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York cavalryman murdered fellow soldier after dispute

1860 map of West Philadelphia showing Hestonville (circled in yellow). The railside village was along the Lancaster Pike (today’s US Route 30) near Landsdowne Ave. and Westminster Ave. PHMC

Edward Jacoby, born in York County in 1834, had been a carpenter before the Civil War. In August 1861, the 25-year-old Jacoby went to Columbia in Lancaster County and enrolled in Jackson’s Cavalry, a company of volunteers from the river region. He and his comrades were taken to a military camp at Hestonville, where they became members of Company I, 108th Pennsylvania / 11th Pennsylvania Cavalry (also known as Harlan’s Cavalry for their first colonel).

Jacoby, according to his enlistment papers, was 5′ 6″ tall, with dark hair and brown eyes. Little did he or his loved ones know that his military service would end in disgrace within mere weeks of his enrollment.

Jacoby was given a dishonorable discharge in early September on a writ of habeas corpus after killing fellow York County cavalryman Henry “Harry” Leakway in a drunken rage after a minor dispute got out of hand. Leakway, who had partnered with Jacoby in building houses before the war, left a wife and three small children.

Here is the tragic story of two friends whose lives were forever changed in a moment of time. It is adapted from the September 2 and 3, 1861, Philadelphia Inquirer; the September 3, 1861, Philadelphia Press; Dennis Brandt’s Civil War Soldiers Database at the York County History Center, and other sources.

Jacoby and Leakway, once fast friends and business partners, had recently been drinking heavily and sniping at one another. According to the Inquirer, “Both of them have been more or less under the influence of liquor since they reached this city, and considerable ill feeling has existed between the parties for several days past.”

Private William Owens, another York native, had enrolled in the 11th Pennsylvania Cavalry at the same time as the two quarreling carpenters. He had badly injured his legs when a chunk of wood struck him. Owens, unable to walk, was lying in an upstairs room in the Hestonville train station near the military camp. After supper on Sunday, September 1, about 8 p.m., his friend Ed Jacoby, who served as the recruits’ unofficial “doctor,” brought some liniment to treat the wounds. A drunken Harry Leakway followed Jacoby. Several other cavalrymen were also present in the room.

That’s when the trouble started.

According to Jacoby, he was busy rubbing liniment on Owens’ legs when Leakway, without any provocation, suddenly knocked him down. Jacoby claimed he stood up, only to be knocked down two more times. Enraged, Jacoby lunged at Leakway, drew a small Bowie knife, and stabbed him in the neck. The blade severed the jugular vein, and Leakway bled out and died in less than five minutes. A doctor was summoned, but arrived too late to be of use.

Arrested and hauled off to the 24th Ward police station, Jacoby granted an interview that night to a reporter from the Inquirer, who arrived in the company of the depot telegrapher, a Mr. Ruth. According to the newsman, “Jacoby expressed considerable penitence for the act he had committed, and spoke of Lackway [sic]  in the best terms, only that when he was drunk he was inclined to be petulant and irritable.”

The coroner, Dr. Conrad, was called at the late hour to examine Leakway’s body. He held an inquest at 11 a.m. the next morning in Johnson’s Hotel in Hestonville. Several other soldiers who were present in the room at the time of the killing testified as to what they saw and heard. The results shed much more light on the details of the battle between Jacoby and his victim. Leakway indeed provoked the fight.

A reporter for the Press was present and filed this story:

“The first witness was Frantz Kittler [Francis Kettler], a member of Harlan’s cavalry regiment. He testified that about 8 o’clock, on Sunday evening, Jacoby was rubbing the leg of a man named Owens, with ointment; Leakway came up and took hold of Owens’ leg and pulled him; Owens told him to go away and not take hold of him again or he would hurt him; Jacoby also pushed Leakway, and swore at him; Jacoby got up, and Leakway struck him, knocked him down, and kicked him; Jacoby got up, drew a knife out of his pocket, and ran across the room; witness saw them get together again, and saw Leakway bleeding, but did not see Jacoby cut him. The witness recognized the knife as the property of the prisoner; he saw it in his possession before the stabbing.

“George Rabine, also attached to Harlan’s Regiment, testified that he saw Jacoby rubbing Owens’ leg, when Leakway came up and took hold of Owens’ leg and squeezed it; Owens said, Go away, you hurt me; Jacoby said to Leakway, You are a d–n fool; witness then took hold of Leakway and pulled him away; he said to Jacoby, Call me that again and Jacoby did so; Leakway replied, You are a son of a b–h; Jacoby then jumped up, and Leakway struck him and knocked him down; Jacoby got up and ran across the room and took out his knife; Leakway ran after him and struck him; Jacoby then stabbed him; witness then went and took the knife out of Jacoby’s hands; after Leakway was stabbed he kicked Jacoby. Witness was shown a knife and identified it as the one Jacoby had.

“Adam Dolle, of Harlan’s Regiment, was sworn, and corroborated the previous witness’s statement. Ambrose Scully, of the same regiment, corroborated the statement of Rabine, except that he did not see the stab inflicted. William Owens, of Harlan’s regiment, swore to the same facts as the previous witness. Jacob Spear, of the same regiment, saw the knife in Jacoby’s hand, and saw him stab Leakway.

“Dr. S. P. Updegrove testified that he examined the body of Leakway, and found that the jugular vein had been nearly severed, on the right side of the neck, causing him to bleed to death in a few moments.

“The jury rendered a verdict that Henry Leakway came to his death by a stab in the neck, inflicted with a knife in the hands of Edward Jacoby, on the evening of the 1st of September, 1861, at the Hestonville Passenger Railway Depot.”

A few other soldiers also testified, including one man who recalled heated comments about three lawsuits during the squabble.

The regimental adjutant, Spear, told the Inquirer reporter that “Leakway was a young man of hitherto irreproachable character, and that up to the present time he had been a harmless and inoffensive man.” The soldiers in the camp were held under tight discipline to avoid any other incidents, and Jacoby was held for trial. Leakway’s body was taken by train back to York through Columbia.

The army discharged Edward Jacoby. No further record of his trial or fate is known with certainty.

Bill Owens, whose leg Jacoby was greasing when Leakway began his verbal and then physical assault, was mortally wounded in combat against the Confederates at Ream’s Station in Virginia in July 1864; he was taken to the rear lines and later died of his injuries at Point of Rocks, Maryland.

Eyewitness George F. Rabine was captured in the same fight at Ream’s Station and eventually incarcerated at the infamous Andersonville prison in Georgia. The German native survived the war and lived until 1908 when he died in York. He is buried in Greenmount Cemetery. Witness Franz Kettler, another German immigrant to York before the Civil War, also survived the conflict and returned home. He died in 1874.