Saturday, December 29, 2012

Death of Miles Shepard: 'The rain had done its work'

Miles Shepard, a private in the 16th Connecticut, died in a government hospital
in Knoxville, Md.,  on Nov. 13, 1862. (Photo: Connecticut State Library archives)
The last thing Lydia Shepard needed was for her teenage son to march off to war.

A single mother raising three young children, the 47-year-old woman from Simsbury, Conn., counted on the financial support of  Miles Shepard ever since her husband, Daniel, died in December 1854. In the summer of 1861, Miles worked as a laborer on the farms of Jonathan Hamilton and Gideon Case in the Simsbury area, earning $70 to help his mother and three siblings: Alfred, 11; Albert, 9; and Amelia, 7. In all, Miles earned about $100 for the household in 1861.
In this document, Charles Babcock, the captain of Company E
of the 16th Connecticut, confirmed the date, place and cause of
Private Miles Shepard's death. (CLICK ON IMAGE TO ENLARGE.)

But like many young men in Hartford County, 19-year-old Miles was motivated by either a large bounty or patriotism or both when he enlisted for three years in the Union army in nearby Canton on July 24, 1862. He was mustered into Company E of the 16th Connecticut on Aug. 24, 1862.

Late summer 1862 must have been a whirlwind for Shepard and the 16th Connecticut. After drilling in Hartford, the regiment sailed down the Connecticut River, crowds wildly cheering from the banks along the way, en route to New York. By late August, the regiment had finally made it to Washington before marching across the Aqeuduct Bridge to Arlington Heights on the evening of Sept. 1 to camp at Fort Ward, one of many fortifications ringing the capital.

Tents weren't yet available to the dusty and hungry 16th Connecticut soldiers, so they struggled to sleep on grounds that only recently had been woods that were cleared for timber to build the fort. Compounding their misery, the weather turned nasty that night. The regiment was soon expected to join the Army of Potomac, which had marched off to Maryland to counter a threat by Robert E. Lee's Army of Northern Virginia.
"Some of the boys never got over that night,"
16th Connecticut private William Relyea
wrote of the evening his regiment had to sleep outside
during a rainstorm in Arlington Heights, Va.
(Photo: Connecticut State Library archives)

"To add to our discomfort, a very lively rainstorm set in, which, unsheltered as we were, and without tents of any kind, soon wet us to the skin," Private William Relyea of Company D wrote. "It had one good effect. It cooled our blistered shoulders and we were thankful for that. To improvise shelter for ourselves was our first lesson in campaigning and the boys learned it quickly. Brush was plentiful and plentifully used. Blankets and overcoats were improvised as roofs held up by the brush, and the boys crawled under to pass sa most miserable night.

"The bright sun of the next morning dispelled the gloom and thawed the frowning faces into smiles, and the night's discomforts were forgotten in the excitements of a new day. But the rain had done its work and a goodly number surrounded the ambulances that were occupied by the surgeons as the headquarters for Blue Mass. Some of the boys never got over that night and they remained with us but a very short time." (1)

Shepard was among the soldiers who never got over the miserable experience. Healthy before he enlisted in the army, the young man from western Connecticut got pneumonia from sleeping on the damp grounds that night outside the capital. Diseases, including pneumonia, measles and especially dystentery, could cripple whole regiments during the Civil War and caused substantially more deaths than battle.

His health worsening, Shepard was admitted to a government hospital in Knoxville, Md., in the days or weeks after the regiment caught up with the Army of Potomac. (It's unclear whether he was at the Battle of Antietam on Sept. 17, 1862.) Weverton Hospital in Knoxville, a hamlet just upriver from the Union garrison at Harpers Ferry, handled sick and injured soldiers well into 1864.

Lingering for days or weeks, Miles Daniel Shepard died of pneumonia on Thursday, Nov. 13, 1862. His final resting place is unknown.

(1)  "16th Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, Sergeant William H. Relyea," John Michael Priest Editor-in-Chief, Burd Street Press, 2002, Page 12.
Note: Other details from pension file documents from National Archives.

No comments:

Post a Comment