Memorial Day Stories 3: William Churchill, 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 third thread focused on William Churchill, another of the First Class Firemen aboard the Tecumseh:

Our third #MemorialDay sailor focus is another English emigrant who died aboard the USS Tecumseh at Mobile Bay- William Churchill. On the reconstructed Muster Roll for the vessel, William is shown as enlisting in New York in January 1864 as a 1st Class Fireman.

William Churchill’s name recorded on the reconstructed Muster Roll of USS Tecumseh (NARA)

As with a number of the other crewmen, William’s 1864 enlistment was his second of the War. He had already spent nearly two years in U.S. naval service between January 1862 and July 1863. He was recorded as a 5′ 8” machinist, and was 27-years-old in 1864.

William Churchill’s name as it appears on the enlistment records of the New York Naval Rendezvous (NARA)

William also bore the scars of a hard life. It was noted in 1864 that he suffered from a “slight deformity” of his right forearm, perhaps the result of a workplace injury- an major occupational hazard for machinists in the 19th century.

A machinist at work in the 19th century (Wikipedia)

Like his fellow Englishman George Chapman, William Churchill also left dependants at home in 1864. While George had married a Scottish woman, William had wed an Irish emigrant, Ellen Costello, at the Church of the Nativity (below) on 2nd Avenue in August 1859.

The Church of the Nativity as it appeared at the time of William and Ellen’s marriage (Wikipedia)

William and Ellen’s first child, Susan, was born on 7 June 1860, and was just a couple of weeks old when the Census enumerator recorded her on the Census that year. At the time the family were living in New York’s Sixth Ward.

The Churchill family on the 1860 Census (NARA)

William’s 1860 description as a glass worker highlights the differences that often occur between how employment was described on the census when compared with military records (where he was listed as a machinist). William and Ellen had a second child, John, born in 1863.

New York in the 1860s. The Churchills made their home in Manhattan’s Sixth Ward, location of the notorious

For those left behind after the Civil War life-and loss- went on. Often painfully so. After William had gone to the bottom with the Tecumseh, Ellen applied for a pension, but her application only lists her eldest child – suggesting little John had not long outlived his father.

Photo of a poor New York family taken by Jacob Riis (Library of Congress)

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