Joseph C & Frank H Lea, Confederate and Proud!

We are delighted to offer again a look into the personalities of those daring young men that rode into history with William Clarke Quantrill. The guerrillas that won fame by belonging to the most noted light cavalry organization of the entire Civil War will be featured monthly in our pages of quantrillsguerrillas.com. In this article we feature two brothers, Joseph C. and Frank H. Lea.

Joseph C. Lea and his younger brother Frank were two of the sons of Dr. Pleasant Lea for whom the town of Lee’s Summit, Missouri was named. Dr. Lea was the town’s physician. Dr. Lea was described a being one of Quantrill’s closest friends. The doctor’s sons and nephews were serving in Price’s army, but the doctor took no part in the conflict himself. Fifty-five-year old Dr. Pleasant Lea had moved to southeastern Jackson County in 1852 and built a home on 800 acres said to be the finest home in the neighborhood on the outskirts of Strother, along the Independence to Harrisonville road along the east fork of the Little Blue River. Strother was the early name for Lee’s Summit. Our frist image is of Dr. Pleasant Lea.                                                                 

Jayhawkers had already made incursions into Jackson County attacking Southern sympathizers and anyone wealthy enough to supply plunder for their greed. One of their early attacks completely destroyed the property of one Henry Washington Younger stealing everything they could carry back to Kansas. Jayhawkers under the command of Colonel William Penick and Charles Jennison and their henchmen Marshall Cleveland and John Stewart stole every one of Younger’s thoroughbred horses and fine mules. The Youngers were neighbors of Dr. Pleasant Lea and atrocious acts such as these caused many a young man to join the Southern army. After their initial enlistment in the Missouri State Guards expired many of these young men returned home and joined Quantrill for protection and to avenge their families that had been so abused by Jayhawkers during their absence.

One day a messenger arrived at the home of Dr. Lea with the information that his son, Joseph, who had been known to be riding with Quantrill, was injured and awaiting medical aid at the Bayles home on the other side of town. As Lea was on his way to see his son some Federal soldiers stationed in Independence under the command of Colonel Penick stopped him along the road. After breaking both his arms trying to get information about the guerrillas they tied him to a tree stabbing him to death with their bayonets then shooting into his body. His home and thirteen others were burned that same day.  Neighbors all recalled that “the soldiers took the doctor to his yard and executed him in front of his family. On the same raid the Federals killed an elderly farmer and burned fourteen houses in the area.”

Acts such as these caused both Joseph and Frank Lea to become some of Quantrill’s best fighters. Captain Joseph C. Lea was born in Tennessee in 1841, and described as one of Quantrill’s good friends.  Frank H. Lea was born on July 18, 1843. Frank served under his brother as a lieutenant in Quantrill’s company. Both brothers initially joined the Missouri State Guard before returning home and joining Quantrill’s command.

Neighbors reported that the brothers joined Quantrill when Federal soldiers from Iowa under the command of General Thomas Ewing and Colonel William Penick stationed in Independence rode to the home of J. N. Hargis south of Independence hunting for guerrillas. There they found Washington Wells and Dr. Pleasant Lea, father of Captain Lea who had gone to get a newspaper seeking news of his son’s safety. He was shot, had both of his arms broken in an attempt to get him to tell the whereabouts of Quantrill and his men. When he refused he was tied to a tree and bayoneted. The Federals then rode to the doctor’s large colonial home and burned it down along with fourteen others the same day. Before applying the torch the Federals stole Lea’s furniture and shot his only remaining slave. Joseph and Frank had three other brothers who joined the Confederate army.

Joseph Lea was described as a “fearless young man who had experienced many close calls in the Border Wars.  He was powerful, over six feet tall and with a ‘wild, dashing air that always distinguished him in any campaign.”Our next image is Lt. Frank Lea.                                       

One noteworthy operation that Joseph and Frank Lea took part in took place in Cass County in conjunction with Captain Cole Younger’s company of guerrillas.  Younger made his camp on the East Fork of the Little Blue River just south of Independence at the home of his cousins George and Tom Tally.  Here he kept up a constant assault on the Federals who were daily abusing the Southern sympathizers living nearby.  On one occasion he returned to his old neighborhood in Cass County planning an attack on Pleasant Hill, garrisoned by a unit of 300 Federals.  The outpost was too strong for the guerrillas to attack even with their entire force.  In conjunction with the guerrilla unit led by Captain Joseph Lea, Younger urged an alternate plan to ambush a Federal patrol outside of town. Guerrilla’s William Hulse and Noah Webster were kept watching the post keeping track of the number and size of the patrols that were sent out at regular intervals.  Soon a Union patrol of thirty-two cavalrymen led by a Lieutenant Jefferson was discovered not far from town. Younger instructed Lea to take a squad of men and act as a blocking force to prevent Jefferson from returning to the post while he would follow from behind and bring on an engagement. As Jefferson returned to the post he discovered Lea’s men to his front.  Jefferson attempted to arrange a quick skirmish line. At the same time Younger ordered an immediate charge upon their rear but instead of fighting the Federal line broke and ran.  During the running battle Noah Webster killed four Federals.  His weapons were empty but still he dashed after the fleeing soldiers knocking them from their saddles by clubbing them with his empty pistols. William Hulse, fifty yards behind Lieutenant Jefferson, managed to shoot him from the saddle. After the news of the guerrilla’s victory reached Pleasant Hill the Federals quickly evacuated the town. Our next image is of Captain Joseph C. Lea.                                                                                                                   

Joseph C. Lea and his brother both fought in the Lawrence raid with Joseph being listed as wounded.  During the winter of 1862 Quantrill’s officers like Cole Younger, Joseph C. Lea and Dick Yeager remained in Jackson County each with a small detachment of men while awaiting Quantrill’s return in the spring.  

As soon as Quantrill returned he gathered his separate forces together along Big Creek in Cass County reorganizing his command and assigning them to separate companies under trustworthy officers that could better strike back at the Federal menace.  One company was under the leadership of Capt. John Jarrette.  He restructured his company by electing brother-in-law Coleman Younger to be first lieutenant as his second in command.  Joseph C. Lea was chosen as second lieutenant. Lon Railey was elected third lieutenant, and John Webster was elected orderly sergeant.  Joseph C. Lea is credited with having served in the Red River campaign, by now being promoted to captain and undoubtedly his brother served alongside of him as mentioned before being one of his lieutenants.  The bonds of comradeship which the trials of combat had forged also kept the two brother’s careers intertwined after the war.  Following the Civil War both brothers moved to New Mexico to start a new life.  Joseph C. Lea entered the cattle business in Roswell, New Mexico eventually becoming the superintendent of the New Mexico Military Academy.  Joseph is said to have attended the Quantrill reunions held annually in Jackson County.  He died in 1904.  After the war Frank H. Lea was a Justice of the Peace in Roswell, New Mexico.  He died on February 10, 1905. 

References: Paul R. Petersen - Quantrill of Missouri, Cumberland House Publishing, Harrison Trow - Charles W. Quantrell; A True History of his Guerrilla Warfare on the Missouri and Kansas Border During the Civil War of 1861-1865, Elvis E. Fleming, Captain Joseph C. Lea – From Confederate Guerrilla to New Mexico Patriarch. 

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