Hero Highlight – Chester Hutchinson, Co. B, 108th NY Infantry
“Our marching and countermarching brought us on the 17th of September in front of Lee’s army. We halted, piled up our haversacks, loaded our guns, and were ready for action…Our position was a hot one, and the air was alive with bullets, shells, shot and canister.” Civil War veteran Chester Hutchinson’s recollection of being severely wounded at the battle of Antietam nearly thirty two years earlier.
Chester Hutchinson, the fifth of seven children born to Lewis and Betsey Palmer Hutchinson, was born in Penfield, New York, on July 12, 1841. The Hutchinson family soon moved to Perinton, where Chester’s maternal grandparents, Ira & Sarah Beilby Palmer, were among the earliest settlers of the town. Lewis Hutchinson supported his large family as a farm laborer and it was expected that Chester would also work the farm. After the death of his mother in 1849, Chester moved to Pittsford, where he continued his schooling and raised vegetables to be sold in the markets in Rochester. Ten years later, Chester moved to Fairport and apprenticed in the sash and blind trade run by his uncles, Seymour and John G. Palmer.
After three years at the sash and blind factory, the Civil War beckoned and Chester enlisted in Co. B, 108th NY Infantry on August 4, 1862. He arrived in Washington, D.C. on a cattle car with other members of his regiment. Rules were lax at the beginning of the war, and soldiers could sleep where they wished as long as they were present at roll call. Years after the war, Chester recalled spending his first night in Washington, D.C. sleeping on the east stone steps of the White House. Soon, Chester would have more to concern him than finding a good spot in which to catch some shuteye.
One month after enlistment, the men of the 108th NY Infantry received a trial by fire. On September 17, 1862, the regiment was led into battle at Sharpsburg, Maryland, on what would become the bloodiest single day of fighting of the entire war. Over 23,000 Union and Confederate casualties occurred at this battle, which the Northerners called Antietam. Chester Hutchinson was one such casualty. The gunshot hit his right breast, “the ball glancing along the bone, coming out about four inches from where it entered and stopping” against his right arm. It took Chester over one year to recover from this wound. He was successful in his effort to return to his regiment in early 1864; however, Chester was once again quickly engaged in a fight for his life. This time, it was at the battle of the Wilderness.
Struck in the left breast by a minie ball which passed through his lung, the doctor who dressed Chester’s wound after the battle of the Wilderness pronounced it fatal. Death would come to Chester Hutchinson, but not in May, 1864. After lying in pain for three weeks, Chester was transferred to Fredericksburg, Maryland, where he was located by Sergeant Chilson of Company B, 108th NY Infantry. By the fall of 1864, Chester was sent to City Hospital in Rochester to recuperate, and he remained there until his regiment arrived home and he received his discharge.
After the war, Chester Hutchinson wed Mary Grover. For several years, the Hutchinsons made their home in West Bay City, Michigan, where Chester was employed at the Crump Manufacturing Company planing mill and box factory. After Mary’s death in 1886, Chester and his four children returned home to New York, where they lived for many years at 6 Prospect Street in the village of Fairport.
Hattie Down Wiley became Chester’s second wife on January 1, 1891. As the widow of another Fairport Civil War soldier, James B. Wiley of the 111th NY Infantry, Hattie brought six children to the marriage. Chester and Hattie had one son together, Lynn, who died in 1896 at age two. Hattie and Chester brought up their combined eleven children together and were married for over forty years.
In his later years, Chester was very active in the community. As a charter member of the Grand Army of the Republic (G.A.R.) E.A. Slocum Post #211, an organization dedicated to aiding veterans of the Civil War, Chester served in various leadership positions throughout the years. E.A. Slocum Post #211 was disbanded in 1937 due to the death of its last member, Horace Waddell. Chester traveled each year to attend reunions of the 108th NY Infantry and, in 1899, he won first place in the reunion shooting contest. He was also employed as a watchman at a bank, worked at the Dobbin & Moore Lumber Company, was very active in the Baptist Church, and was appointed as a tax collector.
In the 1920s, as the ranks of the Civil War soldiers were diminished by death, Chester Hutchinson became a prominent face in the news. No fewer than two poems were written about him, which celebrated the milestones of Chester’s 80th and 85th birthdays. The 85th birthday poem was written by Pittsford resident and elocutionist Franc Fassett Pugsley, a daughter of Chester’s comrade from the 108th NY Infantry, Jonathan J. Fassett. Mrs. Pugsley managed to fit into her lengthy poem information about Chester’s birth, early life, war experiences and wounds, marriages and children before bestowing this wish upon Chester, “May the sun turn the evening skies to gold and love brighten all the way.”
The death of Chester Hutchinson occurred on April 19, 1932 at age 90. Not bad for a man who, 68 years earlier, had been told he wouldn’t survive his wounds. Chester was buried at Greenvale Cemetery in Fairport beside his son, Lynn, and stepsons Mark & Frank Wiley. Hattie, his wife of 41 years, joined him in 1940. A newspaper article written one month after his death stated that, “Chester Hutchinson joined his comrades on the march into eternity, carrying with him the reverence and respect of the people in the community, a patriot and a loyal citizen.”
This article was originally published in the Perinton Historical Society “Historigram”, Vol. XLIV, No. 7, April 2012. Learn more about the Perinton Historical Society by visiting their website, www.PerintonHistoricalSociety.org.
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