Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Francisco Olasquaga - The Great Escape

After a year hiatus, I've decided to starting blogging on this site again, concentrating on lesser and well-known stories of soldiers, most of which fought at Gettysburg. These are based on research I did while a SCA intern at Gettysburg National Military Park a year ago (two of my earlier posts below, John Cassidy and Simeon Roosa, were also part of that effort). Some are sad, others are heartbreaking  and others are quite amazing, but they are only a few of those who fought for their country at Gettysburg.


Francisco Olasquaga/ Frank Wallace

Francisco Teodosius Olasquaga was born in Toluca, Mexico on May 31st, 1836. His father, a drover and weaver, and mother were devout Catholics who had moved to Mexico from the Old World. One of four children, Francisco lost his father ten years later, and by the late 1840's, the young teenage had set off on his own. The Mexican War was a turning point both for the United States and Mexico at large, but for Francisco himself, it was life changing.

Riding with the invading American army was George Watson, a member of the 2nd Pennsylvania Regiment, hailing from Centre County. Francisco told his granddaughter many years later that the American flag was one of the beautiful things he had ever seen, and he soon began doing errands for the soldiers. Watson apparently took an interest in the young man, and when the regiment returned home to America and Pennsylvania in 1849, he brought Francisco with him to Centre County.

Soon after, Francisco took up residence with Watson's neighbor, James Alexander, and worked on his farm for a year. During that time he had stopped using his last name of "Olasquaga", appearing in the 1850 Census as "Francisco Dorsa", perhaps a name much easier to pronounce in Pennsylvania farmlands. Deciding that farm labor did not suit him, he began learning the brick-making trade in the neighboring town of Centre Hall, where he prospered until the start of the Civil War in 1861.

As he grew into a self-made American, Francisco decided to also Americanize his name. While a young man in Mexico, he liked (then) Lt. Lew Wallace, who was with the army in Toluca. Taking Wallace's last name and anglicized versions of first and middle names, he became henceforth Frank Theodore Wallace. After marrying and starting a family in the area, he deemed his patriotic duty to enlist in the 2nd Pennsylvania Cavalry at the outbreak of the war in 1861. 

2nd PA Cavalry Monument at Gettysburg
(Stone Sentinels)

Soon after his enlistment he was quickly promoted to Sergeant, and served with his regiment through the first three years of war. At Gettysburg they served as General George Meade's headquarters guard. At the 2nd PA's monument dedication on the Gettysburg Battlefield in 1889, John Galbraith noted that "Comrade Wallace...also entered the town as a bearer of dispatches during the action of the first day." After re-enlisting in December 1863, he was to endure some of the most trying times of his life.

In the early spring, Frank was with his company in Bealton, VA when he lost control of and was reared off his horse, causing him severe injuries to the left side of his face. His left eye was severely injured, by the time he was discharged in 1865, he had completely lost sight in that eye. Despite his injuries, he insisted on being treated in the field and not sent to any hospital. 

His travails continued later that year went he was taken prisoner at White Oak Swamp, VA. After a succession of prison camps in Virginia, he was taken to the Salisbury POW camp in North Carolina in October 1864, where he immediately began plotting his escape to freedom. Despite two unsuccessful attempts, Frank Wallace escaped from Salisbury prison through the cook house on February 11th, 1865. Despite escaping the confines of the prison, Frank now had to contend with a long journey to freedom and safety: hostile locals, difficult and mountainous terrain, and exposure to the elements in a deteriorating physical condition. Against all of these odds, Frank made it to safety at Union headquarters in Knoxville, TN on March 16th, 1865, a trip of 340 miles in 33 days. A month later, Frank Wallace was headed home to Pennsylvania.


* Gettysburg NMP Library Vertical File # 19P-0782 "Frank T. Wallace"
* Commemorative Biographical Record of Central Pennsylvania: Including the Counties of Centre, Clearfield, Jefferson and Clarion: Containing Biographical Sketches of Prominent and Representative Citizens, Etc.,1898.
* United States Census Records 1860 & 1880
* "Records of Escaped Prisoners of War USA". Records of the Commissary General of Prisoners, 1861-1905. National Archives and Records Adminstration (NARA).  


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