Website for Welsh Americans Chronicles Civil War Participation

Article excerpt

Byline: By Rhodri Clark Western Mail

The surprising history of Welsh involvement in the American Civil War and a key 19th-century gold rush has been chronicled on a new website. While thousands of Welshmen took up arms during the 1861-65 conflict, only about a dozen fought for the pro-slavery Confederacy according to the Welsh American Index, a site aimed at genealogists and historians.

Its website contains obituaries for, and letters by, more than 1,000 Welsh Americans in the 1860s.

Also included are details of Welsh people who were attracted by the gold rush to British Columbia, Canada.

When the Civil War began, more than 90% of the US's Welsh immigrants lived in the north east.

'The Welsh press in general, and in particular the powerful denominational journals, were emphatically anti-slavery,' says the Welsh American Index.

'As a result, it is possible to identify several thousand Union soldiers as being Welsh - either Welsh-born or Welsh-speaking American-born - but only a dozen or so Welsh soldiers who fought for the Confederacy.

'The Welsh-language press in both Wales and America reported the deaths of dozens of Welsh soldiers during the four years of the Civil War.

'These include obituaries of Welshmen who fell at almost all of the major battles of the conflict - Bull Run, Shiloh, Antietam, Vicksburg, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, Petersburg. Other reports mourn the deaths of Welsh soldiers from their wounds, sometimes several weeks after the actual battle, while many more report deaths from disease.

'Some died as prisoners of war, including in the Confederacy's notorious Andersonville camp.'

One obituary reports the death of a John Jones, originally from Monmouthshire, in August 1864 aged 25.

'He was in many skirmishes, but it appears that there was no bullet cast by the rebels to hurt him, as he often said. Death, however, came to him in another shape. About two months before he breathed his last, he was taken very sick and was placed in a Virginia hospital.'

One of the letters on the website was written in 1862 by John Griffiths, originally from Merthyr Tydfil, and describes in detail recent fighting in Virginia.

'There is no danger where I am, and I expect I will stay where I am for some time, probably until the war is over, which will not be too long to my opinion, for after the rebels are whipped here I think they will be glad to come back into the Union,' he wrote.

'You say that my uncle wants to have me back home; I cannot think what he wants with me; I cannot come now, he is too late, I belong to Uncle Sam for a while yet. …