1861-65: Chester Alfonso Chapman Letters

From a private collection never before published come the following letters by Chester (“Chet”)  Alfonso Chapman (1837-1912) of Montville, New London, Connecticut, who enlisted in Co. D, 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery (originally 4th Conn. Infantry) on 22 May 1861. Chester was captured on 27 June 1862, was later paroled, and rejoined his regiment. He reenlisted as a veteran on 3 November 1863, promoted to Corporal in January 1864, to sergeant in April 1865, and discharged from the service on 2 October 1865.

Chester was married to Martha (“Mat”) Loretta Williams (1844-1911) on 23 February 1861 in Montville, Connecticut. Chester’s father was Daniel Chapman (1794-1868)—a hatter in New London in 1860. His mother was Eunice Williams (1801-1880) and his siblings were: Susan, born 1841; Jane, born 1844; and Charles, born 1840.

Martha’s older sister was named Mary Ann Williams (b. 1840). Their parent’s names were Rufus Williams (1806-Aft1870) and Harriet Allen (1813-1870). Mary Ann was married to Wanton Hoxie (1837-1910), the son of Colson Hoxsie and Eleanor E. McGregor. Wanton and Mary are mentioned frequently in these letters; they resided in Voluntown, New London county, Connecticut in 1864-65.

After the war, Chester worked as a house carpenter and lived in Westerly, Rhode Island.


[click on link to see each transcription & images of the letters]

Group I

The 4th Connecticut Infantry was mustered into service for three years on 23 May 1861. The regiment left Camp Mansfield on 10 June 1861, boarded transports at Hartford, and arrived at Jersey City on the 11th. They were assigned to Gen. Patterson’s command and sent by train to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, by way of Philadelphia. They then passed through Chambersburg to Camp McClure, then took the railroad to Camp Negley at Hagerstown, Maryland, on 17 June 1861. On 9 August 1861, the regiment marched to Frederick City, Maryland. On the 21st of August, they moved to Camp Kennedy where they remained two weeks. On 6 September 1861, the regiment was ordered to join General Banks’ Division and the command was turned over from Col. Woodhouse to Col. Tyler who “found the regiment an uneducated and undisciplined lot of men,” according to E. B. Bennett in his regimental history. He further wrote:  “It was a task to make soldiers out of us, but…he brought our standard up to the highest, and that could not be beat. He at once commenced a system of inspection which brought every man in the regiment under his personal observation, and we thought he was a devil on wheels, for he had his fingers into everything. He was always at guard mounting, and would visit the guards in person, inspect their guns, and ask what we thought very foolish questions. I shall never forget his first inspection when he told us our guns were filthy, and that, too, after we had taken great pains to clean them up for this special occasion. Thus he continued his discipline until all the arms and accoutrements were in splendid condition, and looked even better than when they left the manufacturer’s hands, and he kept up this order of neatness and behavior until our regiment attained a degree of excellence which could not be surpassed.”

19 May 1861, Hartford, Connecticut (#3)
16 June 1861, Chambersburg, Pennsylvania (#2)
18 July 1861, Hagerstown, Maryland (#1)
22 July 1861, Hagerstown, Maryland (#5)
8 August 1861, Hagerstown, Maryland (#6)
26 August 1861, Frederick, Maryland (#4)
29 August 1861, Camp Banks, Frederick, Maryland (#7)
3 September 1861, Frederick, Maryland (#9)
13 September 1861, In Camp (#10)
23 September 1861, Camp Lyon, Darnestown, Maryland (#11)

Group II

The regiment was transferred to General McClellan on 2 October 1861 and was sent to garrison Fort Richardson in the defenses of Washington D. C. New uniforms were drawn on 30 October and the regiment spent the next couple of months drilling heavily under the command of Col. Tyler. On 2 January 1862, the regiment changed its name to the 1st Connecticut Heavy Artillery. At this time there were 12 companies with nearly 150 men each. In March, two more companies (L & M) were added to the regiment. The regiment left Fort Richardson on 3 April 1862 and marched to steamers on the Potomac river where they embarked and sailed to Hampton Roads to participate on the Peninsula Campaign.

