Clark County Press, Neillsville, WI
May 26, 1999, Page 28
Transcribed by Dolores (Mohr) Kenyon.
Index of "Oldies" Articles
Good Old Days
Compiled by Dee Zimmerman
A Civil War Soldier’s Letters
John Henry Welsh was born, June 12, 1943, in Steuben County, New York to Uri and Rhoda Kilbourn Welsh. The family moved to DeKalb County, Ill. in 1846. Shortly after, his mother died and his father took Henry and his little brother to live near relatives in Wisconsin.
A year after moving to Wisconsin, the boys’ father, Uri, died and the Welsh grandparents took Henry and Albert to live in their home at Iron Ridge, Wis.
Following the attack on Fort Sumter, President Lincoln called for a volunteer army of 75,000 men for three month’s service. A week later, in April, young Henry Welsh was sworn in as a private in the First Wisconsin Volunteers’ Army. After his discharge in August, he re-enlisted, this time for three years service in Company I, 29th Wisconsin Volunteers Infantry. At that time, Army pay was $13 per month, and like most of the soldiers, Welsh sent an allotment home. In a few months’ time, he was promoted to Sergeant.
In 1863, Sgt. Welsh was wounded at Vicksburg by a small cannonball, and spent the next six weeks in Geosha Hospital at Memphis, Tenn. After a short furlough home, he returned to action.
During his military career, he took part in the following military actions: Falling waters, VA.; Helena, Ark; Friar’s Point: Dirvall’s Bluffs; Port Gibson; Fourteen Mile Creek; Champion Hill; Siege of Vicksburg; Carrion Crow Bayou; Spanish Lake, La.; Sabine Cross Roads; Cane River Crossing; Alexandria; Marksville; Simport; Atchafaloy River; Spanish Fort; and Fort Blakely. He was honorably discharged, June 22, 1865, and returned to his home in Iron Ridge.
Later, Welsh lived for several years near Loyal, Wis. In 1869, he went to Kansas, where he worked as a Deputy U. S. Marshal for a number of years.
Welsh married Mary Elizabeth Hodges of Kansas, on Dec. 10, 1874. They, with their family, traveled by covered wagon to Loyal, Wis., in 1887, where they settled on a farm. They had six children, two of whom died very young.
Actively involved in community affairs, Welsh was a charter member of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.), organizing the annual patriotic parades.
Also, he was a member of the Modern Woodman of America, the Royal Neighbors, and the family was active in the Loyal Methodist Church.
In war and peace, Henry Welsh served his country until his death, February 24, 1918.
The four Welsh children grew to maturity in the Loyal area. Many Clark County residents remember Nettie Welsh and Lou Welsh Mack.
Nettie Welsh and Lou Mack enjoyed local history and both had a flair for writing.
With those combined interests, Lou was often called upon for local historical data needed in projects and publications. She also wrote the Loyal Community news, serving as a correspondent for the Loyal Tribune, Clark County Press and Marsh-field News-Herald.
Nettie Welsh wrote the G.A.R. presentation and response speeches which have been, and still are, part of the Loyal High School graduation exercises each year.
A Senior class representative presents the Civil War era flag to a member of the Junior class, reciting the speeches written many years ago.
After Henry Welsh and other Civil War veterans were gone or unable to take part in the graduation ceremony, Nettie Welsh wrote the speeches to enable the tradition to be carried on.
Some family interests seem to carry on into the next generations, as Lou’s daughter, Mildred Mack Sterr compiled a book, including the letters written by her grandfather, Henry Welsh, during the Civil War. Mildred Sterr and her brother, Sherrin Mack, share a great interest in their family’s history. The Mack family members’ descendants were also, one of Clark County’s first settlers.
Excerpts from Henry Welsh’s letters to his family:
March 13th, 1863
As I had time I thought I would write and let you know hat I am well, and hope you are the same. I received my boots all right. The right one is plenty large enough, but the left one is pretty small but I think it will be all right after I have worn it a few times.
All the boys here who came from the Ridge are well, except Sam Torbert and Ed Cole, both died. I tell you it is hard, as there are three men, who had enlisted, that have died. There are nine out of our company who have had the measles and all but one of them died. The one who got well was Orin Chet. Chet’s mother told him to drink cold water if he got the measles and he did that. But the rest drank warm tea and such, and caught cold and died.
But if a fellow should take care of himself and doctor on roots, bark and such, he will get well in a few days. We have to keep clean and exercise.
Dave Laup wanted me to write to you and ask if you could spare Albert so he could go and do chores for Laup until the weather is warm enough for the cattle to pick their own living. If Frank wants to hire out, let him go do the chores; Dave said he would pay him what was right. I tell you it is too bad – Dave is down here and can’t get anyone to do his chores for him….
June 12, 1863
….It is a fine day today and I feel fine… Today is my birthday, so I thought I should write you a letter to let you know I am well.
We have been here one month lacking six days and the Rebels haven’t given up yet.
We have lots of gray backs, but not plenty of greenbacks, but the boys think we will be paid when we get to Vicksburg. We get plenty to eat now, but when we were on the march, we could get little to eat; only some fresh beef and pork that we had to forage for after we stopped for the night. Three or four days we were without a mouthful of food to eat. Sometimes we would get corn and parch that to eat, them times made me think of home. I would have give two dollars for a loaf of bread, if I could have gotten a hold of it. I have offered two shilling for a hard cracker and could not get it. If anybody complains that they ain’t got enough to eat, just tell them to enlist. Tell Albert never to grumble for something to eat as long as he is at home, for he don’t know what it is to be hungry. But we are where we can get all we want to eat now, and we are getting fat again and feel first rate….
