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Orrin L. Gatchell, who enlisted in the Excelsior Brigade in Dunkirk, New York in September of 1862, was carrying on a family history of service to his country and strong family values. His ancestors fought in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812. Orrin left his wife and four children to defend and preserve the Union, fighting in the battles of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, among others, and was present at Appomattox at the war’s end.

Orrin was born on November 28, 1831 in the rural village of Anson, Somerset County, Maine, just after Maine became a state independent from Massachusetts as a result of the Missouri Compromise of 1830. Orrin’s patriotism, love of country, and loyalty to the Spirit of 1776 was deeply imbued from his family’s long-standing commitment to American ideals. Orrin’s paternal great-grandfather (see family tree of Orrin's ancestors below),  Abel Getchell (1726 – 1777), fought in the Revolutionary War and was slain in the Battle of Bemis’s Heights near Stillwater, Massachusetts just prior to the surrender of British General John Burgoyne to Continental General Horatio Gates. Abel’s son and Orrin’s paternal grandfather, Seth Getchell (1753 –1844), also fought in the Revolutionary War. Major John Moore (1731 – 1809), the grandfather of Orrin’s mother Eunice B. Moore (1797 – 1835), was also a Revolutionary War veteran. Their military exploits at Bunker Hill, Valley Forge and Boston are well-documented in applications for membership in the Sons of the American Revolution by their descendants. Orrin’s father, Calvin Lumber Getchell (1794 – 1861), was a veteran of the War of 1812. Thus, the patriotic ideal of serving and defending one’s country was truly a family value.

Although we know little of Orrin’s early education, the style and thematic composition of his Civil War letters attest to a bright young man whose intellect was sculpted by his parents, family and teachers. An algebra book inherited with other family memorabilia contained Orrin’s signature. In the early 1800’s, algebra was generally taught in high school and during the sophomore year in college, but we have no evidence for how much schooling Orrin received.

In 1853, when Orrin was 22 years old, he married Martha W. Bartlett (1832 – 1861), whose family was from nearby New Portland, Maine. Shortly after their marriage, Orrin and Martha moved to Groveland, Massachusetts, a manufacturing center for shoe and boot making that provided the venue for Orrin to ply his trade as a shoemaker that he learned as a teenager. By 1856, they had two sons, William (1854 – 1924) and George (1856 – 1919); the family moved to a farm in Dunkirk, Chautauqua County, New York, where Orrin worked as a carpenter. A third son, Eugene (1858 – 1872), and a daughter, Alice (1860 – 1943), were born there. Shortly after Alice’s birth, on January 29, 1861, Martha died of consumption, a contagious bacterial infection of the lungs now called tuberculosis, for which there was no treatment at the time. She was buried in Forest Hill Cemetery, Fredonia, New York in an unmarked grave in Section A. The authors were saddened by this tragedy in Orrin’s family life when they visited Martha’s grave site during the summer of 2012.

The ever-resourceful Orrin then courted a young lady named Eliza Ann Decker who was living in Dunkirk, New York and working as a dressmaker. Orrin was 30 years old and Eliza was 19 years old when they married on November 18, 1861 in the parsonage of the Methodist Episcopal Church in nearby Fredonia. Given the events of the time, recalling that Fort Sumter had surrendered to the Confederates on April 14, 1861 and that President Lincoln had appointed General George B. McClellan as general-in-chief of all Union forces on November 1, 1861, it was not unusual that they chose the Methodist Episcopal Church for their marriage because of the church’s strong support of Union cause. Fredonia and Dunkirk were also active centers in the Underground Railroad for the transport of slaves across Lake Erie to Canada, which reinforced Orrin’s abolitionist sentiments learned as a child in Maine.

Orrin and Eliza, together with their four children and baby Martha (1863 – 1931), who was born shortly after Orrin’s enlistment in the Union Army, formed the loving family unit that sustained Orrin during the national, social, familial and military upheavals during the Civil War in which Orrin served as a private in the 72nd and 120th New York Volunteer Infantry Regiments of the Excelsior Brigade from 1862 until the end of the war in 1865.

Related Images

  • Orrin’s Story:  Orrin’s Ancestors and Family Life Before the Civil War
  • Orrin’s Story:  Orrin’s Ancestors and Family Life Before the Civil War
  • Orrin’s Story:  Orrin’s Ancestors and Family Life Before the Civil War
  • Orrin’s Story:  Orrin’s Ancestors and Family Life Before the Civil War
  • Orrin’s Story:  Orrin’s Ancestors and Family Life Before the Civil War
  • Orrin’s Story:  Orrin’s Ancestors and Family Life Before the Civil War


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