One of the First Graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy

A profile of Samuel J. Shipley’s life appeared in the History of Fayette County, Indiana, published by B.F. Bowen & Co. of Indianapolis, Indiana, in 1917:

“Samuel J. Shipley, a resident of Fayette county from 1819 until his death in 1897, a member of the first class to graduate from the United States Naval Academy, at Annapolis. a participant in the Civil War and one of the best beloved men of a past generation in the county, was born in Wilmington, Delaware, December 24, 1813, the son of Joseph Shipley and Mary H. (Test) Shipley. He came with his mother to Fayette county when he was six years of age, his father having died leaving his wife with four small children.

It was the childish ambition of Shipley to become a sailor, and when he was nineteen years of age Jonathan McCarty, then congressman from this district, secured an appointment for him as midshipman in the navy. This was before there was a naval academy and it was not until 1839 that Congress established such an institution, the first one being located at Philadelphia. Shipley was enrolled as a student at the time of its inception and when the academy was removed to Annapolis the following year, he became a member of the first class, graduating in the spring of 1840.

Shipley continued his career at sea year after year, being advanced to a lieutenancy in 1847 at the close of the Mexican War. At the opening of the Civil War he was stationed at Fortress Monroe as commander of the “Brandywine,” but his health became impaired and he was compelled to retire from his command in 1863. He at once returned to his home in Fayette county and settled down on his farm in Harrison township, which he had purchased in 1837. There he continued to reside with his daughter until a few years before his death, when he moved to Connersville where he died on July 11, 1897.

Lieutenant Shipley was married on November 14, 1841, to Martha Holton, but his wife died two years later, leaving a daughter, Jennie Shipley, who is still living in Connersville.“

This carte de visite is new to my collection, and will be included in my forthcoming book about the Union and Confederate navies. It is available on PinterestTumblr, and Flickr.
One of the First Graduates of the U.S. Naval Academy

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Book Talk at Reynolds Community College

ghazala-ronI’m overwhelmed by the generosity and kindness of the fine team at Reynolds who made last night’s book talk a reality. Heartfelt thanks to Lisa, Ashley, and especially my good friend Ghazala Hashmi (pictured here). The friendship Ghazala and I share extends all the way back to high school, and I’m so happy to reconnect with her after so many years. She and I caught up over dinner at a local Thai restaurant before the talk.

The event took place in the Massey Library auditorium on campus and was well attended. I was delighted to see a number of young faces in the audience, and applaud the teacher who gave one group of high school students extra credit for attending the presentation. I was also impressed with the raffle—four copies of “African American Faces of the Civil War” were given away, and another four copies of the book written by the author who will appear at the next event. In all the talks I’ve participated in, the book raffle is a first.

All of this happened on my birthday, and at the end of the presentation, event coordinator Lisa Bishop stepped up to the podium and asked everyone to wish me a happy birthday on the count of three. That was icing on the cake!

After the event, we all walked out into the lobby of the library for refreshments and a book signing. I met and signed books for a number of attendees, including Wendell, a teacher who planned to use the book in his class.

Great day!

Latest “Faces of War” Column: A Missouri Slave Transforms Into a Studious Sergeant

A Missouri Slave Transforms Into a Studious SergeantMy latest Civil War News “Faces of War” column is now available. 1st Sgt. Octavius McFarland was born a slave in Missouri, and he was illiterate like most of his comrades. The senior officers of his regiment, the Sixty-second U.S. Colored Infantry, published a series of orders to teach McFarland and the rest of the rank and file to read and write.

An excerpt:

The senior commanders of the Sixty-second U.S. Colored Infantry issued a variety of general orders to the rank and file during its 27 months as an organized force. Perhaps the most unique of all is General Order No. 4. Enacted on Jan. 25, 1865, it announced a contest to recognize the best writers in the ranks.

A committee of officers was appointed to judge the entries and pick thirty winners—a sergeant, corporal and private from each of the regiment’s ten companies. The standard 100-man company included one first sergeant, four sergeants, eight corporals and eighty-two privates.

Results would be announced on Independence Day 1865. Winning corporals and sergeants would each receive a gold pen, and privates a good book.

Read the full profile.