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

He Saved the Union

If you believe that the fighting at Little Round Top on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg prevented the Union army from being destroyed by the Confederates, and that this act set up Pickett’s Charge on the third and final day of the engagement, then you might reasonably argue that you live under the Stars and Stripes today in part because of this man.

Pvt. Peter L. Quant of the “People’s Ellsworth Regiment,” also known as the 44th New York Infantry, hustled into position along the crest of Little Round Top on the afternoon of July 2, 1863. He and his comrades in Company K and the rest of the regiment, along with other hastily organized Union troops, stopped the Confederate juggernaut in its tracks.
A 29-year-old farmer from Montgomery, N.Y., when he enlisted during the summer of 1861, Quant survived numerous engagements with the 44th, including the Seven Days’ Battles, Second Manassas, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville. He also made it through Gettysburg without injury.

His luck ran out the following year. On July 7, 1864, along the front lines of Petersburg, a Confederate bullet found its mark. Critically injured, Quant languished in a hospital at City Point, Va., until he succumbed to his wounds on July 24.

Quant did not live to see the States reunited.

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He Saved the Union