Cornelius Ridgeway's Tombstone
Civil War Soldier Receives Headstone
Nearly 90 Years to the Day After His Death.
The Battle of Chaffin's Farm (sometimes referred to as Chapin's Farm), New Market Heights, Virginia, occurred over September 29th and 30th, 1864. As part of the Tenth Corps, a brigade was led by General William Birney consisting of the 7th, 8th, and 9th Colored Infantry regiments in an effort to secure a bastioned fort against the Confederates. At the conclusion of the first day's engagement, of the twelve killed and sixty-one wounded, one of the wounded soldiers was 22-year-old Cornelius Ridgeway of Company C of the 8th regiment, U.S. Colored Infantry.
Shot in the left side of his chest, the wound was so severe as to keep him hospitalized until the following August, being at Balfour General Hospital in Portsmouth, Virginia through the following June, at which time he was transferred to the U.S. General Hospital in Ft. Monroe, Virginia. He later reunited with his regiment, being mustered out in Texas in November, 1865. For their discharge, the regiment returned to Philadelphia, the place of their enlistment, although Ridgeway (and his older brother, Alfred, also a member of Company C), had come from the town of Cheswold in Kent County, Delaware, 75 miles to the south, there having been no colored regiments in Delaware.
Not only having seen action at Chaffin's Farm, the Ridgeway brothers had participated in Deep Bottom in August of 1864 and also in the Battle of Olustee in February, 1864, barely a month out of training camp. In all, the 8th lost 119 men in battle and 132 to disease, and, according to Samuel P. Bates' 1871 History of Pennsylvania Volunteers 1861-5, "that of all the colored regiments in the United States service, this one, as shown by the official army register, lost in battle, more officers and men than any other."
Ridgeway returned to his home town of Cheswold, just outside of Dover, where he married Rebecca Cott on January 11, 1866 and initially settled into a life of farming but would eventually become a cobbler, running his own shoe repair business. The Cheswold community consisted largely of a group of people known as the "Moors" of Delaware. Descended from Native Americans, some of whose descendants had intermarried with European Americans and/or African Americans, the Moors were the subject of much speculation and lore regarding their heritage. The Philadelphia Press, in an article entitled "The True Story of the Delaware Moors" dated December 1, 1895, interviewed Ridgeway and referred to him as "the patriarch of the colony."
Ridgeway and his wife raised a large family, having had eleven children, seven of whom grew to adulthood. From these came 26 grandchildren, 82 great-grandchildren and countless additional descendants. The author is one of his great-great-grandchildren.
Ridgeway passed away on March 31, 1918, being 76 years and three days old. He was buried in what was then known as Manship Cemetery (adjacent to the Methodist church of the same name, of which Ridgeway was a trustee) in Cheswold, but today both the church and the cemetery are known as Immanuel Union. It is not known whether or not Ridgeway ever had a grave marker, but it seems doubtful. Eventually, over time and the generations, the exact location of his grave was forgotten and the original plot maps of the cemetery lost. Recently, however, receipts were discovered that identified which plot in the cemetery Ridgeway had purchased, thus revealing his burial location and making the ordering of an official veteran headstone possible. (His brother Alfred, who passed away in 1883 and whose grave has for many years been marked with a veteran headstone, rests only a few yards away).
Installed on March 18, 2008, nearly 90 years to the day after his death, the new stone now honors Ridgeway and the sacrifices he made in service to his country. To celebrate the installation of the headstone, another of Ridgeway's great-great-grandchildren, Richard Durham-himself now a trustee of the same church of which Ridgeway once served in the same role-spoke a few words in his honor during the church's March 23rd Easter service and asked all members of the congregation descended from Ridgeway to please stand; six pews of members arose.
It was a fitting testament to the significance of Ridgeway having survived his wounds. Of the multitude of his descendants, it is not merely a duty but a privilege to honor him and his service to our country. To Ridgeway and his perseverance, we-his descendants-owe our very existence.
Thanks to John C. Carter, prime mover and shaker, who initiated this project and persued it to completion.
"The History and Genealogy of the Mixed-blood
Native American Communities of
and Nearby Areas on the Delmarva Peninsula
and Southern New Jersey"
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