4 October 1861, Fort Richardson, Virginia (#8)
17 November 1861, Fort Richardson, Virginia (#13)
20 November 1861, Fort Richardson, Virginia (#26)
14 December 1861, Fort Richardson, Virginia (#14)
19 December 1861, Fort Richardson, Virginia (#14)
21 December 1861, Fort Richardson, Virginia (#15)
24 December 1861, Fort Richardson, Virginia (#17)
24 December 1861, Fort Richardson, Virginia (#16)
30 December 1861, Fort Richardson, Virginia (#18)
9 January 1862, Fort Richardson, Virginia (#19)
25 February 1862, Fort Richardson, Virginia (#20)
10 March 1862, Fort Richardson, Virginia (#68)

Group III

In April 1862 the regiment set up heavy siege guns near Yorktown but when the Rebels evacuated their fortifications and retreated up the peninsula in early May, the regiment removed their heavy guns, sending them to Fortress Monroe, and then shouldered their rifles to join the Army of the Potomac as infantrymen. During the Seven Days Battles, Chapman was taken prisoner while serving as a nurse in one of the hospitals (possibly Savage’s Station). He was paroled and rejoined his regiment at Harrison’s Landing on the James river. Before the end of August, the regiment returned to Alexandria, Virginia, and Co. D was sent to, once again, garrison Fort Richardson.

17 May 1862, Camp Winfield Scott near Yorktown, Virginia (#21)
7 June 1862, Cold Harbor, Virginia
24 July 1862, Baltimore, [Maryland] (#22)
8 August 1862, Harrison’s Landing, Virginia (#23)
30 August 1862, Alexandria, Virginia (#24)
18 September 1862, Alexandria, D. C. (#25)
5 February 1863, Fort Richardson, Virginia (#27)
22 February 1863, Fort Richardson, Virginia (#28)
27 February 1863, Fort Richardson PASS (#28)
30 March 1863, Fort Richardson, Virginia (#30)
23 April 1863, Fort Richardson, Virginia (#29)

Group IV

For nearly a year there are no letters in the Chapman archive. When they resume in April 1864, we discover that Chapman has reenlisted for three years on 2 November 1863. We also learn that Chapman’s wife has visited him at Fort Richardson but the length of her visit is not revealed. Not long after she returned to Connecticut, the regiment was abruptly sent to join Butler’s Army of the James at Bermuda Hundred near Petersburg, Virginia.

2 April 1864, Fort Richardson, Virginia (#31)
3 April 1864, Fort Richardson, Virginia (#54)
30 April 1864, Fort Richardson, Virginia (#32)
5 May 1864, Fort Richardson, Virginia (#36)
10 May 1864, Fort Richardson, Virginia (#32)
14 May 1864, Camp near Bermuda Hundred, Virginia (#37)
5 June 1864, Near Bermuda Hundred, Virginia (#35)
28 July 1864, Camp near Petersburg, Virginia (#33)
15 August 1864, Near Petersburg, Virginia (#34)
26 August 1864, Near Petersburg, Virginia (#39)
2 September 1864, Near Petersburg, Virginia (#38)

Group V

“Immediately after the battle of the Crater, a projected movement of the army of the Potomac necessitated the moving of 52 heavy guns and mortars, with all their ammunitions, etc., with urgent haste from the front of the 5th, 9th and 18th corps, to headquarters, a distance of eight miles. This was accomplished in twenty-seven hours, twenty-two light artillery and mule teams, and one hundred and seventy wagons being employed. The aggregate weight moved was 225 tons, and the work was done by the companies that had served the guns in the action. The enemy, did not discover the movement, which began at midnight of July 30th. The siege now took the form of bombardment, the average weight of metal thrown daily was, August 15th 2 tons; September 7th, 8 tons; October 4th, tons; November 2d, 7 tons; December 2d, 1 ton; January 1st, 6 tons; and February 1st 1 ton; aggregating 793 tons, or 37,264 rounds.

