About The Authors

Marilyn and Thomas Getchell , Authors of Orrin's StoryThomas V. Getchell was born and raised in Erie, PA and Marilyn L. Getchell in Denver, CO. They met as graduate students studying biomedical sciences at Northwestern University in Evanston, IL where they both earned their doctorates. Following postdoctoral training at the University of Pennsylvania and Yale University Schools of Medicine, they pursued careers in academics and scientific research, collaborating on and publishing numerous peer-reviewed journal articles. Tom is currently a Professor in the Department of Physiology, and Marilyn is Professor Emeritus in the Department of Anatomy and Neurobiology; both are Members of the Sanders-Brown Center on Aging in the College of Medicine at the University of Kentucky Medical Center in Lexington, Kentucky.

Several years ago, Tom inherited a box of Getchell family memorabilia from his uncle in Erie. When he entered the University’s phased retirement program last year, he began to delve into its contents. Among the family pictures and documents, he found 24 letters written by his great-grandfather, Orrin L. Gatchell, from the battlefields of the Virginia campaign during the Civil War. As he and Marilyn began reading and transcribing them, they were struck by the passion with which Orrin wrote and his concern for his wife and children in Dunkirk, New York and family in Anson, Maine. Far from the dry text of history books, these letters captured not only the war’s emotional impact on the lonely soldier on the battlefield but also on his evolving opinions on the government’s policies, its leaders and his commanders. There were also descriptions of camp life and adventures that included capture by the Confederates that added a human dimension to our view of the Civil War. We were so moved by these letters that the idea of annotating and publishing them appealed to us both. We began to fill in the details of Orrin’s location as he was writing each letter, to whom he was writing, and other people and places that he mentioned.

The letters were written to Orrin’s sister Sarah, her husband Ebenezer and one of their daughters Melissa, and his brother Charles living in Anson, Maine. Although he frequently mentioned his wife Eliza and their children, we have no letters written to Eliza, or from Eliza to Orrin. As we were unfamiliar with the members of this generation of the family other than Orrin, we used Ancestry.com to begin exploring and documenting the identity and relationships among these people. This has been an exciting and enriching pursuit, culminating in our locating Orrin’s and Eliza’s graves in the Erie Cemetery one bitterly cold and snowy day last January; we were surprised by the sense of connection that we felt with these ancestors whose experiences we were vicariously sharing.

We anticipate that these letters will provide new insights and appreciation for how the country’s most devastating war affected a soldier’s heart and mind as well as a graphic picture of a Union private’s experiences in some of the most important battles of the Civil War.

Tom and Marilyn Getchell
Lexington, KY and Longboat Key, FL
March, 2012

Orrin Getchell Gravestone in Erie, PA Cemetery Orrin Getchell Gravestone in Erie, PA Cemetery