Grave Thursday: Lewis Chubb

On select Thursdays we are highlighting the final resting place of someone related to the Lincoln assassination story. It may be the grave of someone whose name looms large in assassination literature, like a conspirator, or the grave of one of the many minor characters who crossed paths with history. Welcome to Grave Thursday.


Lewis Lorenzo Chubb

Burial Location: Green Oak Union Cemetery, South Lyon, Michigan

Connection to the Lincoln assassination:

On May 18, 1865, two separate military trials were occurring in the city of Washington. The one that garnered the most interest was, of course, the ongoing trial of the conspirators in Abraham Lincoln’s assassination. On that specific day, a total of 26 witnesses testified at the conspiracy trial including Louis Wiechmann, Henry Rathbone, and Eaton Horner. It was a warm day, more summer than spring, and the newspapers covering the trial mentioned the oppressive temperature. George Atzerodt, it was reported, was “listless under the heat.”

Across town, there was another trial going on with a defendant who was undoubtedly feeling the heat as well. This second trial was a court martial hearing for a 13th Michigan Light Artillery sergeant named Lewis Chubb. Chubb faced two charges against him at the court martial: drunkenness on duty and disobedience of orders.

While one trial was for the crime of the century and the other trial was a relatively routine matter of military discipline, these two trials, occurring simultaneously, both involved one key player: listless George Atzerodt.


Lewis Lorenzo Chubb was born on September 24, 1843 in Livingston County, Michigan. He was the fifth of seven children born to Major Sherwood Chubb and Achsa Bennett. On his mother’s side, Chubb was a descendant of John Webster, a settler and one time governor of the Colony of Connecticut. When the Civil War broke out, an almost 18 year old Chubb enlisted in the 13th Michigan Infantry. He served almost a year and then was discharged. He re-enlisted in 1863 in the 13th Michigan Light Artillery Battery for the remainder of the war. He was promoted to Sergeant in 1864.

On the night of April 14, 1865, Lewis Chubb was in command of a picket on the turnpike between Georgetown, D.C. and Rockville, Maryland. At 12:10 am on April 15th, the commander of Chubb’s picket brigade, Col. Charles H. Long, sent out messengers with the news of the shooting of Abraham Lincoln. In addition, he gave his pickets orders to prevent any persons from crossing out of the city of Washington. At 2:55 am, Col. Long received similar orders to the ones he had already given. His pickets were to “arrest every man that comes near or attempts to pass from the City.”

It was in this manner that, in the early morning hours of April 15th, Sgt. Chubb had effectively shut down the turnpike leading out of Washington to Rockville. As morning dawned in Washington and people learned the horrors of the night before, Sgt Chubb followed his orders, preventing anyone from crossing his line. As one might expect however, the continued closure of a main turnpike out of Washington started to cause a bit of a traffic problem. As teams and wagons made their way to the picket, they found themselves stopped, searched, and unable to proceed. Chubb also followed orders in arresting all of those who came to his picket post, but they were not imprisoned in the traditional sense. One of those stopped by Chubb and his men was a man by the name of William Gaither. Gaither was a farmer who had come to D.C. on April 14th with eggs, butter and some other things to sell at market. After spending the night in Georgetown, Gaither was heading with his wagon back to his farm in Montgomery County. Gaither reached Chubb’s picket at about 10 am on April 15th and was not allowed to pass. He, like everyone else who arrived at the picket, was detained by Chubb and his men. Gaither was not under guard however, and testified that he, and the others detained, “went about where we pleased,” around the picket but “couldn’t go outside the line.”

Shortly after Gaither was stopped and detained, the Rockville stagecoach rode up. The stagecoach had a government pass due to its duties with the postal service. Due to this, the stagecoach was allowed to pass through the line, but Chubb ordered the sole passenger out of the coach. Chubb informed the passenger that he was detained until new orders came through. Gaither described the man Chubb took off of the stagecoach:

“…[A]bout five feet, eight or ten inches tall,  – lightish complexion, – sandy mustache, appeared to be very polite to every one, and acted as if he was acquainted with every one. The man’s name was George A. Atzerodt. I did not know the man’s name when we were at the post, but learned his name afterwards.”

