David Chippie, a Black Civil War soldier who fought for the Union and later lived out his life in Riverhead, was honored with a rededication of his gravesite on Saturday ahead of the Juneteenth holiday. NewsdayTV's Drew Scott reports. Credit: Gary Licker; Photo Credit: National Archives

Amid a bloody Civil War in which the freedom of millions of enslaved people likely hung in the balance, David Chippie, a Black cook already in his 40s, stepped forward to serve his country. 

The year was 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation, which liberated the enslaved in rebelling states, had gone into effect, but many remained in bondage.

Chippie, who eventually made Long Island home, became one of more than 1,500 people of color who would join the 29th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment, according to the Connecticut State Library.

Members were some of the first Union soldiers to enter the fallen Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. Some also witnessed the jubilation of formerly enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, when the Union Army notified them on June 19, 1865, that they were free more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, an occasion now celebrated as Juneteenth.

On Saturday, a memorial service was held at Chippie's grave at Riverhead Cemetery, to honor his service and commemorate Juneteenth. The date became a federal holiday in 2021, when it was signed into law by President Joe Biden as Juneteenth National Independence Day.

Joseph Vermaelen, treasurer general and chief of staff at the local chapter of the Society of the Grand Army of the Republic, said the organization dedicated to preserving Long Island’s Civil War history is honoring Chippie this year because he was a "regular person" who saw a need.

"He's not someone of wealth or fame," Vermaelen said. "He's a man who saw the … call to help liberate [nearly] 4 million people who were in bondage, and he answers that call."

Chippie was born in Delaware around 1822. He enlisted in the 29th Infantry in New Haven, Connecticut, records show. In the military, he was a private and later promoted to corporal. After the Civil War, he moved to Riverhead, where he died in his 70s.

An obituary in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle described Chippie as an "estimable" man who made Riverhead his home for "many years." It also was noted that he was a well-known cook in some of the larger hotels on the Island. He left behind a widow. 

Not mentioned in that short obituary was Chippie's military service as the future of the nation reeled between dueling visions of itself: one in which people of African descent could remain enslaved or another where they could be freed from their bondage.

The stakes could likely not be made more apparent than they were by famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass. In addressing the members of the 29th and other Black soldiers, he said, "If you rise and flourish, we shall rise and flourish."

"If you win freedom and citizenship, we shall share your freedom and citizenship," he added.

When the Civil War broke out, Black people were officially barred from fighting in the military, historians say. Yet, faced with dwindling numbers of white volunteers, the Union allowed them to serve but often limited them to noncombat roles such as cooks or carpenters. They often faced, historians say, higher injury rates, unequal medical care and were fed lower-quality food.

“The segregation and the biases that were extant in American society were absolutely the same among these infantrymen fighting to keep the republic together,” said Ramin Ganeshram, executive director of the Westport Museum for History and Culture.

Still, Chippie and thousands of other Black men joined regiments of color for varied reasons. Some had a family history of military service. Some had fled slavery.

Their service is a reminder that Black people played an essential role in emancipating themselves and undermining the institution of slavery, whether that be through revolt or military service, said Fiona Vernal, University of Connecticut associate professor of History and Africana Studies.

“They're willing to take up arms themselves and fight for their own freedom and fight for the freedom of others because … they believed in the principles that the Civil War was fought on,” said Vernal, who noted that those principles were the end of slavery.

The 29th took part in crucial military achievements. When Richmond fell in 1865, the Connecticut division became one of the first infantries to march in the city, the National Park Service said.

One account by a member of the 29th described it as “a sight never to be forgotten” as people of color moved to meet Lincoln when he entered the city. The unit also took part in key efforts such as the Battle of Fair Oaks and a siege of Petersburg, the National Park Service said.

Later that year, the unit found itself in Galveston, the place where the Union Army told upward of 250,000 enslaved people that they were free on June 19, 1865, according to the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

Today, the day goes by a number of names including Emancipation Day and the nation's second Independence Day. It is sometimes celebrated with pageants, cookouts and other events.

But around that time in Galveston, the feeling was palpable, according to the Rev. Alexander Newton, also a member of the 29th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment. He wrote in a book about his life and his time in the 29th of encountering a formerly enslaved older woman. 

"When she saw us and realized that the victorious end had come, she cried at the top of her voice, 'The Lord, the Mighty One has conquered and we are all free! Glory to God!'" he wrote.

But that freedom came with a cost. About 40,000 Black soldiers died amid the war, with 30,000 of those deaths from "infection or disease," the National Archives said, citing other historians.

The 29th was honorably discharged in 1865, records show. Many of the veterans spent the remainder of their lives in the United States, some in Connecticut. Chippie ended up on Long Island.

Like veterans of other wars, Vernal notes, they might have received a moment of appreciation but not all of the accolades they deserve.

“They got a lot of glory [in the moment],” she said. “They didn't get a whole bunch of anything else.” 

But Saturday morning at Riverhead Cemetery, a cannon sounded for Chippie’s service, and a new sign was dedicated to him — solemn remembrances amid the barbecues and other freedom celebrations.

Amid a bloody Civil War in which the freedom of millions of enslaved people likely hung in the balance, David Chippie, a Black cook already in his 40s, stepped forward to serve his country. 

The year was 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation, which liberated the enslaved in rebelling states, had gone into effect, but many remained in bondage.

Chippie, who eventually made Long Island home, became one of more than 1,500 people of color who would join the 29th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment, according to the Connecticut State Library.