June 20, 1863
…It is the hardest looking place here that I ever saw in my life! It is up hill and down – up hill and down. I tell you it is rough country. I would not live here if they would give me a good farm—
I tell you I have seen something of what the South have to live on. I will tell you what I found in their haversacks the next day after the Battle of Backers Creek (or Champion Hills: it goes by either name). It was corn meal in some sacks and corn bread in others with no salt at all and some fresh beef with hardly any salt. I saw many prisoners and they looked like they wanted something to eat. There a good many deserters who come into Vicksburg. They say that they can’t stand it much longer in Vicksburg.
If you can, wish you would send me a pair or two of woolen socks for I can’t wear cotton socks in the summer. I was lucky enough to get hold of a pair of socks of our boys and I gave him 75 cents…..
New Iberia, La.
….I think we are having the best time now that we have ever had since we have been down South.
We are encamped in a very pretty place by the name of New Iberia. It is on the river 29 miles from Bossier City. We have plenty of good water, fresh beef, and once in a while a mess of sweet potatoes which don’t go bad to a hungry soldier. We don’t have tents but we do have some nice shanties to live in, I say “nice,” they are nice for a soldier to have.
We have got a pretty nice company now. We got rid of all them that play out. We have about 45 men in our group. We had 985 men in our regiment when we started from Madison and now we can’t muster over 350 men fit for duty.
When you write me, let me know how my steers are getting along. I don’t want them to starve to death. If you don’t have enough hay for them, tell Ari to buy some. I ain’t had any pay since I left home but expect to get some in a few days and then I can send some home. I want the steers kept fat and grow all they can for I may want to use them when I get home.
I heard that General Grant had cleaned out the Rebs up in Tennessee. I heard that he took sixty pieces of artillery and a good many prisoners. If that is so, we will be home before next year this time.
Mar. 3, 1864
We have been to Texas and back again. We expect to go to Bossier City in a few days, then from there to Franklin.
We have not be paid yet. I wish you would send a dollars worth of stamps. When I get paid, I will send you some money. Uncle Sam owes me $204 – one years pay. I intend to send my allotment, $10 a month, and if William goes up north in the spring and gets him a farm, I want him to buy me one, too…..
April 11, 1864
We have had some pretty hard time since I last wrote. We have had a fight with the Rebs and got whipped out. Our Division is all cut to pieces. We lost 68 out of our Regiment – killed, wounded and taken prisoner. We had to skedaddle like thunder for once in our life. Our company and four more were guarding the train about a mile and a half from where the battle was fought. There were only five companies of our Regiment in the fight and they lost 68 men.
In the first day’s fight we lost 22 pieces of artillery but he next day took them back again, all but four pieces.
St. Charles, Ark.
…I heard there are lots of fellows leaving for Canada to get rid of the Draft. I hope they catch every one of them!
We are now in the best camp we have been in since we left Wisconsin. We are in camp in a fort; it is a nice place I tell you.
Every other day, we have picket duty. We live in a nice house; it is 8 by 10 with a board roof, a window in the Northeast and a door on the North. There is a table big enough for six to eat on and six of us mess together.
St. Charles, Ark.
…Chet Cole was just in my tent and wanted me to tell you to let his folks know if you send me a box, that they send some butter for him. Oh yes, I want a pocket handkerchief. I have one that I bought when I was in Milwaukee a year ago but it’s almost wore out. Whatever you get, keep track of and I will pay you back.
How many cows do you have? Do you have any butter to sell? The butter we get down here is lard with a little tallow and a few hairs in it to keep it together. We have to pay 75 cents to a dollar a pound for it. Eggs are 50 and 60 cents a dozen, tobacco $2.50 a pound. What do you think of that! Don’t you think you think we have done well to allot ten dollars a month and only keep three? You may think a soldier can live without spending anything because he is furnished his grub and clothes. But we have to buy our own dishes to cook with. They furnish us with mess pans and a mess kettle, but we have to buy our frying pans, coffee pots, plates, knives, forks, spoons, cups, and such.
Mobile City, Ala.
General Steele charged Spanish Fort and Breast Works at Blakely and took them with about 2,500 prisoners. We lost a good many of men there and so did the Rebs. In all, we took in 3,860 prisoners. As soon as the Rebs heard we had taken the two places, they left Mobile.
We are now taking our comfort in the Mobile and Ohio Rail Road depot.
Nearly half of the Rebel Army gave themselves up and are here in Mobile. They said they would not fight against us anymore.
I had a good time yesterday, I found a Union family. They gave me my dinner and supper, and wouldn’t take any pay for it. They told me anytime I was on duty around there, to come in and I might have all I wanted to eat.
I was around the city a good deal yesterday and had a chance to see how the poor people live and I tell you it is rough. I know the hogs up North have better food to eat and better houses to live in than the poor folks do here; they are half starved.
General Lee has ordered all Confederate troops to lay down their arms on the East side of the river.
I did not come into the army to make money. I came to fight for my Country and I have done it. I have never been to a doctor to be excused from duty on account of sickness since I have been in the Army and took little medicine. The only duty I missed was when I was wounded. The good news we heard from Grant helped me some.
Co. I 29th Regiment
(This Memorial Day, we honor the memory of soldiers such as Henry Welsh who gave time out of their young lives to protect the freedoms we enjoy today. There are also memories of those who died in battle, not to return. D.Z.)
(Our thanks to Mildred Mack Sterr and Sherrin Mack for sharing their book, from which this information came D. Z.)
Related Link: Diary of Henry Welsh.
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