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.

This image is new to my collection and is available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr.
The Martyrdom of Capt. Shepley

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Fraternity Boy in the 72nd Illinois Infantry

Elisha J. Morgan Jr., a founder of the Chi chapter of Beta Theta Pi fraternity (closed 1988), enlisted as a private in the 72nd Illinois Infantry in the summer of 1862. The regiment spent the majority of its three-year enlistment in Louisiana, Mississippi and Tennessee. It was heavily engaged in numerous operations, including the May 22, 1863, assault against the defenses of Vicksburg and the 1864 Battle of Franklin. Morgan survived the war and mustered out as captain of Company K in August 1865.

His portrait, a gift from Photo Sleuth columnist Kurt Luther, is much appreciated. I’ve written about another officer in the regiment, Lt. Col. Joseph C. Wright. His story, “The Last 15 Feet at Vicksburg,” appeared in Disunion.

This image is available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr.
Fraternity Boy in the 72nd Illinois Infantry

An Officer in Three Illinois Regiments

John H.J. Lacey, a resident of Effingham, Ill., started his Civil War service in April 1861 as a lieutenant in the Eleventh Illinois Infantry. After his three-month term of enlistment expired, he became adjutant of the 98th Illinois Infantry. He spent the majority of the war with this regiment and participated in numerous engagements throughout the South, including the Battle of Chickamauga and the Atlanta Campaign. In February 1865, Lacey left to become adjutant in the newly-formed 155th Illinois Infantry. This regiment served primarily in Tennessee, and mustered out of the Union army in September 1865.

This carte de visite is new to my collection, and is available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr.
An Officer in Three Illinois Regiments

Wounded at Perryville

Joseph W.R. Stambaugh of the Seventy-fifth Illinois Infantry suffered a wound in the side during his first big fight at Perryville, Ky., on Oct. 8, 1862. He made a full recovery and joined the Pioneer Brigade of the Army of the Cumberland, with which organization he served on detached duty in Tennessee until November 1864, when he joined the First Veteran Volunteer Engineers. He mustered out of the army as a captain at the end of the war. He died in 1890.

I’ve had this image in my collection for years. His story appeared in my first book, Faces of the Civil War: An Album of Union Soldiers and Their Stories. The image came to my attention the other day after trading emails with author and historian Greg Mast, who is working on a new book about North Carolina men who served during the Civil War. Although Stambaugh wore Union blue, he was born in Fayetteville, N.C., according to his military service records. Later census records state that he was born in Maryland and Pennsylvania. It is unusual in my experience to have such confusion about a soldier’s state of origin.

This image is now available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr:
Wounded at Perryville

New on Disunion: The Last 15 Feet at Vicksburg

wrightMy profile of Joseph Cornwall Wright is now available. A prosperous and popular Chicago entrepreneur, Wright made a rousing war speech in early 1862 that led to the formation of the Seventy-second Illinois Infantry. A modest man, he declined the colonelcy due to his lack of military experience and instead served as lieutenant colonel and second-in-command. The Seventy-second wound up in Vicksburg and suffered major losses during the ill-fated assault against the stronghold on May 22, 1863.

An excerpt from the story reveals an exchange between Wright and Brig. Gen. Thomas E.G. Ransom before the attack. The exchange was recounted by Maj. Joseph Stockton of the Seventy-second:

Wright and Ransom sat with other regimental and staff officers on the sweltering morning of May 22 and discussed the pending attack. The main topic of conversation was most likely the finalization of plans for the participation of the 72nd and the rest of Ransom’s Brigade in Grant’s full-scale assault set for that afternoon. Major Stockton attended the impromptu gathering and recalled, “We all knew we were to assault the rebel works, and that there would be bloody work.”

The conversation continued. Stockton recalled that Ransom noticed an especially fine field glass carried by Wright. Ransom turned to Wright and, perhaps in an effort to ease tensions, jocosely remarked, “Colonel, if you are killed I want you to leave that glass to me.” The good-natured Wright replied, “All right.” Stockton chimed in: “Stop, Colonel, you forget you left that to your boy when you made your will at Memphis,” where the 72nd had spent part of the last winter. “That is so,” said Wright in acknowledgment of the promise he had made to his 13-year-old son, John. The discussion presumably turned back to the grim work ahead before breaking up.

Read the full story of Wright and his war experience.