Members were some of the first Union soldiers to enter the fallen Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia. Some also witnessed the jubilation of formerly enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, when the Union Army notified them on June 19, 1865, that they were free more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, an occasion now celebrated as Juneteenth.

WHAT TO KNOW

  • To celebrate Juneteenth, a ceremony at Riverhead Cemetery honored David Chippie, a Black resident of Riverhead who served in the 29th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment during the Civil War. 
  • Members of the 29th were some of the first Union soldiers to enter the fallen Confederate capital of Richmond, Virginia, historians say. 
  • Chippie's story and those of other Black soldiers are reminders that Black people played a crucial role in emancipating themselves and undermining the institution of slavery, historians say. 

On Saturday, a memorial service was held at Chippie's grave at Riverhead Cemetery, to honor his service and commemorate Juneteenth. The date became a federal holiday in 2021, when it was signed into law by President Joe Biden as Juneteenth National Independence Day.

Joseph Vermaelen, treasurer general and chief of staff at the local chapter of the Society of the Grand Army of the Republic, said the organization dedicated to preserving Long Island’s Civil War history is honoring Chippie this year because he was a "regular person" who saw a need.

"He's not someone of wealth or fame," Vermaelen said. "He's a man who saw the … call to help liberate [nearly] 4 million people who were in bondage, and he answers that call."

An 'estimable' man

Chippie was born in Delaware around 1822. He enlisted in the 29th Infantry in New Haven, Connecticut, records show. In the military, he was a private and later promoted to corporal. After the Civil War, he moved to Riverhead, where he died in his 70s.

An obituary in The Brooklyn Daily Eagle described Chippie as an "estimable" man who made Riverhead his home for "many years." It also was noted that he was a well-known cook in some of the larger hotels on the Island. He left behind a widow. 

Not mentioned in that short obituary was Chippie's military service as the future of the nation reeled between dueling visions of itself: one in which people of African descent could remain enslaved or another where they could be freed from their bondage.

The stakes could likely not be made more apparent than they were by famed abolitionist Frederick Douglass. In addressing the members of the 29th and other Black soldiers, he said, "If you rise and flourish, we shall rise and flourish."

"If you win freedom and citizenship, we shall share your freedom and citizenship," he added.

An invocation is delivered Saturday at the Juneteenth memorial service.

An invocation is delivered Saturday at the Juneteenth memorial service. Credit: Morgan Campbell

When the Civil War broke out, Black people were officially barred from fighting in the military, historians say. Yet, faced with dwindling numbers of white volunteers, the Union allowed them to serve but often limited them to noncombat roles such as cooks or carpenters. They often faced, historians say, higher injury rates, unequal medical care and were fed lower-quality food.

“The segregation and the biases that were extant in American society were absolutely the same among these infantrymen fighting to keep the republic together,” said Ramin Ganeshram, executive director of the Westport Museum for History and Culture.

Still, Chippie and thousands of other Black men joined regiments of color for varied reasons. Some had a family history of military service. Some had fled slavery.

Their service is a reminder that Black people played an essential role in emancipating themselves and undermining the institution of slavery, whether that be through revolt or military service, said Fiona Vernal, University of Connecticut associate professor of History and Africana Studies.

“They're willing to take up arms themselves and fight for their own freedom and fight for the freedom of others because … they believed in the principles that the Civil War was fought on,” said Vernal, who noted that those principles were the end of slavery.

From Richmond to Galveston

The 29th took part in crucial military achievements. When Richmond fell in 1865, the Connecticut division became one of the first infantries to march in the city, the National Park Service said.

One account by a member of the 29th described it as “a sight never to be forgotten” as people of color moved to meet Lincoln when he entered the city. The unit also took part in key efforts such as the Battle of Fair Oaks and a siege of Petersburg, the National Park Service said.

Later that year, the unit found itself in Galveston, the place where the Union Army told upward of 250,000 enslaved people that they were free on June 19, 1865, according to the National Museum of African American History and Culture.

An honor guard fires a round Saturday at the Juneteenth...

An honor guard fires a round Saturday at the Juneteenth memorial service near David Chippie's grave in Riverhead Cemetery. Credit: Morgan Campbell

Today, the day goes by a number of names including Emancipation Day and the nation's second Independence Day. It is sometimes celebrated with pageants, cookouts and other events.

But around that time in Galveston, the feeling was palpable, according to the Rev. Alexander Newton, also a member of the 29th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry Regiment. He wrote in a book about his life and his time in the 29th of encountering a formerly enslaved older woman. 

"When she saw us and realized that the victorious end had come, she cried at the top of her voice, 'The Lord, the Mighty One has conquered and we are all free! Glory to God!'" he wrote.

But that freedom came with a cost. About 40,000 Black soldiers died amid the war, with 30,000 of those deaths from "infection or disease," the National Archives said, citing other historians.

The 29th was honorably discharged in 1865, records show. Many of the veterans spent the remainder of their lives in the United States, some in Connecticut. Chippie ended up on Long Island.

Like veterans of other wars, Vernal notes, they might have received a moment of appreciation but not all of the accolades they deserve.

“They got a lot of glory [in the moment],” she said. “They didn't get a whole bunch of anything else.” 

But Saturday morning at Riverhead Cemetery, a cannon sounded for Chippie’s service, and a new sign was dedicated to him — solemn remembrances amid the barbecues and other freedom celebrations.

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