Taking on the Rebel Ram Tennessee

There came a moment during the Aug. 5, 1864, Battle of Mobile Bay when Rear Adm. David Farragut’s most powerful warships went up against the Confederate ironclad ram Tennessee.

The Hartford, Brooklyn and Richmond lined up abreast and bore down on the Tennessee, hell bent on taking her out of action.

The Richmond’s crew included one of the navy’s youngest officers, Philip Henry Cooper, pictured here, center. A recent Naval Academy graduate, he had served aboard the Richmond for about a year.

Cooper and his shipmates, and the crews of the other two Union vessels, traded shot and shell with the Tennessee for more than an hour before the rebel ram called it quits and raised the white flag.

The crew of the Richmond was lucky—no casualties and minimum damage. For Cooper, it was the beginning of a long career in the service of the navy that included cruises around the globe and stints on the staff of his alma mater. He posed for this carte de visite with two of his comrades, Lt. Cmdr. Charles W. Tracy and a secretary named Procter, during a South American cruise about 1866-1868.

Cooper retired as a captain in 1904 and died in 1912 at age 68.

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Taking on the Rebel Ram Tennessee

The Martyrdom of Capt. Shepley

Union officer Charles H. Shepley had loaded revolvers on countless occasions. But on March 21, 1862, something went horribly wrong. Shepley was loading it when it suddenly discharged. In one awful moment, a lead slug tore through him.

Shepley was no stranger to firearms. Back in 1856, soon after he and his family had relocated from Vermont to Chicago, 15-year-old Shepley joined the National Guard Cadets, a militia group formed by Col. Joseph R. Scott. The organization was taken over by the young and charismatic Col. Elmer E. Ellsworth soon after and turned into a crack drill team that toured the East. They were met by throngs of cheering citizens impressed with the discipline and precision of Ellsworth, Shepley and the rest of the boys.

When the war started, Shepley became an officer in the 19th Illinois Infantry, a regiment originally commanded by his old senior officer, Col. Scott. This was in the spring of 1861. Shepley started out as a second lieutenant in Company K and soon advanced to captain.

Sent to the South, the 19th was stationed at Murfreesboro, Tenn., when the accident happened. “While quietly engaged in loading his pistol, the weapon suddenly discharged itself, the ball passing into and nearly through his body, producing a fatal wound. He lingered till early on the morning of the 23d, when, despite all the surgical skill and kindly attention out forth on his behalf, Capt. Shepley was compelled to yield up his young life while bright hopes and well-merited honors were clustering around him.”

There’s more. “He had often expressed to his fellow soldiers a desire that if he must lose his life in the war, it might be his privilege to die on the battlefield, rather than in camp or on picket duty. But that wish was not to be gratified; and yet those best acquainted with him know that he died none the less a hero than if his life had been taken by the hand of the enemy amid the carnage of battle.”

His story can be found in Martyrs and Heroes of Illinois.

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The Martyrdom of Capt. Shepley

One of the Most Important Civil War Names You’ve Never Heard

The gent standing is David B. Parker and his military service began like so many other young Northerners. In 1861 he enlisted as a private in his hometown company. It became part of the 72nd New York Infantry, shipped out to the South and joined the Army of the Potomac.

This is where the similarity to other soldiers ends. In June 1862, Pvt. Parker was detailed as a mail agent in his regiment’s division, which was commanded by Maj. Gen. Joe Hooker. He was appointed to handle the mail not because he was a poor soldier, but because he was a energetic and possessed a gift for cutting through red tape and making things happen. Before long Parker ran the entire mail service for all of the Army of the Potomac.

Thanks to Parker, mail delivery went virtually interrupted no matter where the army was—Gettysburg, Spotsylvania, the front lines of Petersburg and Appomattox Court House. The work he did kept up the morale of the men as the letters and packages from home flowed into camp literally without interruption.

His career after the war was stellar, including many years of association with most of the Presidents of the U.S. and Bell Telephone.

He died in 1910. Two years letter, his memoir, A Chautauqua Boy in ’61 and Afterward, was published. In it, Parker tells his story and includes anecdotes of the top Union leaders with whom he was associated, including generals George G. Meade and U.S. Grant, and President Abraham Lincoln. For example, here’s one I have not heard about Gen. Meade: “General Meade went to the Adjutant General’s office, which was a Sibley tent, and opened the flap to stoop and enter, as a soldier, who was building a fire in the stove and taking up ashes, was coming out. The pan of ashes struck General Meade’s breast and covered him. he showed a very irascible temper and cursed the soldier roundly. All that I saw of General Meade afterwards, however, was a reserved courtly gentleman. He was not personally popular with his staff officers, but no one could criticize his conduct or his patriotism.”

Parker, standing, is pictured here with Capt. Charles E. Scoville of the 94th New York Infantry. Another photo, from Parker’s memoirs, shows him in uniform as a lieutenant, the highest rank he obtained in the army. Officially he was acting assistant quartermaster for the Army of the Potomac responsible for mail delivery.

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One of the Most Important Civil War Names You've Never Heard

Stint on the Ill-Fated “Naubuc”

Charles Mellen Rowe of Maine (1841-about 1915) started his Civil War service in October 1864 as an ensign on the ironclad monitor Naubuc. The vessel was so poorly constructed that she was deemed not seaworthy and converted to a torpedo boat. She and her crew never made it out of New York. Rowe’s brief navy career ended in August 1865. He settled in Newfield, N.J., after the war, married Adelia Hemingway, and became a farmer.

This image is new to my collection, and now available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr.
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New on Disunion: A Regiment is Sacrificed at Gettysburg

BrownleeMy latest contribution to Disunion is now available. Corp. James Brownlee of the 134th New York Infantry suffered multiple wounds during the first day’s fight at Gettysburg. An excerpt:

Union forces along the northern edge of Gettysburg, Pa., occupied a precarious position on July 1, 1863. Advancing Confederates poured deadly volleys into the rapidly thinning blue ranks as a steady stream of wounded trickled into the normally peaceful Pennsylvania town.

A federal division commander in the thick of the fray, Gen. Carl Schurz, was running out of options. A former German revolutionary who became an influential voice among fellow political refugees, he sent his aides in search of reinforcements. While he waited for help, he received reports that Union troops on his right and left had buckled under the intense pressure of the Confederate juggernaut.

A mile south, Cpl. James Brownlee watched and listened to the raging battle from the heights of Cemetery Hill. A farmhand who had emigrated from Ireland with his family when he was a boy, Brownlee and his comrades in the 134th New York Infantry could clearly see the fighting where Schurz was hotly engaged.

Read the full profile.