Ketcham Brothers

Ketcham Brothers

From: (Benedict R Maryniak)

In reply to Angel's question about the "Fighting Quakers" - this is going to sound certifiable - I even have their CDvs. And this IS relevant to Gettysburg! They were brothers - Edward H Ketcham, 120th NY Infantry, and John T Ketcham, 4th NY Cavalry.

Augustine Joseph Hickey Duganne was a Long Islander who served as Lieutenant Colonel of the 176th New York Volunteers through 1863 and 1864. He spent half of that time as a Confederate prisoner after being captured, along with a sizeable part of his Ironsides Regiment, in June of '63 near Brashear City, Louisiana. Paroled and discharged for disability, Duganne immediately set down his story in writing and published "Camps and Prisons: Twenty Months in the Department of the Gulf" before the War had ended. Evidently motivated by the reception of his book, he wrote up the story of Edward and John Ketcham - young Quakers who had not returned home to Milton, Ulster County, New York - in "The Quaker Soldiers: A True Story of the War for the Union," which was published in 1866 and again in 1869. Duganne provided numerous excerpts from letters written by both boys in which they describe their wartime experiences. In spite of Duganne's mawkishness, his slim volume affords interesting glimpses of soldier life that have the interesting twist of the Ketchams' Quakerism. As the author rightly pointed out, the Ketchams "were representatives of a Society which for two centuries has opposed war, strife and bloodshed - the Society of Friends."

I'll dispense with an explanation of Quaker beliefs. If anyone's interested, let me off the GDG line. The Quakers on principle were opposed to war, but many had become such earnest anti-slavery evangelists that, when the North and the South came to blows, they had to accept the combat as a part of the inscrutable designs of God.

In addition to all this, the Ketcham boys were likely to have been influenced by role models of Quakers who had gained notoriety for not only accepting combat but participating in it. During the Revolutionary War, Gen'l Nathaniel Greene - a Quaker blacksmith from Rhode Island - had commanded in the Carolina Campaign. During 1861, Rhode Island legislator, banker, & Quaker Isaac Peace Rodman had unhesitatingly accepted a captaincy in the Second Rhode Island Volunteers and seen action at First Manassas. Assuming the Fourth Rhode Island's colonelcy, he was made a brigadier general by April of 1862 for gallantry on the coast of North Carolina. As a IX Corps division commander at Antietam, Gen'l Rodman was mortally wounded while trying to bring up reinforcements to meet AP Hill's attack during the late afternoon of September 17, 1862.


Although they gave their occupations as "farmers," the Ketcham brothers were well-educated & well-read sons who happened to be working their recently-widowed mother's farm when the Civil War began. Their father, David, had gone to his reward in the spring of 1860 and left the boys to their rural occupations on the family homestead at Milton, New York, just across the Hudson from then-bustling Poughkeepsie. Edward Hallock Ketcham had been born December 27, 1835, and John Townsend Ketcham came along two years later on January 12, 1838.

War news and the increasing intensity of recruitment drives being conducted by various local military organizations finally brought the brothers to an "amicable dispute" over which of them would go off to the fight. Though opposed to war, they were also opposed to slavery, and they were soon convinced about the righteousness of a war that "was from God, for the extermination of slavery." They were also convinced that one of them should stay with their mother but neither would volunteer for that role. The question was finally settled by casting lots and Edward "won." He enlisted July 15, 1862, in the "Ulster County Regiment" which was being raised just then.


Mustered August 19 as Second Lieutenant, Company "A," 120th New York Volunteers, because he had proved to be an active & successful recruiter, Edward steamed away from Ulster County aboard the ferry Manhattan five days later. The regiment was encamped near Arlington, Virginia, by August 28, and the men listened to the noises of battle at Second Manassas over the next few days. Fall found them moving toward Fredericksburg with the Army of the Potomac, in Gen'l Dan Sickles' division of the Third Corps. Edward's letters home during November describe a bout with what he termed "jaundice" from which he had to recover while on the march. Writing from Falmouth on November 29, 1862, he summarized his experiences up 'til then with the observation that "it is not battles and bullets that kill the most men; it is exposure, improvidence, and hard marching. I cannot seem to realize that we are so near actual fighting, and, in fact, now think a good deal more about where our dinner is to come from, than about Stonewall Jackson."


Edward's letters warning John about army life only succeeded in keeping his brother from joining the 120th NYV. In early February, 1863, John T Ketcham was enrolled in Manhattan as Second Lieutenant of Company "M" in the Fourth New York Cavalry under colorful Colonel Luigi Palma di Cesnola. About the tenth of September, the regiment's eight companies were ordered to Washington, where they did duty mounted but without arms. The 4th was assigned to Blenker's Division in the fall of 1861 and did duty far up in the mountains of West Virginia. The Fourth chased after Jackson in the Valley for a time and they took part in "the only cavalry charge at Second Manassas" on August 30 under Colonel Thornton F Broadhead. During the Antietam campaign, the regiment was stationed near Fairfax Court House, protecting Washington with Sigel's Corps, when a new colonel and chaplain reported for duty along with two new companies - Colonel di Cesnola and Chaplain John C Jacobi (a crusty 61-year-old Episcopal minister who had emigrated from Poland).

