Wednesday, March 11, 2020

When Hope and Heartbreak Collided, March 11, 2020

From day one
I've already won
You're my Kin
~KT Tunstall

Over the 12 years that I have written this blog, I have often celebrated longevity by honoring individuals whose long lives or lengthy marriages were inspirational. But in this post I want to celebrate a marriage that did not last even two years.

160 Years Ago Today. My Great, Great Grandparents William Shepard and Mary Sprague Shepard were married 160 years ago. On March 11, 1860, William and Mary tied the knot in the small town of Crawfordsville, the county seat of Montgomery County, Indiana. She had just turned 20 years old, while he was an ambitious 24 year old. She was from a farming community 20 miles southeast of Crawfordsville, while he was from Wayne, Indiana, 25 miles north of Crawfordsville near what is today Purdue University.

Winter was drawing to a close and spring time was just around the corner when they went to the county courthouse and became husband and wife. Sometime in the early weeks of their marriage Mary got pregnant, which put pressure on William to provide adequate income for his new family. In June he found a good job, but on a farm 100 miles away near Wabash, Indiana. Later that summer he arranged for Mary to join him and they began their new life together on the farm south of Wabash. In December their first child was born, who they named Frank Shepard.

The Specter of War. All through their first year of marriage, the specter of Civil War loomed large. In the early months of 1861, the Southern States seceded from the Union. As William and Mary's first anniversary rolled around in March, Abraham Lincoln became President, and the Confederacy began to take shape. On April 12, 1861 Confederate forces attacked Fort Sumter, South Carolina and the Civil War was underway.

William Shepard's Grave in Evansville, Indiana (left), and 
Mary Sprague Shepard Ragsdale's Grave in Indianapolis
On April 15, President Lincoln issued a proclamation calling for an army of 75,000 men. Like all young men of a certain age, William was concerned about his future and that of his young wife and son. They knew it was probably impossible to avoid military service. But with hope and optimism they looked to the future, hoping the impending conflict would not disrupt their lives too severely and not for very long.

In May, Mary became pregnant again. They did their best to enjoy that summer of 1861, caring for Mary in her pregnancy and relishing the life they shared as a young family of 3, with another on the way. At the end of the summer, Col. John Bridgeland came to Wabash as he organized the Second Indiana Cavalry Regiment, the first complete Regiment from Indiana to fight in the Civil War. In September, William volunteered and began his training for service in the Union Army.

Monday, December 9, 1861, William said his tearful goodbyes to his 21 year old wife Mary and their 1 year old son Frank. He left Wabash for Indianapolis to become part of the Union Army of the Ohio. Little did William and Mary know that they would never see each other again. Their life together ended that sad Monday in early December when he went away to war. They had only been married a year and 9 months. That beautiful wedding day in March of 1860 was becoming a distant memory.

To Finish William's Story. Just a week after arriving in Indianapolis, William and his regiment departed the capital city on a 250 mile, 6 week military march southward to Louisville, and then further on into Kentucky.

On February 1, 1862 William and his Regiment had their first military action at Bowling Green. Historians do not call it a battle. It was a skirmish with some confederate forces, during which a canon mishap occurred. As an old family story tells it, "William had his arm blown off." He was transported 100 miles to a Military Hospital in Evansville, Indiana. As with most injured Civil War soldiers, it was not the initial injury that took his life. It was a secondary cause during hospitalization -- in William's case dysentery -- that finally brought about his death July 22, 1862.

That first weekend in February of 1862 hope and heartbreak collided. Saturday, February 1, horrible pain and anguish resulted from William's arm injury at Bowling Green, which led to his death 5 months later. The next day, Sunday, February 2, was a day of great hope for a bright future as William's wife Mary gave birth to their second son, William Elmer Shepard. On the same weekend, one of the great tragedies of our family history was paired with one of the greatest joys.

Two of William and Mary Shepard's grandchildren:
William Shepard (left) with wife Bura,
Sadie Shepard Pruett (right) with husband Levi
in San Diego in 1946
To Finish Mary's Story. Neither Mary nor William knew what was happening to the other that weekend in early February. Communication was painfully slow during the war. As far as we know, the soldier William never got to see his wife or family again. Eventually the heart breaking news made its way back to Mary in Wabash that her husband had died and had been buried in Evansville, Indiana. With a heavy heart she took her two young boys and made her way back to Montgomery County, where her life with the soldier William had begun. In 1865 she married an older widowed farmer named William Ragsdale and became step-mother to his 9 children, adding her own two youngsters to the mix. With Mr. Ragsdale she had three more children. Having lived a precious few years as Mrs. William Shepard, Mary spent the last 54 years of her life as Mrs. William Ragsdale. But she never forgot her first love, that special day they married, and the all too shortened life they shared together.

A Proud Legacy Remains. We celebrate the marriage of William and Mary Shepard that occurred 160 years ago today in Indiana. It was 80 years ago that their only grandson -- also named William Shepard -- migrated to San Diego, California from Southeast Colorado, with his wife Bura and their four children Pauline, Elmer, Eugene and Thelma. Some of Will and Bura's descendants still live here in San Diego today. Others live in Washington, Oklahoma, Texas and other places. But wherever we are, we remain indebted to William and Mary, those two who struggled through those difficult times. Their memory stays with us, and their legacy we proudly claim on this 160th anniversary of their wedding.
- - -
Steve Shepard
(he, him, his)

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