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William Shipman, Patriot

Many men who joined the military during the Civil War saw their military experiences shortened by physical disability. Being discharged for some ailment or disease may have meant they were unwell and could not continue supporting their cause with guns and cannons, but it did give them the opportunity to return home, avoid the dangers of military life, enjoy their families, and perhaps even recover from the ailments to lead a long life.

In some cases, such a discharge did not actually end a young soldier’s military career as many soldiers transferred to the Invalid Corps, later renamed to the Veterans' Reserve Corps (VRC), in which they found other, less physically demanding, ways to contribute to the nation's defense. The VRC was not the only way a wounded or ill soldier could still offer assistance. Another way involved Newport, Kentucky resident William Shipman.

William was born in Ohio around 1830, according to differing records. In 1860, he was living in Newport, across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, working as a railroad agent. He lived with his wife, Kate, and their seven-year-old daughter, Sarah.

With the coming of the war in 1861, the Federal government needed soldiers to fill its armies. Shipman did not immediately enlist. It's possible he feared what might happen to him, or maybe he was pressured by friends and family to eventually join the cause. After five months, during which perhaps he thought, and re-thought, about joining the army, he joined company B of the 23rd Kentucky Infantry on September 18, 1861 at Camp King, in the neighboring town of Covington. He enlisted as a private for a three-year term, and was soon promoted to regimental commissary sergeant on December 16.

His time in this regiment did not last long, as chronic rheumatism led to his discharge on June 21, 1862 in Pulaski, Tennessee. Dr. Arnold Strothotte and Captain Claudius Tifft, both fellow residents of Newport, signed William’s discharge certificate, which noted he had been unfit for duty for fifty days of the previous two months. The form claimed that the past winter’s campaign had brought about “the appearance of the disease from which he is suffering.”

At the time of his departure from the army, he stood 5 feet 7 inches tall, with blue eyes, dark hair, and a dark complexion. Given his chronic condition, might it be conceivable that his delay in joining the army was because of his health and his hope it would improve? His discharge proved to be just a temporary setback to his service to his country.

John H. Morgan's 1st Kentucky Raid

Shortly after William’s departure from the army, Confederate General John H. Morgan undertook his “First Kentucky Raid” that threatened the southern end of northern Kentucky. A group of men, led by Captain John A. Arthur (who had served in the three-month 2nd Ohio Infantry regiment earlier in the war, and would later serve in the 8th Kentucky Cavalry) formed the Newport Home Guards, and William Shipman, despite his ailment and honorable discharge, joined in their defense of the region.

On July 17, 1862, Morgan’s men clashed with Union forces at Cynthiana. The Confederate troops, opposed only by “a few hundred home guards supported by small detachments from the 7th and 18th Kentucky Infantry Regiments” emerged victorious.1 Among their vanquished foes were the men of the Newport Home Guards, which, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer of July 19th, had been “badly cut up” during the battle. The Cincinnati Commercial Tribune of July 21st was more specific, noting the unit had suffered two men killed, six wounded, and two missing. One of the dead was William Shipman, felled by a fragment from an artillery shell.

The same edition of the Commercial Tribune printed a few words of praise about William. It mentioned his discharge from the 23rd Kentucky and reported that “at the call of the State for immediate aid to repel Morgan’s band of guerrillas, he was one of the first to volunteer.” He “fell while gallantly fighting a superior force.” It also reported that “the authorities of Newport have sent a committee of citizens to bring home the dead.”

Two days later that newspaper noted, “The Home Guard companies turned out last night and marched to the Railroad depot in Covington, where they received the bodies of the lamented Louis Wolfe and William H. Shipman,” the two guard members killed in Cynthiana.

William was still in his early thirties and left behind his daughter and widow, Katherine, when he passed. Katherine collected a widow’s pension of $8 per month, which was eventually raised to $25 monthly. She later remarried and lived in Cincinnati, rebuilding her life after that painful loss. She lived until 1926 and was buried in that city’s Spring Grove Cemetery.

William is buried in Evergreen Cemetery near Newport, a young man who paid the ultimate price for his repeated willingness to defend his country.

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