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87th PA officer escaped from prison after being captured at 2nd Winchester: Part 2

Lt. W. H. H. "Harry" Welsh, 87th PA (Prowell, History of the 87th Pennsylvania)
Lt. W. H. H. “Harry” Welsh, 87th PA (George R. Prowell, History of the 87th Pennsylvania)

Today, we pick up the fascinating, almost movie-like story of Lt. Harry Welsh of the 87th Pennsylvania Infantry.

Welsh, a resident of York County, had enlisted at the age of 20 in September 1861. Two years later, the young officer was taken prisoner after the Second Battle of Winchester while unsuccessfully trying to escape through Maryland to Bloody Run, Pennsylvania. Transferred prisons in Richmond, he ended up in Camp Oglethorpe in Georgia. His first attempt to escape was foiled when a Rebel guard discovered a tunnel under construction.

Undaunted, Harry tried again.

This time, he had better luck.

Camp Oglethorpe was located south Macon, Georgia, on the old fairgrounds. The stockade fencing was 16 feet high. (National Park Service)
Camp Oglethorpe was located south Macon, Georgia, on the old fairgrounds. The stockade fencing was 16 feet high. (National Park Service)

“Hiding Under Leaves.

On Nov. 9, 1864, Lieutenant Welsh and eight other prisoners arranged to bribe a guard by agreeing to give him $1,800 in Confederate money.  They rolled $400 around a thick wad of brown paper, and handed it to the guard at 3 a.m. as they passed through the guard line. Then they skipped away in the dark as rapidly as possible. The trick was discovered, however, when they were about 100 yards away, when the whole guard line fired a volley after them. They all dropped as if shot, but a few minutes later disappeared in the darkness. They following day they covered each other with leaves in the woods. The last man had to cover himself as best as he could. They remained in the woods, thus concealed, until evening came again; then traveled all night.

Living on Raw Pumpkins.

They kept up this manner of escape for a month, until they reached the mountain region of North Carolina. In the meantime they lived on fruit, raw pumpkins and grains of corn, occasionally obtaining food from negroes, whom they could always trust.

While still in South Carolina, they were discovered one night by a squad of confederates, when all were captured except Lieutenant Welsh, Captains Wilson and Skelton, of Ohio, and Captain [Augustus] Dusenberry, of Newark, N. J. [Dusenberry commanded Company I of the 35th New Jersey Infantry].

Union Man Comes to Rescue.

After getting into the mountain district, they travelled during the day and slept at night. Upon reaching Table Rock Mountain, one of the ridges of the Alleghenies, John Masters, a union man, furnished them with corn bread and pork and concealed them about his home four days. After leaving him, on going down the mountain side in Transylvania county, North Carolina, two white men and a colored man came along, behind them. The leader of the party was John Aiken, who said:

‘I am sorry to tell you, boys, but you are in danger of being captured. There is a squad of men after you. Go with me and I will conceal you till the chase is over.’

He took them to his own log cabin and kept them seven days. He then directed them to a secluded spot in the mountain, called Little Bear Wallow, where they built a small log cabin and lived in it three weeks.

Welsh's hind-built log cabin in Little Bear Wallow (Prowell, History of the 87th Pennsylvania)
Welsh’s hind-built log cabin in Little Bear Wallow on a mountainside in North Carolina (Prowell, History of the 87th Pennsylvania)

All Killed by Cavalrymen Except Three.

While here, they made the acquaintance of 19 deserters from the Confederate army.  The party of 31 persons started on a tramp for Buchtown, in the mountains of eastern Tennessee. After three nights of marching they were attacked by a troop of cavalry, when all were killed or taken prisoners, except Captain Dusenberry, of New Jersey; Lieutenant Welsh, and Samuel Tinsley, a Confederate deserter from South Carolina.

Captured Three Days Later, But Escaped.

Three days later they were captured by a Confederate Lieutenant and 12 men, near Knottly river, and were taken to an old farm house, where during the night Tinsley escaped. The following evening, Captain Dusenberry and Lieutenant Welsh got away also. They were now free again, and started together for Cleveland, Tennessee, where they arrived after many exciting experiences and long marches, on January 25, 1865. Then they went to Chattanooga, Tennessee, and got an order from General [George “Pap”] Thomas in command at that place, to report at Washington, D. C.

Lieutenant Welsh was mustered out of service Feb. 10, 1865, three years and six months from the time of his enlistment. He brought his friend Tinsley to York with him. The latter remained in the North several months, and then returned to his plantation in South Carolina.”

Reading Eagle, July 30, 1907.

According to York County historian and researcher Dennis W. Brandt, Harry Welsh that fall married his sweetheart Emma A. Swartz on October 5 in a ceremony officiated by his comrade and friend, Solomon Myers, also formerly of the 87th Pennsylvania. Emma and He worked as a bottler and tobacconist in Hanover and also lived in York borough.In 1890, he and his brother served a bountiful dinner at a reunion of the regiment in Highland Park.

Welsh died in York on April 27, 1918, ironically within minutes of the death of his brother Vinton, also a veteran of the 87th Pennsylvania.

Lieutenant Harry Welsh is buried in Prospect Hill Cemetery in York.

According to George Prowell, Welsh named his only son Tinsley in honor of his ex-Confederate friend. Their fellow escapee, Augustus Dusenberry, survived the war and returned to Newark, N. J., where he became a prominent local Republican politician and served in the state legislature.

For much more on the 87th Pennsylvania at the Second Battle of Winchester, please pick up a copy of my latest book.

Colorized cover art by Wheaton, Illinois-based graphic designer Ivor Janci.
Colorized cover art by Wheaton, Illinois-based graphic designer Ivor Janci.