Wednesday, February 02, 2022

An Infamous Weekend

Mine eyes have seen the glory
of the coming of the Lord:
His truth is marching on.
~Battle Hymn of the Republic

Happy Birthday to Cindy A. Shepard! Today, February 2 is a memorable day in our Shepard Family history. Not just because it is groundhog day. Nor because it is the exact midpoint of winter. Not even because it is the birthday of my sister-in-law Cindy A.Shepard of Oak Harbor, Washington. All that makes it plenty memorable, of course. But the second day of February stands out for us Shepards because of two historic events that occurred on the same day in the lives of some kinfolk. One event was very happy and the other very tragic. 

160 Years Ago Today. In February of 1862, my Great Great Grandfather William Sheppard was just a few months into his military service in the Civil War. He had joined the Union Army's 2nd Indiana Cavalry in September, 1861 while living in Wabash, Indiana. Over the following few months, after his military training, his unit marched southward from Indiana into Kentucky. At the town of Bowling Green, William's unit had their first taste of battle in a skirmish with confederate forces. 

It was the very first conflict of the War for the 2nd Indiana Cavalry. This unit went on to fight in the war for 3 more years. They fought at the famous encounter at Shiloh. They went on to engage the enemy in other venues as well before returning to Wabash, Indiana at the end of the war. 

But William's active duty in the Civil War began and ended at Bowling Green, Kentucky. On Sunday, February 2, 1862, William suffered a serious arm injury from a canon blast. We don't know if the canon misfired, or if William was hit by enemy fire. We only know that the injury brought an abrupt end to his active duty in the Civil War.

Tragic Irony. While on the battlefield that fateful day in February 1862, young William could not have known what was happening back home in Indiana. The very day he was injured in Kentucky, his wife Mary in Wabash, Indiana, was giving birth to their second son. What tragic irony that these two events would happen on the same day, some 315 miles apart.

After suffering his injury, William was taken off the battle field and transported to a military hospital in Evansville, Indiana. 5 long months later, on July 22, 1862 he died. The actual cause of death was not the arm injury, but dysentery, an intestinal infection that took the life of countless soldiers who, like GGGranddad William, experienced extended stays in wartime hospitals.

The second day of February will always remain in our family history as a time when joy and tragedy intersected. In Indiana a baby was born; in Kentucky the baby's father was mortally wounded. It may have been her longing for her soldier-husband that caused Mary Shepard to name their newborn child William Elmer Shepard. 

The Rest of the Story. That wartime baby William Elmer Shepard became a very important figure in our family history as a young adult. He left his troubled stepfamily in Indiana and journeyed alone to the Saint Louis area where he married, had two children, and then migrated with them to Oklahoma in the early years of the 20th century. Our ancestors suffered much in those tragic years of the Civil War. We are grateful for their fortitude and resilience, and are honored to be counted among their descendants.
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Steve Shepard

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