leech spent his early life in Hope, Indiana where he attended the Hope Academy, graduated from Shelbyville, HS and then on to Philadelphia to Jefferson Medical College.
However, he hadn’t completed his studies when war broke out and he enlisted in Co D of the 33rd Infantry at Shelbyville. Although an infantryman, quickly, it was realized that he was blessed as a healer. This company all toiled, lost 116 KIA and another 182 by disease. After 18 months, he was given a furlough to complete his studies then entered the Navy, spending the rest of the war on the Mississippi at Vicksburg as a physician on the USS Peri. Soldiers and sailors forever after praised this man for saving their lives.
After the war, he headed home to Indiana, and thereabouts for awhile, then settled in Montgomery County where for 25 years, he was the president of the MC Medical Society and served on the State Board of Health. Extremely active in our community, he was also a Mason and helped organize McPherson post of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR).
One feat that lead to great state press was when he and Dr. Fred Montague operated on and removed a bullet that was lodged in a boy’s breast that landed there when the young man toyed with a gun. Most pronounced the teen a goner, but the two doctors proved this a falsehood. The incident lead to local and state gun safety implemented. Ironically, perhaps, Montague’s huge mausoleum is just about 200’ away from today’s soldier’s gnarled grave.
A major passion for the good doctor Leech was chess. He organized a state chess tournament held at the Shades. He played multiple opponents at a time, not only in tournaments but often keeping the telegrapher busy with a list of grams, complete with his moved to send off.
Mary Eleanor Locke was his wife and they had three children, daughter, Alice Mabel and sons, Charles Hugh and Ellerslie. It was the death of the latter young man of typhoid pneumonia that broke his father down. Having just graduated from Wabash, Ellerslie had been working with his father but a short time when he took sick and quickly passed. He, too, is in an unmarked grave but it is known where he is buried via the Oak Hill cemetery records. The president of Wabash College preached the funeral and four of his college friends literally sang praises.
Shortly afterwards, the Leeches went to Grover, Illinois where he practiced some but lead a much more laid-back life. Originally a Methodist, he later attended the Presbyterian church. He passed away on Halloween Eve in 1919 and was returned to Crawfordsville to be buried beside his wife, who sadly only has her three initials on her stone and beloved son whose stone could not be found. Guessing the tree already swallowed him?! So, thankfully, everyone visiting Oak Hill will see that at least our soldiers’ name and statistics are now Etched In Stone!
Over the coming weeks and months I will write these columns highlighting each new stone. Karen Zach is the editor of Montgomery Memories, our monthly magazine all about Montgomery County. And she writes Around the County, which appears each Thursday in The Paper of Montgomery County. One by One: Etched in Stone is her latest offering and will appear periodically on Mondays in The Paper.