Conspirator George Atzerodt had failed to attack his target of Vice President Andrew Johnson the night before and was attempting to make his way out of Washington. He had purchased himself a ticket on the stagecoach only to find himself dropped off and detained by the very forces he was hoping to escape from. Yet, despite being in a very bad position, according to Gaither, Atzerodt did his best to act completely unconcerned about his situation.

“Atzerodt was talking with almost every one. He came to me and entered into conversation – said he had been disappointed in getting a ride, and if I had no load he would like to ride with me… I told him that I had no load, and that some company was better than none. I told him that he could ride so far as I was concerned. I told him neither of us could go until they passed us through. Atzerodt asked me once or twice to go into the store to take a glass of cider with him. I drank with him twice or three times.”

Having secured a possible ride, George chatted with the others who had been detained. Eventually the conspirator in Lincoln’s death began conversing with the head of the picket, Lewis Chubb. Gaither testified about this interaction as well:

“The conversation occurred above the store, by the corner of the fence, – this was an hour or more after the stage passed on. Atzerodt and the accused [Chubb] were talking. I went up and joined them. Atzerodt asked us to go in the store and take a glass. We then went in the store and Atzerodt called for three glasses of cider. We each drank a glass of cider, – we were in the store about ten or fifteen minutes. I can’t say that accused [Chubb] staid so long. I don’t recollect whether we had any conversation or not.”

This casual drink with George Atzerodt and William Gaither was the basis of the drunkeness charge against Lewis Chubb during his court martial. However, as the court martial proceeded, the testimony of Gaither and others who interacted with Chubb easily proved that while Chubb may have consumed one alcoholic drink that day, he maintained his sobriety.

The more problematic charge against Chubb at his trial was based on what occurred next. Unsure what to do with the long line of teams and wagons wishing to depart the city and his growing number of detainees, Chubb sent one of his underlings, a private named Albert Richmond, to his commander, Captain Charles DuPont. At about noon, Private Richmond informed Captain DuPont that the road was blocked up with teams and that Sgt. Chubb requested orders or what to do with them. Following the chain of command, Capt. DuPont went to see Col. Long regarding what instructions he should give. By this time, Col. Long had received the following written orders:

“…[Y]ou will instruct your pickets to pass all persons into town as may wish to come, and the same out again, if recognized. All persons that the picket are acquainted with will be allowed to pass and repass until 9 P.M. each day until further orders”

This order, while helpful in regards to the few people on the Maryland side of the line wanting to come into the city, did not really help in terms of the plethora of wagons still trying to get out of the city. Col. Long, however, seeing the difficulty Chubb was facing, seemed to extrapolate on the order and deduced that he could give permission for the detained teams to make their way out of town as well. Col. Long gave Captain DuPont verbal orders to, “search all the wagons and allow them to pass through arresting all suspicious looking persons, and to take the names of all persons going through.” It was the understanding of both Col. Long and Capt. DuPont that the men who would be allowed to pass out of the city were those with teams and no one else. Capt. DuPont gave the verbal order he had received from Col. Long to Private Richmond who then presented it to Sgt. Chubb at the picket. Chubb then proceeded to send the teams on their way having already searched their wagons and taken the names of those detained.

When the new order came in, William Gaither began preparations to get under way. It was now a little before 2:00 pm and the farmer was anxious to get on the road. Sitting in his wagon, Gaither looked around for the man who had requested to ride with him.

“When I got ready to go Atzerodt was talking to the accused [Chubb], and as I got in my wagon I called to him telling him I was going, and if he was going with me he must come along. I called out loud; loud enough for [Chubb] to hear what I said…[Atzerodt] started immediately in a hurry, like, as if startled, and jumped in the wagon, and took a seat by me.”

According to a statement Gaither gave after being arrested by the authorities, just as Atzerodt was about to hop into his wagon, the conspirator turned to Sgt. Chubb, made a very polite bow and said, “It’s all right so far.” With that, George Atzerodt made his way past the Union picket line and continued his escape.

Atzerodt’s freedom would be short-lived, however. On the morning of April 20th he was found at the Germantown home of his cousin, arrested, and returned to “detainee” status. Gaither’s statement of how he came to unwittingly assist Atzerodt in his escape brought attention onto Chubb and the fact that the sergeant had allowed the conspirator to pass through his picket in disobedience of orders.