Around Petersburg, sudden artillery battles occurred at all hours of the day and night, often involving the entire line to check an annoying enfilade fire from the left bank of the Appomattox. A 13-inch sea coast mortar was mounted on a reinforced platform car and served on a curve of the railroad track. This novelty was widely known as the Petersburg express. During these operations the siege train was organized as a separate brigade under Colonel Abbott; such additional troops as were needed being temporarily attached. The aggregate number at times exceeded 3,500 men; the train contained 127 guns, 73 mortars, and the line of batteries was miles long. Over 1,200 tons of ammunition, or 63,940 rounds, hauled an average distance of seven miles by wagon, were fired during the siege.

We remained in front of Petersburg for eleven months, and were under fire continually. On March 25th 1865, General Gordon came over with three thousand men, and it is reported that he, went back with less than one thousand, but he succeeded in capturing about 700 Union prisoners, thirty-six of whom belonged to the 1st Connecticut Artillery, the writer being among that number. Petersburg was a disagreeably lively little place for us on that morning, for we were purposely placed in a position that exposed us to the fire of our own regiment, and consequently that position was anything but desirable.

April 2d an attack was made on our works, and one hundred men from our regiment accompanied the expedition, equipped with guns, lanyards, friction primers, etc., for use in case the charge was successful. The enemy were driven from the works and the captured guns turned upon them with considerable damage. On the 3d their lines were completely evacuated, Lee’s army retreating to Appomattox Court House, where he surrendered to General Grant on April 9th, and the 1st Artillery went to dismounting the deserted confederate guns, a task which was not completed until after the 1st of July.” [Historical Sketch First Conn. Heavy Artillery]

28 October 1864, Battery Anderson, Virginia (#41)
3 November 1864, Battery Anderson, Virginia (#40)
6 November 1864, Battery Anderson, Virginia (#45)
22 November 1864, Battery Anderson, Virginia (#44)
25 November 1864, Battery Anderson, Virginia (#43)
3 December 1864, Battery Anderson, Virginia (#42)
Mid-December 1864, Battery Anderson, Virginia (#48)
1 January 1865, Battery Anderson, Virginia (#46)
7 January 1865, Battery Anderson, Virginia (#47)
12 January 1865, Battery Anderson, Virginia (#49)
13 January 1865, Battery Anderson, Virginia (#52)
Late January 1865, Battery Anderson, Virginia (#50)
11 February 1865, Battery Anderson, Virginia (#51)
5 March 1865, Columbia [Tolland county, Connecticut] (#53)
26 March 1865, Battery Anderson, Virginia (#55)
2 April 1865, Battery Anderson, Virginia (#56)
3 April 1865, Battery Anderson, Virginia (#59)
10 April 1865, Battery Anderson, Virginia (#57)

Group VI

This final grouping of letters were all written from three different hospitals. They suggest that Chapman first entered suffering from mental exhaustion but recovered sufficiently to serve as a nurse or ward manager until he was finally discharged in October 1865. 

29 April 1865, Near Point of Rocks, Virginia (#58)
13 May 1865, Near Point of Rocks, Virginia (#63)
18 May 1865, Near Point of Rocks, Virginia (#60)
June 1865, Near Fortress Monroe, Virginia (#62)
17 June 1865, Near Fortress Monroe, Virginia (#64)
29 June 1865, Near Fortress Monroe, Virginia (#61)
14 July 1865, Near Fortress Monroe, Virginia (#65)
7 August 1865, New Haven, Connecticut (#66)
3 August [September] 1865, Near Fortress Monroe, Virginia (#67)



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