A Civil War Story

Isaac Willard Chatfield: 1836 – 1921 Ohio to California ~

1836: Middlefield, Ohio Isaac Willard Chatfield was born in 1836, the first of four children of Levi Tomlinson Chatfield and Lovina Mastick. Isaac married the elegant Eliza Ann Harrington May 20, 1858, and over the next five decades he and Eliza pioneered across the country, settling parts of Kansas, Colorado and Wyoming.

Isaac Chatfield, Union Army, tintype

Isaac Chatfield

Shortly after the outbreak of the Civil War, and the day after his twenty-fifth birthday, Isaac traveled to Havana, Illinois, where on August 3, 1861, he enlisted in the Union Army as a private in Company “E” of the 27th Regiment, Illinois Volunteer Infantry. Because he was educated, he was immediately commissioned to second lieutenant.

In the winter of 1862 in Murfreesboro, Tennessee, Isaac fought in the Battle of Stones River. Fighting in that same engagement was sixteen-year-old Finley McLaren Chamberlin, a private in the 9th Michigan Volunteer Infantry, a young man whose daughter would marry Isaac’s son 32 years later.

Eliza Harrington, 1865

Eliza Harrington, 1865

With more than 250,000 Illinois men serving as volunteer soldiers, virtually every Illinois woman was the mother, sister, daughter, cousin, aunt, or wife of a soldier. Duty also called Eliza, and although she was a young mother of a three-year-old daughter and had lost a second child at birth just five months before, she joined the Civil War as one of the 5,000 Union Army nurses. In February of 1862 she served at the Battle of Fort Donelson in Tennessee. This was General Ulysses S. Grant’s first important victory, at the cost to the nation of 507 Union and 327 Confederate fatalities, and more than 2,500 Union and  almost 14,000 Confederate casualties. Two months later Eliza, one of five thousand female nurses serving in the war, was at the Battle of Shiloh where General Grant’s troops encountered the Confederate troops of Generals Stonewall Jackson and P.T.G. Beauregard. Overwhelmed by sickness during battle along with the weariness of war, the memory of thousands of men dying, and the horror of crimson staining the land, Eliza was taken to St. Louis, Missouri, to recover. The carnage on both sides was overwhelming: the Union lost 1,754 men, 8,408 were wounded, and 2,885 were captured or missing. The Confederacy had 1,728 killed, 8,012 wounded, and 959 captured or missing.

Isaac Willard Chatfield

Isaac “I.W.” Chatfield

In 1863 Isaac was medically discharged from service for a severe kidney and bladder affliction. He spent the rest of his life farming and cattle ranching, making large profits from the sales of his Colorado holdings. He served as a Republican (anti-slave party) City Alderman, and went on to be elected to the Colorado State House of Representatives. He owned silver mines and was also a railroad contractor, hiring 500 rock-men to work on the grade for the Denver and Rio Grande short-line to Leadville. He had a love for horses and horse racing; the amount of his losses often significant enough to be mentioned in local newspapers. Having become one of the wealthiest men in Colorado, he could afford to lose.

In 1864 Isaac and Eliza crossed the plains driving an ox-team, homesteading near Florence, Colorado. They then moved to Leadville, Aspen, and Denver, finally settling in the Bighorns near the town of Basin, Wyoming. The family travelled in clans, brothers and cousins and uncles homesteading near one another. The Chatfield men were farmers, cattle ranchers, horse traders, railroad builders, mercantile owners, hoteliers, politicians, and mine stockholders. The women were opera singers, musicians, teachers, seamstresses, shopkeepers, and landowners. Devotion to God, family, hard work, and common sense ruled the order of the day.

Eliza (Harrington) Chatfield

Eliza (Harrington) Chatfield

On June 12, 1911, after fifty-three years of marriage and nine children (four of whom she buried), Eliza died from uterine cancer, her burial services under the auspices of the Christian Scientists.

Shortly after Eliza’s death, Isaac moved to Princeton, California, a rural rice-farming community in the sun-heated Sacramento Valley. Two years later, in late August of 1913, Isaac married a second time to the widowed Sarah Jane Wisenor—much to the great displeasure of the family who did not think he should be marrying again, much less so soon, and particularly at the age of seventy-seven. He too may have been dubious, as he lied on his marriage certificate, claiming he was sixty-seven.

Charles Henry Chatfield

Six of Eliza and Isaac’s children attended the Brinker Collegiate Institute in Colorado, a co-educational finishing school. However, Isaac’s fourth son and sixth child—my grandfather Charles Henry Chatfield—preferred the skating rink. Charles, the designated black sheep of the family, was born on his father’s 280-acre cattle ranch in 1870 in the Colorado Territory. Charles was a champion ice-skater at sixteen, an experienced ranch hand at eighteen, and a married man at twenty-four. The afternoon he married Nellie Belle Chamberlin, the fun was over.

Isaac Willard Chatfield: Find A Grave
Eliza Ann (Harrington) Chatfield: Find A Grave
Charles Henry Chatfield: Find A Grave


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  1. Susan and Linda, thank you both. If it weren’t for our common family lines and shared interest in genealogy, we would have not crossed paths. I so appreciate the both of you. When I write about our pasts, I write for all of us, including the ancestors. They too appreciate the acknowledgement, I think…

  2. Susan Dalberg says:

    Once again, I am in Awe. That was great. Sure you don’t want to take on my Miller family? LOL. I can hear you screeching all the way down here! Good job cuz.

  3. I could read your family history stories all day Catherine. You have so much detail about them. With your skilled hand you make them come to life.

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