It has been almost 150 years since the American Civil War began. Its origins, its battles and its outcome continue to be a source of strong feeling, endless discussion and fascination for Americans today. Books are still being written and films being made that speak to this War, relating to each author’s perception of a different facet of this fiercely contested action on American soil.
To me it seems the American Civil War is a story of families; families in conflict or in agreement; families pulled closer or torn apart but in every case, families changed forever.
Men showed their convictions by quite literally stepping out of their ordinary lives and into battle. Gone for months, years, or all too often forever, they sacrificed much in order to do what they perceived as their duty.
Men were not the only ones to sacrifice. The rest of the family had to live with the consequences of their decision to go off to war. Left behind to cope were the children, the women and the elderly; the weak and the infirm. There was no public safety net to help them in 1861. People either took care of themselves and their neighbors or they did not survive. Lacking in many cases the knowledge, skill and abilities necessary for daily life, the continuing existence of those left behind depended on them learning how to survive on their own. They struggled; they managed and made do with less, some with the war right on their doorstep and some forever when their soldier did not return.
The soldier I want to tell you about today is part of such a family. He is one of three brothers who stepped for a time out of Scipio and into the harsh reality of what it meant to be a soldier in the American Civil War. You have heard of the brave men of the 75th and the battles they participated in; I want to tell you the story of just one of those soldiers and his family.
Richard Hitchcock was the second oldest of six brothers, all born in England. In 1850 when Richard was 13 years old, the family boarded the Philena Bath in Liverpool, England, and set out for America. Members of the serving class, his parents came here to give themselves and their children the opportunity for a better life.
In 1855 when Richard was 18, he married Elizabeth Van Ommen of Auburn, who was born in Holland. Four of their seven children – Alice, Frances, George and Katherine – were born before September 25, 1861, when Richard enlisted in Company A of the 75th NY Volunteers as a Private. Twenty-four years old, Richard was with the 75th until June of 1862 when he was discharged for disability in Pensacola, Florida. A letter written by his brother James in 1901 states that Richard was discharged due to blindness. That appears to have been a temporary, for a year and a half later in December of 1863, Richard reenlisted in Company M of the 22nd NY Cavalry, shortly after transferring over into Company I. Either that or the Union Army felt the horse could see well enough for both of them!
Richard Hitchcock was mustered out as a Corporal on August 1, 1865 with his Company at Winchester, Virginia. He returned to Cayuga County and his family, which now included a fifth child, Elizabeth, born shortly after he had reenlisted in the 22nd Cavalry. The family eventually settled in Auburn, where Richard was principally an Express or Delivery Man. He and his wife Elizabeth had two more children, Mary, born in 1869 and Frederick, born in 1878.
In the winter of 1881, Richard, by now 44 years old, was driving his Express Sleigh down Clark Street in Auburn when he was struck from his left side by a pair of runaway horses, linked together only by a neck yoke. He was thrown over the dashboard of his sleigh with such force that he broke through it, falling in the shafts of his own sleigh nearly under his horses’ heels.
His injuries were extensive according to the newspaper coverage. His recovery was slow and probably never complete. Just a few years later in 1885, Richard’s wife Elizabeth contracted Cholera and she did not survive the disease. Their youngest child, Frederick, was six and still remained at home as did their adult daughter Katherine who had some serious medical problems. Elizabeth’s obituary tells us that Richard was afflicted with Consumption, or as we know it today, Tuberculosis.
Less than 2 years later and a month shy of his 50th birthday, this Civil War Veteran passed away. Katherine was sent to an institution; Richard’s brother James became legal guardian to Frederick. The Salvation Army, less than 10 years in operation in the United States, took responsibility for the funeral and Richard was buried in Auburn’s North Street Cemetery. All that the family has left from that day is a brief obituary and a remembrance card.