Leach was born on his the family homestead, “Lansdowne”, in Randolph County, North Carolina, January 17, 1815. He attended the common schools and Caldwell Institute in Greensboro, North Carolina. He graduated from the United States Military Academy in 1838, studied law, and was admitted to the bar in 1842. Leach began his law practice in Lexington, North Carolina, and served in the State house of commons from 1848-1858.
During the American Civil War, Leach served as a captain and lieutenant colonel of the 21st North Carolina Infantry in the Confederate Army. He saw action in many of the early campaigns of Stonewall Jackson, including the Valley Campaign. He served in the Army of Northern Virginia during the Peninsula Campaign and other battles, including the Battle of Gettysburg, where the regiment assaulted Cemetery Hill. He served as a member of the Confederate States Congress in 1864 and 1865.
North Carolina Patriots of ’61 – Representative James Madison Leach of Randolph County
While Jefferson Davis of Mississippi pleaded in the United States Senate for his elected colleagues to help save the Union in January, 1861, Congressman James M. Leach pleaded in the House of Representatives for peaceful settlement of the secession crisis, and rightly pointed to the North’s responsibility for the condition of the country. His respected desire for peace underscores the fact that North Carolina was indeed a “State forced out of the Union.”
Leach, born on his family homestead in Randolph County, “Lansdowne,” graduated from Caldwell Institute in Greensboro, and from West Point in 1838. Studying the profession of law afterward, he was admitted to the North Carolina bar in 1842 and opened his practice in Lexington. He was elected to the Thirty-sixth Congress from North Carolina and served from March 4, 1859 until March 3, 1861.
During the War, Leach served as captain and lieutenant-colonel of the Twenty-first North Carolina Regiment and saw action during Stonewall Jackson’s Valley Campaign, the Peninsula Campaign under General Robert E. Lee, and Gettysburg where his regiment assaulted Cemetery Hill. He later served in the Confederate States Congress in 1864 and 1865. Leach died in Lexington on June 1, 1891 and is interred in Hopewell Cemetery, near Trinity, North Carolina.
The South Needs Constitutional Guarantees to Remain in the Union:
“[The] North Carolina representatives in the Senate and House of the United States Congress were struggling with the problem of peace. Representative Warren Winslow, on January 22 , “by unanimous consent, presented to the House the proceedings of a meeting by the citizens of Columbia, North Carolina, in reference to the condition of the country.” It was promptly “laid on the table.” Representative James M. Leach [stated that the] “Lexington [North Carolina] citizens had approved resolutions designed to lead to “a settlement of our national troubles….based on the Crittenden propositions.” Leach urged the House to read and consider the resolution “with the hope that North Carolina might be in some degree instrumental in effecting an adjustment of our difficulties.”
Winslow said he was willing to exert all of his power to effect a suitable settlement to preserve the Union, but in his judgment “no patched up compromise, no alleviating and palliating remedy” was either just or prudent. He said he did not subscribe to the dogma that the Union should be preserved “at all hazards.’
With reference to the reluctance with which North Carolina ratified the original Constitution of the United States, he said North Carolina was thus reluctant because it feared the consequences “which have sadly been realized.” When it did come into the Union it came with loyal purposes to adhere to its obligations, and would then take course which her honor, interest and obligation to the other States justified.
James M. Leach, in a State of the Union message on February 7, said…Unless there was a return to the obligations of the Constitution, however, and a recognition of the equality of all the States and a guarantee of the rights of the South by the people of the North, he said peace could not be preserved. He pleaded with the House to join him and so legislate as to bring the rebellious States back into the Union.
Leach [said what] was needed were such guarantees as would satisfy the Border States and induce them not only to remain in the Union, but to exert their good offices as mediators between the extremes of both sections. By following this course….Leach believed the border States would “endeavor to influence those [seceded] States to remain in the Union, but if a coercive policy is adopted [by the administration], all is lost.”
(North Carolina in 1861, James H. Boykin, Bookman Associates, 1961, pp. 149-152)