The date was April 23, 1861. Fort Sumter had fallen to the South nine days earlier. Americans from Maine to California were enlisting to fight for the preservation of the Union or to see the sunrise of a new Southern Confederacy. In New York, thousands of young men, in their prime of life, joined the Union cause. Two such men, brothers from Brooklyn, signed their enlistment papers that week: John and Thomas Chichester. John happens to be my great-great-great grandfather.
John and Thomas were sons of John Chichester Sr, a city gauger, and his wife Matsy (neé Ketcham). The Chichester and Ketcham families are of ancient Long Island stock but after the Revolution, some families began moving to the City. John and family went to Manhattan in the 1820s and settled at Brooklyn in 1848. When the war began, John was courting a women named Ellen Peppers, the daughter of engineer-machinist Ethan Peppers and his wife, Loretta (her exchange of letters with her soldier son Joseph I will detail in another post). Their families were likely close prior to the courtship as they had mutual friends from Manhattan and stayed in close proximity to one another when they moved across the East River to Brooklyn. John and Ellen would marry, have one child that lived to adulthood, so on and so forth but their union would have to wait, so John could help save another one.
The March to War
John and Thomas enlisted immediately once the hostilities began. On Tuesday, April 23, 1861, the Chichester boys, along with hundreds of other militia men boarded the sloop-of-war Marion and sailed to Annapolis. John and Thomas were members of the 13th New York State Militia stationed in and around parts of Maryland. The 13th was charged with preventing rebel espionage, protecting federal arsenals and guarding supply trains along the routes to Washington, D.C.
A few weeks later, on May 11, Harper’s Weekly chronicled the departure of these many brave men, leaving behind wives and sweethearts in order to save the nation. Luckily, some regiments were documented and even sketched, including John and Thomas’ 13th N.Y.S.M.: