A Soldier’s Saga

Hugh O’Harra, Jr., “Went West”

Hugh O’Harra was 18 years old when his father died in 1856. He would be a young man looking for a start his life just about the time the Civil War opened in 1861. Records show that he enlisted as a private 16 APR 1861 in Company E, First Regiment, Ohio Volunteer Calvary, under the command of his brother John Cochran O’Harra.

Hugh did his part.  He was honorably discharged 3 AUG 1861, but re-enlisted 30 MAY 1862.  He resigned 17 JUN 1863, but re-enlisted again 24 MAR 1864.

He finally was honorably discharged for the last time 5 JUN 1865 as Sargeant, Company E., 1st Regiment of Cavalry, Ohio Volunteers, at Camp Dennison, OH.

The military service is just the beginning of the story.  A review of Hugh’s pension records tells the tale of what happened then – and it’s not pretty.  It’s probably the tale of many survivors of the war.

Records say Hugh contracted hemorrhoids from camp diarrhoea and rheumatism from exposure in September or October 1864 at or near Big Shanty, Georgia or Snake Creek Gap.  And at Nashville, Tennessee, he contracted lung trouble which at Louisville, Kentucky in November 1864 formed typhoid pneumonia and was hospitalized awhile.  Was sent from there to Camp Dennison, OH and was in hospital there until was discharged in June 1865.

Hugh went back home.  He married Emma Dontzella Welch on 24 APR 1867.  She was from the South Bloomfield area, Pickaway County.  The newlyweds immediately removed to Illinois.  This is why family records have stated “went west”, I suppose, with no further comment on Hugh.  But we kept looking for him.  And things were not going so well for the couple.


Dontzella O'Hara vs. Hugh O'Hara

Plaintiff states that she was lawfully married to the defendant, Hugh O'Hara on the 24th day of April AD 1867 at the City of Columbus, in the State of Ohio.

That from that time until the committing of the grievances hereafter mentioned, she conducted herself as a kind, affectionate, and dutiful wife.

That on or about the 15th day of March AD 1870, at the City of St. Louis, County of  St. Louis and State of Missouri, the defendant not regarding his duty, as the husband of this plaintiff, deserted the plaintiff willfully and without reasonable cause and absented himself without the consent of the plaintiff, for more than one year next preceding and up to the filing of this her petition.

That said defendant for the last three years, to-wit: from March 15th, AD 1870, up to the bringing of this suit, has failed to provide for, and support this plaintiff.

Plaintiff says further, that she is now residing and has for more than one year past resided in the City and County of St. Louis, County of St. Louis and State of Missouri, and further that the defendant Hugh O'Hara is a non-resident of the State of Missouri.

Plaintiff therefore prays that she may be divorced from the said defendant, and that the Bonds of Matrimony contracted between the said plaintiff and defendant may be dissolved. That she may have her maiden name Dontzella Welsh restored and for such other and further relief, as she is in equity and good conscience entitled.

It’s true, Hugh was not a resident of Missouri.  He liked Illinois. After almost five years as a single man, he married Sarah Elizabeth Russell 30 JAN 1875 at Taylorville, Sangamon County, IL.

We follow the couple through the censuses.

10 JUN 1880 Federal Census:  Assumption, Christian County, IL:

Hugh O'Harra, 42, farmer, born Ohio; father born Virginia; mother born Virginia;

Sarah E., wife, keeping house; born Ohio; father born Virginia; mother born Maryland;

John, 11, son, born New York; father born New York; mother born Scotland;

Lewella, 8, daughter, born Illinois; father born Virginia; mother born Illinois.

Also in household:  Ernest Dewy, 19, servant/farmhand, born Illinois; father and mother born Ohio.

Next door, we find James Russell, 53, farmer, born Ireland, father born Ireland; mother born Ireland; Bridget, 40, wife, born Ireland; father born Ireland; mother born Ireland.

We know from the pension file that Sarah Elizabeth O'Harra's maiden name was Russell.  Surely the next-door Russells are relations? But Sarah was born in Ohio and these folks were born in Ireland.

And what about these children in the household? Sarah and Hugh were married 30 JAN 1875.  It was her first marriage.  Hugh had been divorced.  Are John and Lewella children by his first marriage?  We have the 1873 divorce papers for Hugh and Emma Dontzella.  No children were mentioned.

It would appear that these children were adopted or came into the family some other way.  The birthplace of each of the children's parents is different, and in no way match the birthplaces of either Hugh or Sarah.  How ever the little family came together, we are glad they found each other.  We hope that the next door neighbors were part of their extended family, as well.

After 13 years of marriage at the age of 50, Hugh applies for a Civil War pension 14 JUN 1888. In it we learn that he suffers from hemorrhoids, rheumatism, lung problems, pneumonia, a complete left hernia, disease of rectum, and rupture of the scrotum.  Good Lord.

The government pensions him at $12.00 per month beginning 27 JUN 1890.

No census records are available for 1890 so we went to 1900 knowing that Hugh died in 1901. We found Sarah and Hugh living in Assumption Village, Christian County.

Hugh, born Jan 1838, age 62, had been married for 25 years.  He was born in Ohio; both father and mother, born in Viginia.  Hugh and Sarah owned their own home. Sarah E. was born AUG 1839, age 60. She also was born in Ohio, her father born in Virginia and her mother born in Maryland. Under children, the record indicates none born and none living.

Hugh O'Harra died at Assumption on 4 FEB 1901, of acute pneumonia.

On 2 OCT 1916, 77-year-old widow Sarah applies for pension.  She was born 30 AUG 1839 at Greencastle, OH. Sarah's application was rejected 20 MAR 1905 on the grounds that at date of filing she was in possession of resources which yielded her a net annual income in excess of $250.  Hugh and Sarah had built up a little nest egg:

            40 acres of land in Christian County, value $4,000, rental $250.00;

            Four houses and lots in Village of Assumption, $2,500, rental $250.00;

            Homestead, two lots in Village of Assumpton, $1,500.00;

            Total annual income:  $500.00.

            Taxes on the above property, and insurance:  $50.00;

            Living expenses and repairs on property:  $300.00;

            Total annual expenses: $350.00.

Surplus income over annual expense: $150.00.  No pension for Sarah!

Cemetery inscription book "Christian County Honor Roll (Revised Supplement, Sept 1986); Assumption Township, Greenwood Cemetery, Assumption IL - pages 1 thru 3 of the book. AND on page 2: O'HARA, Hugh, Civil War,  Lt Co "A" 45 Ohio Inf  b. 1837, d. Feb 3, 1901 Family Marker.

Hugh’s story is an interesting one.  But it’s nothing quite like the story of his cousin Sam Brantner.

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