Through the spring and summer of 1863, the 4th NY was engaged in constant scouting and skirmishing between the Rapidan & Rappahannock as part of Averell's cavalry division. John's letters home are laced with lines from Whittier's poems and also mention a number of visits with Edward. June of '63 brought heavy action for the Fourth New York troopers. The regiment was engaged all day at Aldie on June 17, with the loss of many men along with Colonel di Cesnola, who was wounded and captured.


The 120th New York Volunteers shared fierce action and heavy losses with the rest of Sickles' III Corps on July 2 at Gettysburg. As part of Carr's brigade, the regiment went into the fight with 383 and lost 53% of that number - 32 killed, 154 wounded, and 17 missing. Lt Edward Ketcham was the first to die, just after the 120th had deployed along the Emmitsburg Road, south of the Klingel farm.

"While we were lying down, before the infantry engagement, Captain Abram Lockwood, of Company 'A,' had just warned Lieutenant Ketcham, not to expose himself more than was necessary, the latter replying, 'a dead man is better than a living coward,' when, just as the words passed his lips, he was instantly killed." In a letter dated July 12, John added that it was "a sharpshooter's bullet" which had probably struck him "in the temple, and went through his head. He must have been conscious an instant, for he spoke in his natural voice and said 'Oh!' (not an involuntary groan) put his hand to his forehead and fell on his elbow dead."

John had been on guard duty with one of the supply trains when he heard about his brother's death and was not able to get to the battlefield until early on July 3. Although the body had been "carried back a couple of hundred yards (on July 2) and left under a tree," enemy fire kept John from reaching it until the morning of July 4.

"There, on his back, his hands peacefully on his breast, lay all that was left of the brother I have lived so closely with, all my life . . . On this earth I will never meet him again . . . Mother, I telegraphed to thee as soon as I could, and wrote about Edward. I cannot realize that he is dead. Don't let it kill thee, mother! Thee and I are all that is left of us . . . Have his picture, in his soldier's uniform, copied like thine and father's, and, under the glass, fold his commission and the ragged shoulder-strap I cut from him; hang under it his broken sword, and write: 'A SOLDIER IN THE ARMY OF THE LORD' . . ."

By the end of July, John was judged to be too run-down for duty and sent to the Seminary Hospital in Georgetown. He spent four weeks there under the care of Martha Ketcham, who came all the way from Milton to personally nurse her only living son. The 4th NY Cavalry was now in Devin's brigade of Gen'l Buford's cavalry division, and John was ordered to report for duty during the last week in August of 1863. "Sad was the separation; ominous the farewell" between mother and son.

After Gettysburg, the armies had returned from Pennsylvania to positions long familiar to them - the Union army on the east/north bank of the Rappahannock, Confederate infantry to the west/south of the Rapidan, and gray cavalry between the two rivers. This situation meant no rest for Yankee horse soldiers, however. With watercourses at late-summer lows, pickets & reserve posts were extremely vulnerable to sudden attacks by small squads of Johnnies, guided by local inhabitants. There were nightly losses. In one such incident, a picket post of the Fourth NY Cavalry was surprised at Raccoon Ford. Captain William Hart of Company "C" was killed and twenty-four blue troopers were captured with their horses, weapons, and all their equipment. Among the prisoners were Captain William H Williams of Company "G," Second Lt Charles B Smith of Company "F," and Second Lt John T Ketcham.

This incident is documented in the Official Records, because Cavalry Corps commander Major Gen'l Pleasonton interpreted it as a neglect of duty on the part of the regiment. On September 17, 1863, Pleasonton issued General Order Number 28 which stated that, "Because the Fourth NY Cavalry allowed a squadron of their number to be taken without any effort to prevent it, they shall not carry a color or guidon until division commander Buford reports their conduct to have entitled them to such a distinction." The regiment petitioned for a formal inquiry, which was authorized but never convened. Eventually, a full statement of the circumstances sent to the War Department resulted in having the order rescinded on January 6, 1864.

Confined at Richmond in Libby Prison with many of his fellow officers, including Colonel di Cesnola, John nevertheless succumbed to a combination of his already-weakened health with severe prison conditions. He was transferred to the prison hospital but died there on October 8, 1863.

Duganne's book states that the Ketcham brothers were reinterred at Milton sometime prior to 1869, and "two white monuments, side by side, raised" over their graves in the village's Friends cemetery.


Duganne, Augustine JH. The Quaker Soldiers - A True Story of the War for the Union. New York, 1869.

New York Monuments Commission for the Battlefields of Gettysburg & Chattanooga. New York at Gettysburg. Albany: JB Lyon Company, 1900.

Van Santvoord, C. The One Hundred and Twentieth Regiment New York State Volunteers. 1894.