The man who acted as prosecutor in Chubb’s court martial case was a Judge Advocate by the name of Charles Underhill. Captain Underhill successfully proved that Chubb was well aware of the fact that George Atzerodt was without his own team. At the court martial, William Gaither testified that Sgt. Chubb had taken Atzerodt off of the stagecoach himself and knew him to be a passenger.

Captain Charles W. Underhill, the Judge Advocate at Lewis Chubb’s court martial. Image courtesy of Rod Coddington.

Underhill called on Col. Long, Capt. DuPont, and Pvt. Richmond to testify. He also had a man named Lt. Frederick Dean testify. Though Lt. Dean was Chubb’s immediate superior that night, Dean was not involved in the transmission of orders. He did testify as to Chubb’s sober condition during the two times he saw him that day, further vindicating the sergeant of the drunkenness charge.

One would think that Sgt. Chubb would be in dire straits in defending himself against the disobedience of orders charge. Though no one accused him of knowing the background of the man who bought him a drink, the fact that Chubb had allowed a man to pass his line without a team of his own, one who was later proven to be an accomplice in Lincoln’s death, would seem like a career ending decision for Chubb. Luckily for Lewis Chubb, however, Judge Advocate Underhill was curious as to the specific orders that Chubb apparently disobeyed.

During Capt. DuPont’s testimony at the court martial trial, Underhill questioned the captain’s interpretation of Col. Long’s order and the way in which he then communicated this order to Private Richmond:

“Q. Did you understand that order to mean to pass anyone not suspicious looking – with or without teams?
A. No, Sir. I understood the order to mean to pass only those with teams.
Q. Why did you so understand it?
A. On the grounds that it had been reported to me that teams were waiting there.
Q. Was it so stated or given?
A. I think not.
Q. Why was not the order so worded by you as to convey your true meaning?
A. I thought I gave it so that he could understand what I meant.”

While Captain DuPont had assumed it was implied that only those with teams could exit the city, neither Col. Long nor himself had specifically stated such. The only distinct part of the order given from Long to DuPont to Richmond to Chubb, was that any suspicious looking people were to be arrested. When receiving the order, Private Richmond had asked Capt. DuPont to clarify what he considered to be suspicious. Capt. DuPont responded, “Tell Sergeant Chubb to search the wagons and see that there are no persons concealed in them or no government property.” Private Richmond passed the order to Chubb as stated. Though it may have been implied and expected that only those with their own wagons could pass the line, this was never an explicitly stated part of the order. Therefore, Sgt. Chubb could not be held liable for disobeying part of an order that he never received.

In the end, the six commission members of the court martial found Sgt. Chubb not guilty of the two charges against him. He was acquitted and returned to duty:

On July 1, 1865, Sgt. Lewis Chubb left the army when he was mustered out with the rest of his company in Jackson, Michigan. Six days later, the cause of all of Chubb’s grief, George Atzerodt, left this world when he was executed for his role in Lincoln’s assassination.


Though much of Chubb’s life after the Civil War is unknown, he did marry Catharine “Kittie” Wood on September 12, 1888 when he was 44 years old and Kittie was about 26. This was Kittie’s second marriage and her first husband recounted that Kittie had a “bad temper” and that he “could not live with her.” It appears that Kittie may have maintained her temperamental disposition as she also separated from Lewis Chubb after only a year of so of marriage.

In either the 1880s or 1890s, Lewis Chubb found employment in the railroad business. In 1893, he was living temporarily in Willow Hill, Illinois working on the Peoria, Decatur and Evansville Railway. In Willow Hill, Chubb married a woman named Louisa. Shortly after the wedding, in January of 1894, Lewis whisked Louisa back up to his native state of Michigan where Lewis worked for the Chicago and Grand Trunk Railway in Battle Creek, Michigan.

Things were going well in Battle Creek for a while, until Chubb suffered an accident at work:

While working as the yard master for the Chicago and Grand Trunk railroad, Lewis Chubb got his leg crushed after his foot was caught in a railroad V-switch (also known as a frog). His right leg was crushed just below the knee from the cars of an oncoming train. An additional newspaper report stated that Chubb lost his leg due to the accident, but it is not clear if the accident removed his leg or if it was amputated in an attempt to save his life.

Unfortunately for Chubb, the trauma of the accident ultimately proved to be fatal. Lewis Chubb died on May 25, 1895 from blood poisoning caused by the crushing of his leg. He was 51 years old.

