A Black soldier who fought for the Union with a Black regiment in key battles of the Civil War throughout the South and was stationed in Texas on June 19, 1865 was honored by the Society of the Grand Army of the Republic Saturday at Riverhead Cemetery, where he is buried. 

Pvt. David Chippie settled in the Riverhead area after his honorable discharge from the Army, in which he served with the 29th Regiment of Connecticut Volunteers [Colored] and died here on Aug. 10, 1898 at age 73. 

Chippie was stationed with his unit in Texas when Union Army Gen. Gordon Granger arrived on June 19, 1865 and read the historic order enforcing freedom for enslaved people in Texas — the last state that retained institutional slavery, nearly three years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Sept. 22, 1862. June 19, known as Freedom Day, is a federal and New York State holiday.

Chippie was honored yesterday as a “Juneteenth Veteran” by the Society of the Grand Army of the Republic, an organization dedicated to remembering “the the men and women who, by their services or sacrifices during the American Civil War, defended and preserved the American Republic, emancipating millions of enslaved people and reaffirming our belief in liberty.” 

The ceremonies at Riverhead Cemetery yesterday included prayers and the rededication of his gravesite, with the laying of a wreath and the presentation of a sign to the cemetery, and a military salute with guns and a cannon. 

The 29th Regiment was the first of two Black regiments mustered out of Connecticut in 1863, after the federal government, desperate for recruits, finally allowed the thousands of Black men eager to fight to enlist in the Army, but only in segregated Black regiments. It was engaged in many important battles during the last year of the war, and was one of the first to march through the Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia.

“David Chippie served in a regiment that was every bit as gallant and worthy of note as any other during the Civil War, but its accomplishments and history, like many regiments of men of color, have been overshadowed by the story and heroism of the 54th Massachusetts Volunteers,” said society Chaplain George Munkenbeck.

Chippie was born in Newark, Delaware. He had been employed as a cook and lived in Norwalk, Connecticut. He joined the 29th Regiment on Oct. 1, 1863 at a recruitment camp outside New Haven. Records show he was 43 years old, 5’-3” tall with a dark complexion, black hair and black eyes, Munkenbeck said. “He must have shown some leadership potential as he was promoted to First Corporal of Company F on Jan. 1, 1864.”

The regiment protested the unequal pay offered to Black soldiers by refusing to accept it and declaring its members would fight for free. 

“This action was the beginning of standing up for their rights as citizens,” Munkenbeck  said. It resulted in an act of Congress that provided if a solider was free at the time of enlistment, they were owed full pay for their rank. Eventually all Black troops, whether freeborn, freed or former slave, would receive equal pay with white troops, Munkenbeck  said. “On Nov. 1, 1864, Cpl. Chippie was reduced to the ranks at his own request,”  Munkenbeck  said.  

“For the 29th and David Chippie, their most memorable event occurred on  April 3, 1865. The regiment was the first infantry regiment to march into Richmond, Virginia, after the Confederate collapse and retreat. On that day, they saw President Lincoln. It was a member of the 29th that said to a large gathering of colored people, ‘That is your liberator.’ It was while camped at Petersburg on April 16, 1865 that they got the news that Abraham Lincoln had been assassinated.”

Munkenbeck noted that the men of the 29th would not obtain all the rights they had earned by their service but their sacrifice and standing up for their rightful pay laid the groundwork for the future. 

“Their service is not forgotten. And we should give them, and all those of the 29th Connecticut and all those men of color who answered the call of Frederick Douglass to arms, the recognition they deserve for their service to this nation,” Munkenbeck said. “We give that recognition today to a soldier who stood up when it counted. Thank you, David Chippie.”

Riverhead Town Historian Georgette Case speaks at the June 15 ceremony.
RiverheadLOCAL/ Emil Breitenbach Jr.

Chippie is the only Black soldier listed in Town Historian Georgette Lane Case’s 2011 book, “We Will Not Forget: Riverhead’s Civil War Soldiers and Sailors.”

According to an obituary published in the Brooklyn Daily Eagle on Aug. 12, 1898, Chippie was “an estimable old colored man who has made Riverhead his home for many years. He was for many years a well known cook, having served in some of the largest hotels on the island.” He left behind a widow, the obituary stated. His funeral service was conducted by the Rev. Perry M. Jackson, pastor of the AME Zion Church.

Actually, Chippie left behind a widow, Lucinda (Lee) Chippie and at least four children, according to the 1880 federal Census. According to the 1880 Census record, the family lived in the “Village of Brooklyn” in the Town of Southampton. The couple had three sons, Isiah, 22, Daniel, 17 and William, 11, and a 1-year-old daughter, Laura, as of June 17, 1880. 

Not much else is known about Chippie, including when he came to live in the Riverhead area. Census records show he lived in Wilmington, Delaware in 1860 and at a hotel in Greenport at the time of the 1870 Census.

Many Riverhead men fought for the Union during the Civil War, Case said during yesterday’s ceremony. Many are buried at Riverhead Cemetery, including some who were killed in action or died of wounds sustained in battle and diseases that afflicted the soldiers. In 1871, a granite monument honoring those from Riverhead who fought for the Union in the Civil War was erected at the entrance to Riverhead Cemetery on Pulaski Street, then known as Cemetery Street.

“I’m pleased to be here today to celebrate David Chippie among those who are ready to serve their country. America is a beautiful, sacred place,” Case said. She donated a Grand Army of the Republic grave marker for Chippie’s gravesite as well as a floral arrangement.

Riverhead Town Board members Denise Merrifield and Bob Kern at the June 15 ceremony.
RiverheadLOCAL/ Emil Breitenbach Jr.

Riverhead Town Board members Bob Kern and Denise Merrifield also attended yesterday’s ceremony. Both thanked the society for honoring the Riverhead resident and for its work to ensure that today’s citizens remember those who fought for the Union. 

The Society of the Grand Army of the Republic was founded in 2017 to save the Civil War Monument in Patchogue, according to the group’s website. 

“We are dedicated to advancing an understanding of the Civil War. We actively work to identify Civil War Veterans from Long Island, honoring and restoring their graves, researching Long Island military units’ histories and exploring how the war impacted our local communities,” the website states.

The society counts among its 10 purposes: 

“To carry out the purposes expressed in the preamble of the Constitution of our country and the injunction of President Lincoln to honor the soldiers who sacrificed their lives ensuring ‘that the government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.’”

RiverheadLOCAL photos and reporting by Emil Breitenbach Jr.

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