Thomas Welsh (general)

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Thomas Welsh


Colonel Thomas Welsh, ca. 1862
Born(1824-05-05)May 5, 1824
Columbia, Pennsylvania
Died August 14, 1863(1863-08-14) (aged 39)
Cincinnati, Ohio
Place of burialMount Bethel Cemetery, Columbia, Pennsylvania
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Army
Union Army
Years of service 1846–1848; 1861–1863
Rank Union Army brigadier general rank insignia.svg Brigadier General
Commands held 45th Pennsylvania Infantry
Battles/wars Mexican-American War
American Civil War

Thomas Welsh (May 5, 1824 – August 14, 1863) was a soldier in the United States Army during the Mexican-American War and a Union brigadier general during the American Civil War.

United States Army Land warfare branch of the United States Armed Forces

The United States Army (USA) is the land warfare service branch of the United States Armed Forces. It is one of the seven uniformed services of the United States, and is designated as the Army of the United States in the United States Constitution. As the oldest and most senior branch of the U.S. military in order of precedence, the modern U.S. Army has its roots in the Continental Army, which was formed to fight the American Revolutionary War (1775–1783)—before the United States of America was established as a country. After the Revolutionary War, the Congress of the Confederation created the United States Army on 3 June 1784 to replace the disbanded Continental Army. The United States Army considers itself descended from the Continental Army, and dates its institutional inception from the origin of that armed force in 1775.

Union Army Land force that fought for the Union during the American Civil War

During the American Civil War, the Union Army referred to the United States Army, the land force that fought to preserve the Union of the collective states. Also known as the Federal Army, it proved essential to the preservation of the United States of America as a working, viable republic.

Brigadier general (United States) one-star general officer in the United States Army, Air Force, and Marine Corps

In the United States Armed Forces, brigadier general is a one-star general officer with the pay grade of O-7 in the U.S. Army, U.S. Marine Corps, and U.S. Air Force. Brigadier general ranks above a colonel and below major general. The rank of brigadier general is equivalent to the rank of rear admiral in the other uniformed services. The NATO equivalent is OF-6.


Early life and career

Thomas Welsh was born in Columbia, Pennsylvania on May 5, 1824, the third of four children born to Charles Welsh and Nancy (Dougherty) Welsh. His father died before his third birthday, and at the age of 8, he left home to work in a nail factory. Thus began a long series of jobs including farming, factory work and the lumber business, in the towns of Colemanville, Gap, and Bird in Hand, through which he became self-sufficient at an early age. He attended school only sporadically, attaining the equivalent of four to five years of formal schooling, but was self-taught, and became an educated man. At age 20, Welsh headed west to find work as an itinerant carpenter in Cincinnati, Ohio, and Fort Smith, Arkansas.

Columbia, Pennsylvania Place in Pennsylvania, United States

Columbia, formerly Wright's Ferry, is a borough (town) in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, 28 miles (45 km) southeast of Harrisburg on the east (left) bank of the Susquehanna River, across from Wrightsville and York County and just south of U.S. Route 30. The settlement was founded in 1726 by Colonial English Quakers from Chester County led by entrepreneur and evangelist John Wright. Establishment of the eponymous Wright's Ferry, the first commercial Susquehanna crossing in the region, inflamed territorial conflict with neighboring Maryland but brought growth and prosperity to the small town, which was just a few votes shy of becoming the new United States' capital. Though besieged for a short while by Civil War destruction, Columbia remained a lively center of transport and industry throughout the 19th century, once serving as a terminus of the Pennsylvania Canal. Later, however, the Great Depression and 20th-century changes in economy and technology sent the borough into decline. It is notable today as the site of one of the world's few museums devoted entirely to horology.

Mexican War

At the outbreak of the Mexican War, Welsh enlisted as a third sergeant in the 2nd Regiment Kentucky Volunteer Infantry. He served in the Monterey campaign under General Zachary Taylor. He was quickly promoted to first Sergeant then for reasons that have been lost, demoted to private.

The 2nd Kentucky Volunteer Infantry Regiment was an infantry regiment that served in the Union Army during the American Civil War.

Battle of Monterrey 1846 battle during the Mexican–American War

In the Battle of Monterrey during the Mexican–American War, General Pedro de Ampudia and the Mexican Army of the North was defeated by the Army of Occupation, a force of United States Regulars, Volunteers and Texas Rangers under the command of General Zachary Taylor.

Zachary Taylor 12th president of the United States

Zachary Taylor was the 12th president of the United States, serving from March 1849 until his death in July 1850. Taylor previously was a career officer in the United States Army, rose to the rank of major general and became a national hero as a result of his victories in the Mexican–American War. As a result, he won election to the White House despite his vague political beliefs. His top priority as president was preserving the Union, but he died sixteen months into his term, before making any progress on the status of slavery, which had been inflaming tensions in Congress.

Welsh was severely wounded at the Battle of Buena Vista on February 23, 1847, when he was hit by a musket ball which shattered the bone just below his right knee. Though the wound would leave him lame for the rest of his life, his regimental surgeon named Dr. Blanton was able to save his leg from amputation (Welsh would later name his first son after Dr. Blanton).

Battle of Buena Vista

The Battle of Buena Vista, also known as the Battle of Angostura, saw the United States Army use artillery to repulse the much larger Mexican Army in the Mexican–American War. Buena Vista, a village in the state of Coahuila, is seven miles (12 km) south of Saltillo, in Mexico.

He returned to Columbia to recover and was received as a war hero. In January 1848, as soon as his wound had closed, he returned to service, accepting a commission as a second lieutenant in the 11th U.S. Infantry Regiment serving under General Winfield Scott in the Vera Cruz campaign. His leg wound had not fully healed, however, and in May 1848, he was sent home on medical leave.

