Great-Grandfather John William Chapman


My great-grandfather, John W. Chapman, served with the Ohio 121st infantry during the Civil War. He was a private. Turns out, as he marched with Sherman to the sea, he came damn close to where we live in North Carolina. I hope to one day follow the route of the 121st through NC but that requires gas money so that’ll be a while before it’s implemented.

My grandmother told my mother (Ok, so this is Florence talking to Ruth) that my grandfather (this is John Theodore Chapman) was abandoned by his parents at the age of 11. This was the horrific story, often told. Florence cursed the Chapmans for such an act.

Flash forward to 1998. I sent off to the military records department, seeking the records of John W. Chapman’s (great-great-grandfather) War of 1812 military record. What I received was John W. Chapman’s Civil War record in the form of a petition to the Ohio Soldiers and Sailor’s Orphanage. Pretty much blew everything my mother (Ruth) knew right out of the water. Apparently John W. died, leaving second wife with three kids. My great-grandfather was the oldest. The age of maturity, in 1893, was eleven, so he was set free and apparently not allowed to enter orphanage. According to the Wikipedia page, “children” lived at the home until the age of 16, so I’m not sure why my grandfather didn’t go there.

What he did do was work his way through college and graduated from Ohio Northern University in 1899. Apparently he worked as a waiter. Got degrees in Latin and Greek and he became principal what would now be a community college.

So, at age 11, he went to live with his grandparents (so the story goes). The two minor children, Vera and Sumner, were sent to orphanage to live. All the back VA Compensation money for JWC’s claim went to the orphanage, not to the mother. Vera died within a few days of entering orphanage. There was an outbreak of typhus in Ohio around this time but it could have been anything. Diseases were rampant in the area then, even cholera I think. Sumner, we assume, left the orphanage when he reached the suitable age. No one ever mentioned Sumner to Ruth.

I found Sumner in Oakland, CA in 1920s in a marriage announcement. I can’t find it now, the long ago link, but he married a nurse and the ceremony took place in the hospital. It was the correct Sumner Chapman because it said he grew up in orphanage. Apparently this had something to do with the poignancy of the wedding story.

The mother (Margaret Chapman) went on to remarry, it’s in the documentation and then left town for the Oregon Territory.

The most amazing thing about the documentation is how the petitioner (Margaret) had to prove John W. fought for the Ohio 121st and died from injuries sustained during War. He died in 1893, war over 1865, do the math. Well, she proved it. Proved he fell into a swift running frozen creek in 1864 and was never the same. Proved he had lung problems, stomach problems and the physical complaints killed him, it just took a few decades. She proved, through testimony of the men who fought with him, that he fell into creek. That he developed bronchitis. That he entered the infantry hale and hearty and left it a battered, ill man.

John Theodore’s mother died when he was four. The only thing he remembered about her was her in bed, asking for water. She told him to get it from the “cool side of the well.” What a sad story, eh? John W. then remarried, a much younger woman, who bore him the two children, Sumner and Vera. I can’t find any trace of a Vera in my family tree, so the name must have come from Margaret’s family. Sumner I can find. There was even a Sumner Munson (Chapman name) who was one of George Washington’s personal physicians and Ruth always thought there was a relation to us in there.

I hope to scan the records or at the very least transcribe the war record because it’s fascinating. Another fascinating aspect of the entire file (over 40 pages) is that it closely resembles what the VA looks for, the documents requested, today in 2018, for compensation cases. 1893 was the first year, if memory serves, that one could seek compensation for war injuries (death related to service).

As we enter into year three waiting for R’s VA Compensation claim to run its course and him to be granted compensation, it seems especially noteworthy that nothing has changed with the VA in over 100 years. Same proof required. No wonder the VA is so far behind. The documents may be submitted as PDFs but they’re originally hand-written or typed. There’s a real paper trail. Our attorney is paper free and we receive PDFs of all documentation/letters written to VA.

We’re also waiting for social security disability. Apparently you get to have both, thank God.

Now I’m going to start a new blog series, as I look up the John W. Chapman files and scan them. I have a 1945 diary, it’s boring but succinct. Written in school teacher handwriting with every day noted in some way.

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About Me

An English diarist and naval administrator. I served as administrator of the Royal Navy and Member of Parliament. I had no maritime experience, but I rose to be the Chief Secretary to the Admiralty under both King Charles II and King James II through patronage, diligence, and my talent for administration. Also archivist and avid fan of The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.


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