Off The Hook: A local man who made a difference


Several well-known people have been born in Union County, like Maj. Gen. Robert Beightler, commander of the 37th Infantry Division during World War II, and military governor of Okinawa during after the war. Also notable is Charles Fairbanks, born in Unionville Center, and his wife Cornelia Cole Fairbanks, born in Marysville. He was the 26th Vice President of the United States, serving with President Theodore Roosevelt. The Fairbankses met at Ohio Wesleyan College and married in 1874.

Norton Parker Chipman of Milford Center led an exceptional and service-oriented life, but I never heard his name, until recently.

He was born in the early years of Union County, March 1836, in Milford Center to Vermont-natives Norman and Sarah Chipman. What could have brought his parents to Ohio? It was a long trip from Vermont and in the early 1800s it must have been grueling.

He was educated in his early years in Milford Center, but then his parents moved again… to Iowa. They may have traveled in horse-drawn wagons to move an entire household since trains may not have been available at that time in Milford Center. He then grew up through his teens in Iowa and attended Washington College, which was founded in 1782 and named after George Washington.

He graduated from Cincinnati Law School in 1859, prior to the school’s merger with the University of Cincinnati in its present form. He went back to practice law in Iowa.

When the Civil War broke out, he enlisted in the Union Army’s Second Iowa Infantry. He quickly achieved the rank of lieutenant colonel and fought courageously in battle. In early 1862, he was seriously wounded and carried off the battlefield at the Battle of Fort Donelson, leading his commanders to report him as dead.

Chipman did, in fact, survive and, upon recovery, was promoted to the rank of colonel later in 1862. He and fellow Ohioan and future president, Ulysses S. Grant, fought together at Fort Donelson, which became Grant’s first major victory. They became good friends.

As an attorney, Chipman later became a member of the Judge Advocate General’s staff. By 1864, he had moved to Washington, D.C. and successfully prosecuted Captain Henry Wirz, the commander of the Confederacy’s infamous Andersonville Prison Camp, where almost 13,000 Union soldiers lost their lives. For his cruelty to prisoners of war and 11 homicides, Wirz was hanged in 1865. That same year, Chipman married Mary Isabel Holmes while stationed in St. Louis, Missouri. They had two children.

Obviously a very capable man as war hero, attorney and author, Chipman proceeded to publish his recollections of the famous Andersonville Trial in his 1911 book, “The Tragedy of Andersonville.”

After the Civil War, Chipman was appointed Secretary of the District of Columbia by President Grant, and was later elected to Congress as a Republican from the District of Columbia, serving two terms.

While adjutant general of the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR), he reportedly received a note from a friend in Cincinnati suggesting that the United States mimic the European custom of decorating graves of people who died while serving in the military. Chipman was said to relish the idea, and decided the day should be celebrated in the spring. It is here that a bit of controversy arises.

History books credit Gen. John A. Logan, commander-in-chief of the GAR, with initiating Decoration Day by issuing General Order No. 11, a proclamation designating May 30,1868, to be the first Decoration Day, a day to decorate the graves of fallen soldiers from the Civil War. It is a fact that Chipman, as adjutant general of the GAR, also signed the order. Just whose idea was the real inspiration for the holiday will probably never be known, and as time passed, Decoration Day became Memorial Day.

While living in Washington he founded the law firm of Chipman, Hosmer & Co.

He did a lot in his first 40 years and then moved   to Red Bluff, California    in 1876 where he served   as president of the California State Board of Trade, and from 1897 to 1905, as a California Supreme Court Commissioner. Finally Chipman served    as the first presiding justice of the newly created      California Third District Court of Appeals, a position he held from 1906 until 1921, when he resigned due to failing health.

He died on Feb. 1, 1924, in San Francisco at the age of 89 after an impressive life of public service, which began in Milford Center.

Norton Chipman contributed much to the early years of our country, so now you know him!

(Melanie Behrens –

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