Sunday, November 2, 2014

52 Ancestors #44: Second Bloodiest Day of the Civil War

Ancestor Name: William Stephen SHEPHERD (1826-1863)

William Stephen Shepherd was born on 15 January 1826 in Fluvanna County, Virginia, to James and Rachel Shepherd. In 1850 he was living with his parents in Goochland County, likely helping his father work their large farm. Three years later he married Lucy Duval Jennings, my second cousin three times removed.

When the 1860 census was enumerated, William and Lucy Shepherd were living in Louisa County. William was a farmer like his father. His land was valued at $1,240 and his personal property, at $320. He and Lucy had three sons, James, Charles, and William. Their youngest child, Susie was born in 1863. Dark clouds were in the family's future as the Civil War broke out in 1861.

William enlisted on 8 February 1863 at the Louisa County Court House. He served with Company D, 23rd Virginia Infantry. The company was called the Louisa Grays. He joined the regiment at their winter camp at Skinner's Neck on the Rappahannock River. Snow was knee-deep on the ground at the time.

The winter had been fairly comfortable, however. Huts provided shelter and, though short of provisions, fish and oysters from the river were plentiful. Veteran soldiers picketed around the camp while new inductees, like William, were being drilled up to five times a day in readiness for the upcoming campaign season.

Aftermath of the Battle of Chancellorsville; source of photograph unknown

At the end of April heavy columns of Federal troops converged at Chancellorsville, an important intersection about 14 miles west of Fredericksburg. In the face of this enemy incursion, General Robert E. Lee was forced to decide between retreating or fighting. Though short two divisions, Lee decided to fight. The opening shots of the Battle of Chancellorsville were fired on the last day of April, 1863.

Union General Joseph Hooker attacked but the Confederate lines held. Hooker abandoned the initiative and pulled his troops back to the attack jump-off line. During the night Generals Lee and Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson decided upon a bold strategy; they would split their meager forces and outflank Hooker's attempts to flank them.

As the next day dawned, hot and clear, General Jackson's men, including the 23rd Virginia Infantry, marched 12 miles by a circuitous route around a wooded area, which screened their actions from Union forces. They deployed in the Wilderness, a woods composed on scrubby oak, pine, sweet gum, and briers. At 6:00 p.m. on 2 May Jackson's buglers sounded the attack. The men of the 23rd were among the first troops to storm the enemy breastworks and captured three federal artillery pieces. In the face of a "lead and iron hail storm," and after taking many prisoners, the unit was ordered to to the rear to reform.

From William Stephen Shepherd's compiled service record; courtesy of the
National Archives and Records Administration

The next morning the 23rd Virginia Infantry could only muster 70 men. They attacked again at 6:00 a.m. in the face of the rising sun. By 8:00 a.m. the men of the 23rd were fighting a fierce contest at the log breastworks and many men were shot. After being forced to move to the right to counter a Union flanking movement, they came under intense fire by the enemy. Later, they were ordered to the rear and Lt. Col. Walton described the fighting that occurred on 3 May:

"Early on that day we moved from the left of the road to the breastworks, and on its extreme right were exposed to a terribly destructive fire, three times being massed together and the last time having no protection. Our ammunition was soon exhausted and the enemy having flanked us and in the act of taking many prisoners, we were ordered to retire across the marsh and reform. Here was our heaviest loss, many being killed and capture. We were not actively engaged afterward."

Private William Stephen Shepherd was mortally wounded that day -- a day that ranked as the second bloodiest of the entire war. He died of his wounds eleven days later on 14 May 1863. He is buried in Bybee's Road Baptist Church Cemetery. His wife, Lucy, never remarried and died in 1897. She is buried beside her husband.

Headstone of William Stephen Shepherd; courtesy of member Thomas Daniels

This is my entry for Amy Johnson Crow's 52 ancestors in 52 weeks challenge.

William Stephen Shepherd was born on 15 January 1826 in Fluvanna County, Virginia, to James and Rachel Shepherd. He married Lucy Duval Jennings on 20 December 1853. They moved to Louisa County, Virginia, and William was a farmer there. He and Lucy had four children. On 8 February 1863, he enlisted in Company D, 23rd Virginia Infantry, Confederate States Army. He was wounded on 3 May 1863 during the Battle of Chancellorsville and died from his wounds on 14 May 1863. He was buried at Bybee's Road Baptist Church Cemetery. His wife, Lucy, died in 1897 and is buried at the same cemetery. His oldest child was 9 years old at the time of his death and his youngest, a mere infant, who likely never met her father.

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