Saturday, October 25, 2008

Shedding Some Light on Thomas Welsh. . .

Brigadier General Thomas Welsh
I had the great privilege today to participate in a symposium commemorating the life and forgotten services of Columbia, Pennsylvania's "favorite son," Brigadier General Thomas Welsh. I have a great interest in those Civil War figures who have never fully received their due, including Welsh. What particular draws me to General Welsh is the similarities between him and Brigadier General James Nagle, who I have championed on this blog for the past two years. Welsh and Nagle were natives of Pennsylvania, both served as volunteers in the Mexican-American War (Nagle as a captain, Welsh as a sergeant and then lieutenant), both became leading members of the respective communities, Nagle of Pottsville and Welsh of Columbia, and both answered the nation's call again in 1861. Nagle organized the 48th Pennsylvania, Welsh, the 45th Pennsylvania. Both units served in the 9th Corps, and both Welsh and Nagle would rise to the rank of brigadier general of volunteers. And, sadly, both died way too young. Welsh succumbed to malaria in August 1863 at the age of thirty-nine; Nagle died of heart disease almost exactly three years later, in August 1866, at the age of forty-four. Because of my interest in both Welsh and the 9th Corps, an interest that dates a long ways back, when I was asked earlier this year if I would be interested in participating, I jumped at the chance. I am very glad that I did so.
Mr. Rick Wiggin, a descendant of General Welsh, organized this symposium event, the second annual. In addition to my presentation, the were three others that addressed Welsh's service in the Mexican War (where he fell seriously wounded at Buena Vista, a musket ball shattering his leg), the burning of the Columbia-Wrightsville Bridge on June 28, 1863, and the reaction of the people of Columbia to the memorable, if sometimes overstated event, including that of Welsh's wife, Annie, and, finally, Welsh's legacy to his community and his country.
The symposium started at 1:00 p.m., but I arrived in Columbia an hour or so ahead of schedule so I figured I'd pay my respects to the general, buried in the Mount Bethel Cemetery.
As I searched the graveyard, I, of course, snapped some pictures of other Civil War burials. One grave that caught my attention was that of Major Edward Kelsey, of the 45th PA, mortally wounded at Cold Harbor. Note the very distinctive 9th Corps badge on the stone:


As I continued walking through the cemetery, I came across another interesting grave, that of George W. Derrick, a 43-year-old private in Company B, 45th, who was killed in action at the Crater in July 1864.


At last, I came upon General Welsh's burial site. Welsh survived bullets in two wars, only to fall victim to malaria during the final days of the Vicksburg campaign in the summer of 1863.

After wandering through the cemetery, I made my way to the Columbia Public Library, which sponsored the symposium. It was a great pleasure to meet Mr. Wiggin, and the other presenters. I spoke of Welsh's role at the battle of Antietam, and argued that not only was the battle one of missed opportunities for the Army of the Potomac, but it was also one of missed opportunities for Thomas Welsh as well. He and his men stood on the precipice of greater laurels during the 9th Corps's afternoon attack against Lee's critical right flank, only to have that opportunity vanish when orders were received to fall back just as Welsh's men were reaching the very streets of Sharpsburg itself and just on the verge of a decided victory. Judging from the feedback I received, the talk went over very well with both my fellow presenters and the audience, which numbered well over fifty people. Seeing the great turnout and appreciating Mr. Wiggin's efforts in helping to shed light on Welsh's forgotten service, I am somewhat tempted to organize a similar symposium-type event commemorating General Nagle. Stay tuned.
In addition to the great pleasure it was to participate, I had the opportunity to view many of Thomas Welsh's personal effects, generously displayed by Mr. Rick Abel, an avid collector of Welsh artifacts and memorabilia.

Welsh's epaulettes. . .note the circular "45's" and the eagles, plus the star on the epaulette, each indicating rank.
Welsh's personal trunk. This trunk was sent home following Welsh's death, containing the general's personal items.
Last, but certainly not least, I had the honor of holding Welsh's Civil War combat sword. . .a sword he very well may have wielded during the heavy action at South Mountain and Antietam.

1 comment:

Capt Mike Wolgemuth said...

I must also agree, it was a very good symposium. I know that the 7 members of the 45th PVI Co K (Re-enactors)enjoyed hearing and learning new things about Brig. Gen. Welsh.. Also to be able to see some of the "Col's" personal effects was great and an honor. We look forward to next year.