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Review of To Rescue My Native Land by Wm. T. Shepherd

It is not often that letters and diaries compiled by artillerymen during the Civil War are encountered, and this collection is a gem: the “Civil War Letters of William T. Shepherd.” Native of Wisconsin, who enlisted in Chicago as Private in Taylor’s Battery B, 1st Illinois Light Artillery 16 July 1861, Private Shepherd (sometimes spelled Shepard) is a gifted, intelligent writer who sent letters to friends and family back in Illinois on a daily basis. Encountered in the many letters:

·         Camp life (and looking forward to letters, newspapers and parcels from home)

·         Details of duty (and October 1861 Skirmish at Fredericktown) in Missouri

·         Description of duty (and Christmas) at Bird’s Point, Missouri.

Letter of 10 NOV 1861 describes participation in Battle of Belmont.

Letter of 9 JAN 1862 reveals “everyone at Cairo, Fort Holt and Bird’s Point is under Marching Orders” (which everyone believes is for “somewhere down the Mississippi River…”) Instead, a feint is conducted to the east of Fort Columbus, which “confuses everyone”).

Letter of 1 FEB 1862: under Marching Orders, again…

8 FEB 1862: describes “how easily their Fort Henry became ours.”

16 FEB: Letter begins “while besieging Fort Donelson” and describes previous four days of activity, and ends abruptly when orders arrive to “reposition the Battery.” (See 21 FEB letter.)

28 FEB: “Our Captain Taylor has just returned from a visit to Nashville…”

12 MAR: aboard steamer Silver Moon, going up the Tennessee River…

21 MAR: at Savannah, returning to steamer for move up river…

23 MAR letter written from Pitsburg Landing. “Arrived aboard John J. Roe. There are 75000 men at this place, and more arriving constantly…”

25 MAR: “Captain Taylor has been promoted, and Lieutenant Barrett is now in command of the Battery.”

Letters of 8 APR and 14 APR 1862: aftermath of Battle of Shiloh.

And more good news: Private William Shepherd (who was promoted to Sergeant Major by the end of the War) also kept a Diary…



To Rescue My Native Land: the Civil War Letters of William T. Shepherd (edited by Kurt H. Hakemer) Tennessee University Press 2005 (365 pages) is available at amazon.con and better libraries.

[Limited access: https://books.google.com.au/books?id=a6HQRB6UimYC&pg=PA331&lpg=PA331&dq=israel+p.+rumsey+letter&source=bl&ots=JG_cwqaoUX&sig=dQa8blZoWwiMXVAQGfu3JkaSAHE&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwiIg5yUx4nfAhUF448KHReGDdcQ6AEwBXoECAkQAQ#v=onepage&q=israel p. rumsey letter&f=false 

And for those able to visit Kenosha, Wisconsin:

https://museums.kenosha.org/civilwar/wp-content/uploads/sites/4/2018/05/Wisconsin-Resources-for-Website.pdf Civil War letters and diaries on file


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You are correct about the importance of letters and diaries: so much of our history relies on a handful of hurriedly-gathered sources, rarely afterwards verified, that it is a wonder that historical records are anywhere close to accurate... which is why the 250 Civil War letters written by William Shepherd are so significant. With such an astute observer recording what was taking place, it was always going to be difficult for History to just disappear. Just a few important details revealed by Private Shepherd:

  • The pace and flow of artillery battery operation during engagements;
  • Shepherd acts as witness to battle casualties in his proximity;
  • The visit of Captain Ezra Taylor to Nashville (aboard steamer W.H.B. with Major General Grant, end of February 1862) is confirmed;
  • Confirmation that McClernand's First Division was held at Savannah "a few days longer than everyone else." (At that time, Taylor's Battery belonged to McClernand.)
  • Confirmation of the late transfer of Taylor's Battery from McClernand to Sherman. Once part of the Fifth Division, Ezra Taylor was promoted to Major, and gained assignment as Chief of Artillery for the Fifth Division. Barrett was promoted Captain of the Battery (and Private Shepherd seems to verify that Major Taylor "looked after" his old Battery during the chaos and confusion of that April Sunday in 1862.)
  • In addition, William Shepherd clearly reveals his reasons for taking an active role in the Emergency of 1861. 





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"The Battery Then"  http://taylors-battery.com/battery_then.htm  is another excellent resource for information on Taylor's Chicago Light Artillery, Battery B currently with details of Ezra Taylor, Israel Parsons Rumsey, Timothy Blaisdell and Charles Affeld; as well, Letters and diaries describing the participation of Battery B at Belmont, Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Vicksburg, and more are either available now, or will arrive in the near future (scroll down to links).

Taylor's Battery Then... is an extensive subset of Taylor's Battery Now (a reinactment unit created in 1989)  http://taylors-battery.com/table_of_contents.htm


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Taylor's Battery


One of the solid performers at the Battle of Shiloh (where it was known as Barrett's Battery) this Light Artillery unit, organized in Illinois, possesses a more interesting history than most realize. Bjorn Skaptason has gone the extra mile, and in producing this 25-page examination of Taylor's Battery uncovered details and facts not readily available in other Civil War works. Some surprising revelations:

  • connections between Taylor's Battery and the 1st Illinois Light Artillery, Battery A; and Battery B; and Willard's Battery; and Wood's Battery; and the Chicago Light Artillery (milita artillery unit organized in the Windy City that contributed to April 1861 Occupation of Cairo, preserving that vital river port for the Union.)

  • mention of the pedigree of Waterhouse's Battery;

  • reminder that Grant's staff officer, Joseph Webster, had a connection to the Chicago Light Artillery;

  • the pre-war careers of significant members of the Volunteer Artillery.

Blooded at Belmont, and acknowledged for performing a crucial role at Fort Donelson on 15 FEB 1862 (Ezra Taylor was one of “Grant's Heroes,” rewarded along with WHL Wallace and Jacob Lauman with a trip to Nashville) the Chicago Light Artillery performed ably at Shiloh, while Major Ezra Taylor acted as Chief of Artillery for Sherman's Fifth Division. The Battle of Shiloh is told from the Union artillery point of view.

“The Chicago Light Artillery at Shiloh” by Bjorn Skaptason was published in the Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society No. 1-2 vol. 104 (Spring/ Summer 2011) beginning page 73. The article is available in full via JSTOR (requires ten minutes to register for access to JSTOR holdings.)

“Ezra Taylor Battery Civil War” [for JSTOR listing at google.] https://www.jstor.org/stable/41201304?seq=1


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