When one considers that Chatham continued to be a private residence until 1976, it is amazing that so much graffiti does survive. Each owner upgraded or rennovated the property’s structures, but it is the retention of so much original fabric that has allowed these signatures to survive.
On October 6, 1993, park staff was involved in removing lead paint from the exterior woodwork of Chatham. On the paneling surrounding the south entrance on the west facade of the main house, it was discovered that the paint had filled in carvings into the bottom panel.
Once the paint was removed, graffiti left by a New York soldier was revealed.
The carving reads:
RW. 108th NYV
There is only one soldier with those intials that served in the 108th New York Infantry. That was Richard D. Wells of Company G. His service record indicates that he enlisted at Rochester, N.Y., at the age of 16, to serve three years and was mustered in as a private on August 7, 1862. He was promoted to the rank of corporal on July 1, 1864 and to sergeant on November 1, 1864. He mustered out with his company on May 28, 1865 at Bailey’s Cross Roads, Va. After the war, Wells moved to Michigan and in 1890 he provided a brief sketch of his wartime service that was published in the regimental history:
“I was born in Cambridge, England, September 18th, 1845, and with my parents came to this country in 1850. They proceeded to the western part of New York State, and settled in the town of Chili, county of Monroe. I worked on a farm and went to the country school until March, 1862, when I removed to East Henrietta, N.Y., and worked on a farm. In the latter part of July, 1862, I enlisted as a private in Company G, 108th New York Volunteers (Captain Thomas B. Yale); left for the seat of war, August 19th, with the regiment, and was all through the different engagements the regiment participated in till Lee’s surrender. Never was sick a day; never was wounded, and lost but one day’s duty while with the regiment, and never was in a hospital. Came home with the regiment June 1, 1865, and was discharged as Sergeant, June 5th, 1865.
On June 17th, 1865, I went to Richland, Kalamazoo county, and worked on a farm until the spring of 1866, when I removed to Barry county, and purchased a famr near Hastings, Michigan, where I have resided ever since.”
There were at least two opportunties for Wells to have left his mark on Chatham. The diary of Captain Andrew H. Boyd (Company H, 108th New York Infantry) is published in the regimental history and contains a couple references to being at Chatham. The first was on December 11, 1862, as the regiment was preparing the enter Fredericksburg during the first battle there. Boyd’s entry for the following day reads:
“Friday. 12th. Camped last night on the grounds of Major Lacy, now Colonel in the rebel army; it is a beautiful residence on the bank of the Rappahannock; it was a beautiful sight to see the city burning in three different places…”
Boyd’s diary entry for March 8, 1863 also suggests an opportunity for Wells to have spent a few minutes carving his initials into Chatham’s woodwork:
“Went down to the Lacy House, opposite Fredericksburg, where our regiment is on picket; the rebels and our boys exchange papers, and the rebels send over tobacco for coffee; they take a piece of plank twelve inches wide and three feet long and sharpen one end, stick in a rudder, fix up a sail and fasten whatever they want to send and set it afloat.”
Perhaps Wells pulled out his knife and left his mark while anxiously awaiting the call to cross the river in December, or perhaps he chose to spend a few idle minutes carving his name into Chatham in March, while on picket duty. Either way, Private Wells wanted us to know he was here.
Eric J. Mink