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Excellent crowd at General Thomas Welsh Symposium in Columbia PA

The Columbia (Pa.) Public Library and the Columbia Historic Preservation Society joined together with researcher and historian Richard Wiggin to present the 3rd General Thomas Welsh Civil War Symposium this past Saturday at the CHPS museum on Second Street. This year’s event featured record attendance, with good weather, excellent publicity, and recent local public interest in the Civil War all contributing to the successful turnout, as well as the agenda of topics and speakers.

A portion of the large crowd at the October 23, 2010, General Thomas Welsh Civil War Symposium in Columbia, PA. The 45th Pennsylvania, Company K reenactor group helped draw attendees, as did living historian Ed LeFevre (as Governor-General William “Extra Billy” Smith) and a George Armstrong Custer reenactor.

The lead-off speaker was Doug Boswell, a park ranger at the Allegheny Portage Railroad National Park near his native Johnstown, Pennsylvania. Doug presented a fascinating PowerPoint presentation on young Thomas Welsh’s 1844 journey on the Main Line Canal from Philadelphia to Pittsburgh. The trip, a combination of railroads and canal boats, often took up to 10 days to complete. The coming of the Pennsylvania Railroad system doomed the Main Line, which began to shut down by section in 1857. Bosley quoted Welsh’s diary entries, which included a notation of a Sabbath rest day of swimming and fishing while the canal boat was tied up.

The second 20-minute session was led by Columbian Rick Abel, a historian of the 45th Pennsylvania who showed part of his marvelous collection of Civil War relics. The highlight was Thomas Welsh’s original commission as a brigadier general. It was hand signed by President Abraham Lincoln and Secretary of War Edwin M. Stanton. Rick picked it up at the Mansfield Civil War Show in Ohio. Rick also showed examples of the two weapons the men of the 45th knew – a Harpers Ferry smoothbore and an 1861 Springfield rifled musket. He also has a great collection of carte-de-visite images and photographs of soldiers in the 45th.
After a short intermission, I spoke on “The Rebels at the Gates of Columbia,” using text from a July 1, 1863, letter from Annie Welsh to her husband, General Welsh, who then was commanding a division in Burnside’s Ninth Corps down in Mississippi. I also included many quotes from other Columbia residents that concerned the Confederate invasion of York County and the approach to the Susquehanna River and the important Columbia Bridge, the world’s largest covered bridge.

Chris Vera of the Columbia Historic Preservation Society presented a short summary of the recent discovery of many important papers and documents in the old Columbia National Bank building, some of which I highlighted in previous blog entries.

Symposium organizer Richard Wiggin then spoke on General Welsh’s final campaign, as he led his division during Ulysses S. Grant’s successful Vicksburg Campaign. Rick had a nice array of maps and other references, and he freely peppered his interesting (and entertaining) talk with anecdotes and letters from soldiers in the 45th Pennsylvania and the 100th Pennsylvania (Roundheads). Mosquitoes, putrid water that was barely potable (if at all), disease, heat, humidity, snakes, and many other natural impediments plagued Welsh and his men far more than Confederate bullets.
Thomas Welsh himself contracted a fever and died in Cincinnati, Ohio, as the Ninth Corps returned to the North.
All in all, the symposium was a smashing success, with a lot of new information being presented to the public. A record crowd, great location in CHPS museum, and the agenda and supporting cast of reenactors made this an afternoon very well spent along the banks of the mighty Susquehanna.
Huzzah to Rick, Chris, and all the volunteers who made it happen!