11th Infantry Regiment (United States)

The 11th Infantry Regiment is a regiment in the United States Army.

Winfield Scott Union United States Army general

Winfield Scott was an American military commander and political candidate. He served as a general in the United States Army from 1814 to 1861, taking part in the War of 1812, the Mexican–American War, the early stages of the American Civil War, and various conflicts with Native Americans. Scott was the Whig Party's presidential nominee in the 1852 presidential election, but was defeated by Democrat Franklin Pierce. He was known as "Old Fuss and Feathers" for his insistence on proper military etiquette, and as the "Grand Old Man of the Army" for his many years of service.

Siege of Veracruz

The Battle of Veracruz was a 20-day siege of the key Mexican beachhead seaport of Veracruz, during the Mexican–American War. Lasting from March 9–29, 1847, it began with the first large-scale amphibious assault conducted by United States military forces, and ended with the surrender and occupation of the city. U.S. forces then marched inland to Mexico City.

Political career and return to civilian life

Returning to Columbia during the election year of 1848, Welsh became active in the local Democratic Party. He supported Democratic presidential nominee Lewis Cass in his race against Welsh's former commanding office Zachary Taylor. He also spoke out against Federal anti-slavery legislation, instead favoring a doctrine of popular sovereignty, which espoused each territory's right to determine its own slavery or anti-slavery laws. Welsh married Annie Young in October 1850. The first of their seven children was born in 1851.

Lewis Cass American politician

Lewis Cass was an American military officer, politician, and statesman. He represented Michigan in the United States Senate and served in the Cabinets of two U.S. Presidents, Andrew Jackson and James Buchanan. He was also the 1848 Democratic presidential nominee and a leading spokesman for the Doctrine of Popular Sovereignty, which held that the people in each territory should decide whether to permit slavery.

Popular sovereignty, or sovereignty of the peoples' rule, is the principle that the authority of a state and its government are created and sustained by the consent of its people, through their elected representatives, who is the source of all political power. It is closely associated with social contract philosophers such as Thomas Hobbes, John Locke and Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Popular sovereignty expresses a concept and does not necessarily reflect or describe a political reality. The people have the final say in government decisions. Benjamin Franklin expressed the concept when he wrote, "In free governments, the rulers are the servants and the people their superiors and sovereigns".

He became an enterprising businessman, opening a dry goods store in Columbia's Canal Basin, selling insurance, and operating a small fleet of canal boats which he named after his children.

He was appointed weigh master in 1850 and lock superintendent a few years later. He was elected Justice of the Peace and also served as president of the Borough Council.

Civil War

When the Civil War erupted in April 1861, Welsh raised one of the first companies of volunteers from Lancaster County and was elected as its captain. Within days, the company was mustered into service as part of the 2nd Pennsylvania Infantry, and he was appointed lieutenant colonel of the regiment. This was a three-months regiment, which served briefly in the Shenandoah Valley, then York, Pennsylvania, where it served out its term. In July, when his term of enlistment was over, Welsh was appointed by Governor Andrew Curtin as a colonel and placed in charge of Camp Curtin, the processing center set up to process as many as 500,000 volunteers into war service. Welsh is credited with instituting needed reforms in camp discipline and sanitation.

In October 1861, he was appointed to command the 45th Pennsylvania Infantry, a three-year regiment, which he had recruited from Center, Tioga, Lancaster, and Mifflin Counties. The 45th eventually became known as one of the best drilled and best disciplined regiments in the service, for which Welsh is credited.

After brief service around Washington, the 45th was sent south to Charleston Harbor, under Gen. H. G. Wright, as part of the blockade of southern shipping. There it participated in the Battle of James Island on June 10, 1862. In July, the 45th was called north to become part of the IX Corps under Gen. Ambrose Burnside, and Welsh directed the successful rear-guard action during the Union evacuation of Acquia Creek, near Fredericksburg.

When Confederate General Robert E. Lee launched his invasion of Maryland in September 1862, McClellan's Army of the Potomac (of which IX Corps was part) was sent in chase. At the Battle of South Mountain on September 14, Welsh, now in brigade command, engaged the rebels at Fox's Gap. His brigade came under heavy fire and suffered severe casualties, but succeeded in driving the Confederates off the ridge and securing a Union victory.

On September 17, 1862, at the Battle of Antietam, after first being held in reserved (on account of its losses at South Mountain), Welsh's brigade was placed into action in the afternoon after Burnside exhausted his other troops capturing the bridge that now bears his name. Against steady opposition, Welsh's troops advanced a mile, entering the village of Sharpsburg (threatening to cut off the Confederate route of escape across the Potomac) before being called back because they could not be supported. This was the furthest Union advance of the battle. As it was, the battle ended largely in a stalemate.

Welsh's performance drew praises from his superiors, and he was promoted to brigadier general of volunteers on November 29, 1862 (confirmed by the Senate on March 13, 1863). He was assigned to command the 1st division of IX Corps, sent west to Kentucky, then south to Mississippi to serve under Maj. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant during the Siege of Vicksburg, where he was assigned to guard the exterior of the Union line from attack by Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston.

Upon the surrender of Vicksburg, he marched with Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman to Jackson, Mississippi, and defeated the Confederates at the battle of Jackson. Welsh contracted a malarial fever during this campaign, from which he died in Cincinnati, Ohio, on August 14, 1863. He was buried in Mount Bethel Cemetery in his native Columbia.


After the Civil War, Grand Army of the Republic Post #118 in Columbia was named for Welsh. For many years, this was one of the most active G.A.R. posts in Pennsylvania. The Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War have a General Thomas Welsh Camp in Lancaster.

See also

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