Memorial Day Stories 2: George Chapman, USS Tecumseh

For Memorial Day 2022 Civil War Bluejackets took to Twitter, Facebook and Instagram to share the stories of some of the men who lost their lives aboard USS Tecumseh at the Battle of Mobile Bay, Alabama in 1864. Covering the vessel and four of her crew, the stories were presented as threads, and are replicated on the blog for the benefit of readers. This thread focuses on George Chapman, a First Class Fireman aboard the Tecumseh:

Our second #MemorialDay USS Tecumseh sailor is George Chapman. This Muster Sheet entry records his fateful transfer to the doomed monitor at New York in February 1864. He was one of the vessel’s 1st Class Firemen at Mobile Bay.

George Chapman’s name on the reconstructed Muster Roll of the USS Tecumseh (NARA)

Linking records is a major aim of the Civil War Bluejackets Project. The muster allows us to find the record of George’s enlistment in New York on 24 February 1864. This tells us he was 40-years-old, a Machinist, and was born in England. He had a scar under his right eye and on his forehead.

The record of enlistments in the New York Naval Rendezvous in February 1864, which includes George (NARA)

George’s machinist skills likely led to his 1st Class Fireman Rating. He certainly bore the physical marks of a hard working-class life. His age also increased the likelihood that he was married- and so it proved. His wife’s widow’s pension reveals still more about his life.

Packet from the Widow’s Pension file of Alice Chapman, George Chapman’s wife (NARA)

George was English, but his wife Alice was Scottish. They married on 3 September 1857 in #Edinburgh, indicating that George spent time in #Scotland before emigration. Given later evidence from 1860, we know George was a widower with three young children when they wed.

Edinburgh Castle in the city of Edinburgh today (Damian Shiels)

By 1860 the family were in New York’s 16th Ward, where George was a locksmith. The realities of life for working-class children are seen in George’s 14-year-old son (George Jr.) who was a soap boiler. There were 3 other children, Frederick (9), William (7) and Henry (9 months).

George Chapman’s children on the 1860 Census, showing their birthplaces and his son George Jr’s occupation as a Soap Boiler (NARA).

While George’s eldest son had been born in England, his next two children had entered the world in Canada during the early 1850s. We know George was in Scotland by 1857, so had crossed the Atlantic more than once. Perhaps he had been in the British military?

Canada, where George had lived prior to his return to Britain and marriage in Scotland (Wikipedia)

By 1860 George and Alice had one child together, Henry, born in 1860. But more followed- John arrived in 1861. When George enlisted in 1864, Alice was around six weeks pregnant. The need to support his growing family may well have influenced his decision to enlist.

U.S. Navy recruitment poster from the Civil War (Wikipedia)

Tragically, George and Alice’s last child, Stephen, was born in October 1864- a little over two months after his father had perished on USS Tecumseh. Alice would remarry, going on to live a long life into her nineties.

The USS Tecumseh depicted in the process of sinking having struck a Confederate torpedo during the Battle of Mobile Bay in 1864 (Naval History & Heritage Command)

Published by Damian Shiels

Archaeologist & Historian

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