Editor’s Note: In conjunction with the Chenango County Civil War Commemoration Project Team, The Evening Sun will present a monthly series chronicling items of local interest during the war between the states, compiled and written by a number of local history enthusiasts.
By Fred Lanfear
The American Civil War of 1861-1865 began with the prevalent expectation that it would be over in weeks. Instead, it escalated into the most horrendous war we’ve known. The cost in wealth and lives was greater than anyone could have imagined during the simmering pre-war years. We’ve never known such casualties before or since. Eventually every state, every town and even every family, North and South, was drawn in. This is a brief account of how it affected the lives of two heroes claimed by Oxford, New York.
Theodore G. Ingersoll was born on the family farm on the Basswood Road in Oxford in 1839, isolated near the Guilford town line. Years of hard farm work, district school and high honors at Oxford Academy and suddenly he was an adult, working in town, married to the beautiful Mary Wallin of Gilbertsville and about to begin his own family and farm. The year was 1861.
By August, 1862 he had answered President Lincoln’s call for “50,000 more men” and enlisted in the 10th New York Volunteer Cavalry. That enlistment would stamp the next three years of his life and, indeed, the rest of his life. The war years were a torment of separation from family, the pains and aggravations of army life and the constant threat of death or horrible wounds. He saw the awful horrors of war and smelled the stench as well. His regiment was involved in 28 engagements including Brandy Station, Middleburg, Stoneman’s Raid, Fredericksburg, Gettysburg, Cold Harbor, Malvern Hill and Sulphur Springs.
Through it all he served with distinction, at one point as a dispatch rider for Gen. Joshua Reynolds, and he rose to be Quartermaster Sergeant of his regiment. All his experiences, his opinions about officers and politicians, his hopes for his dear wife and family and his evolving attitude toward the war he recorded eloquently in four diaries that he kept with entries for almost every day of the war. He returned home alive but weakened by the war and soon moved his small family to Vernon, NY where his farm machinery business prospered. He was a charter member of the GAR and attended their conventions as well as the reunions of the 10th Cavalry. His photograph and a praising review of his service appeared in the official History of the 10th New York Cavalry. He died in 1926, a hero in Vernon but virtually forgotten in Oxford.
The next hero in the family was Robert M. Ingersoll, great-grandson of Theodore. Robert, born in Vernon in 1924, also served in the military, during WWII, and returned home to Syracuse University and an engineering career, mostly with General Electric Corp. How does he become an Oxford hero? Not on the battlefield, but in his study. His great-grandfather’s mementoes, handed down through the generations and carefully preserved in a glass case, were now his to dispose of as the last person in the family. He had no children or grandchildren, no close relatives. The collection, over 60 items, included uniform parts, medals, weapons, photographs, enlistment and discharge papers, marriage license, pension papers, a rare History of the 10th NY Cavalry, a signed letter from Gen. George Meade and those four, intact, readable diaries.
A neighbor told him “Bob, you’re rich, you know, just that Spencer Rifle would sell for thousands.” It was true, the Meade letter, the Remington Revolver, and those diaries; each would bring a handsome price at auction. Robert did not hesitate. He called the Oxford Historical Society and turned the entire collection over to the Ingersoll hometown where it is now on protected display at the Oxford Museum. Those diaries are being carefully transcribed for publication by Bill Searfoss.
In a tranquil corner of Oxford’s Riverview Cemetery overlooking the Chenango Valley, Theodore G. Ingersoll and Robert M. Ingersoll, along with seven other family members now lie buried in the family plot; Robert’s burial the most recent in April, 2011. The family is together, the chapter closed. The Vernon years were a family sojourn but now all the family is back home. “T.G.” and Bob are Civil War heroes who will never again leave home or ever be forgotten.