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  • Writer's pictureGordon Thorsby

Private Elias(Eli) Wellingham and the 45th US Colored Infantry

by Gordon Thorsby

There were 879 men who served in the Civil War originating from or came to reside near untamed land south of Saginaw, Michigan. One such man was an Elias Wellingham among the headstones in the older part of a cemetery; and one man among these veterans.

Elias (the military has him as Eli Woolingham in Co I, private in the 45th US Colored Infantry. He was reported to be a musician enlisting on 8/9/64.

Born in Virginia on May 16,1844 or 45 from Virginia, that would make him 18 or 19 at enlistment. Eli was a substitute, was discharged 8/15/65 because of his enlistment status that enabled his exit before the other's discharge in November. The 45th was formed and completed by 8/19/64 so Elias was one of the last to enlist. Composed of freemen and former slaves, Eli was one of the freedmen enlisted in the regiment. These men were primarily from the Appalachian areas of the Virginias and Pennsylvania.

Wellingham may have been Virginian or he may actually have been West Virginian as 212 men were from West Virginia (became a state in 1863.) With Early’s incursion into the Shenandoah Valley in July, Companies A-D shipped to Arlington Hts. for the Washington defenses. Elias’ company was now complete in late August and with all other companies went to the Petersburg front for immediate action with the Army of the James under Gen David Birney.

Meanwhile, Companies A-D had the unpleasant task of parade duty for the Presidential Inauguration in March, 1865. They caught up to the regiment thereafter. The 45th’s actions included being a part of the Petersburg offensives including Chaffin's Farm, New Market Heights on September 28-30, 1864, Fort Harrison September 29, Darbytown Road October 13, Fair Oaks October 27-28, Hatcher's Run March 29-31, and the Fall of Petersburg on April 2. 1865, Pursuit of Lee April 3-9, and Appomattox Court House April 9.

In a March 8,1864, a letter from one soldier of the 45th wrote “We have been in three or four batels (sic) and the Lord has spared me to come out. Wish yaw would pleas (sic) tell George Foster & [illegible] to come down hear (sic) and take me out of this damd (sic) dirty hole.”

As a late regiment to the war, it was shipped to Texas upon the surrender for border duty in June but there is question if Wellingham went since he was discharged in August.

In 1894, he resided in Chesaning, MI but no information other than what is provided currently exists. He passed away at the age of 77 on Sept. 28, 1922 in Detroit. His remains were returned to Chesaning where his marker resides there still in the Wildwood Cemetery.

The men of Chesaning share each other’s company in the older part of the cemetery. The vicious brutality of war they witnessed in life in 1864, they now share in peace in the quiet near the Shiawassee River.

No known photo of Elias.

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