In addition to the death of her husband, further troubles were in store for Chubb’s widow, Louisa. Lewis had died without a will causing his estate to enter probate. Louisa applied to become the executor of her husband’s estate. However, three of Lewis’ siblings brought suit against Louisa and her attempt to gain control over the estate. It wasn’t until after her husband was dead that Louisa learned that her husband had been previously married. More importantly, however, was the fact that Lewis had apparently never actually divorced his first wife, Kittie. Though Lewis and Kittie had separated around 1890, there did not seem to be an official divorce on the books. To his credit, Chubb did start the divorce proceedings and Kittie even wrote a reply to the suit, but they never actually went through with the full process. Since Lewis and Kittie never truly divorced, Lewis and Louisa were not technically married, despite the marriage certificate and ceremony that claimed so. The attorneys from both sides of the case sought out Kittie Wood. In the end, it was found that Kittie had, herself, died in August of 1894. With the legal wife having predeceased Chubb, the judge in the case decided to move in favor of Louisa. He cited the deceased’s intention of legal marriage and cohabitation with Louisa as cause to find in her favor.

Despite the legal unpleasantness between Louisa and Chubb’s siblings, it appears that Louisa did agree with the idea that Lewis should be buried back with his own parents. Chubb’s body was transported, likely via railroad, from Battle Creek to a small cemetery in South Lyon, Michigan which held his mother and father’s grave. In the back corner of Green Oak Union Cemetery in South Lyon is the military headstone of Lewis Chubb next to the gravestone of his mother.

GPS coordinates for Sgt. Lewis Chubb’s grave: 42.430558, -83.690699


Epilogue

As someone who studies history, I am used to coming across instances in which the stories surrounding an individual change over time. Humans are, of course, imperfect, and that is why it is very important to question sources that come so long after an event. One of the sources I used in composing this post was a genealogical book containing information about the descendants of Gov. John Webster of Connecticut. The book gave me a small biography on Chubb with most of the information regarding dates and other family members being correct. However, sometime between 1865 and the publication of the genealogy book in 1915, the family story surrounding Chubb’s interaction with Lincoln’s assassination became extremely altered. Rather than telling about how Chubb unwittingly allowed conspirator George “Port Tobacco” Atzerodt to escape Washington and the subsequent court martial it caused, the genealogy book erroneously states the following:

Good grief!

References:
Court Martial of Sgt. Lewis L. Chubb Proceedings, May 18 & 19, 1865 (starts on page 153 in this PDF) accessed courtesy of Karen Needles’ Lincoln Archives Digital Project
History and genealogy of the Gov. John Webster family of Connecticut, with numerous portraits and illustrations
by William H. Webster
Image of Capt. Underhill courtesy of Rod Coddington
Newspaper articles accessed via GenealogyBank.com
The suit over Lewis Chubb’s estate can be accessed via Ancestry.com
Evening Star, May 18, 1865

Categories: Grave Thursday, History | Tags: , , , , | 7 Comments

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7 thoughts on “Grave Thursday: Lewis Chubb

  1. Russell Simonaro

    Al little known person in the Lincoln plot great research!

  2. Theresa Chevery

    Great story, Dave, I never knew about this second trial. Theresa

  3. Robert Freitag

    Fantastic story on Chubb puts the reader right at the picket post. My question is: In the main body of the story when Chubb reinlists, it lists him as a sergeant and on his headstone he’s a corporal. Any reason for the discrepancy? Government error or demotion? Thanks

    • Robert,

      I, too, was confused why Chubb’s gravestone gave his rank as Corporal rather than Sergeant. From what I could find when Chubb re-enlisted in 1863, he did so with the rank of Corporal. He was then promoted to Sergeant in 1864 as stated. I’m not sure who was responsible for furnishing the government headstone and making sure the information was correct but my guess would be that the mistake was made there. Perhaps his second “wife” was unaware of his higher rank of Sergeant when he was mustered out. I really don’t know.

  4. Tim Dyer

    Fascinating

  5. Evelyn Zak

    Another interesting article. Was Sergeant Cobb interrogated as well. He was unaware of the shooting at that time, but Booth had given him his name I believe which would have narrowed the search substantially.

  6. Rich Smyth

    Cool!

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