James Burns Shaw was born on June
22, 1834 in Banffshire, Aberdeen, Scotland. Records reveal Shaw
left Scotland for Canada in 1850 and his profession in adult
life was that of a tailor. At the age of twenty-four, James
married Jessie Steel in Ingersoll, Ontario, Canada, in 1858.
Upon arriving in the United States three years later James
enlisted in Captain Woodruff’s Company, later to be designated
as Company K, 39th Illinois Infantry; on August 14, 1861 at
Marseilles, Illinois. His assignment was shown as being that of
a musician in the regimental band.
The 39th was organized at
Chicago, Illinois. The
organization of this Regiment began as soon as word was heard of
the firing on Fort Sumter. General T. O. Osborn labored
desperately to get it accepted under the first call for troops,
but was unsuccessful. Next efforts were made to get it accepted
into the State service of Missouri, but that too without
unsuccessful. The Regiment had already assumed the name of His
Excellency, the Governor of Illinois, and was known as the
"Yates Phalanx". Governor Yates manifested an earnest desire to
see it brought into the service, and sent then Captain O. L.
Mann to Washington, with strong commendatory letters to the
President and Secretary of War, urging the acceptance of the
Regiment, which at the time had over 800 men on the roles. The
Regiment was accepted on the day succeeding the first Bull Run
disaster, and Austin Light, of Chicago, was appointed Colonel.
left Chicago, Illinois on October 13, 1861
and reported to Brigadier General
Curtis, at Camp Benton, St. Louis, Missouri where on October
29th, the Regiment received orders to proceed to Williamsport,
Maryland; where it was fully armed and equipped. On December
11th it moved on to Hancock, Maryland where it crossed the
Potomac River and was distributed in detachments along the
Baltimore and Ohio Railroad, to assist in guarding the important
line of transit; and remained there for
It next served in the
Shenandoah Valley in Virginia with Shield’s Division. On January
3, 1862, the advance of a rebel force 15,000 strong, under
command of "Stonewall" Jackson, attacked Companies D, I and K,
in the command of Major Mann, near Bath, Virginia, and, after a
brisk little fight, were repulsed; then, with two pieces of
artillery, and a liberal display of strategy and courage, the
enemy was held in check for nearly twenty-four hours.
It was also present during the Battle of
Kernstown, Virginia on March 23, 1862,
that resulted in the utter defeat of "Stonewall" Jackson's
forces. The Regiment suffered but little during the engagement,
owing to its position, which was the extreme left. The ensuing
day it took the advance in pursing the enemy down the Shenandoah
Valley, as far as New Market, where it was detached and sent
into the Luray Valley, to protect bridges over the South Branch
of the Shenandoah River.
left the Valley the 1st of May 1862, with Shield's Division, and
making a continued march of one hundred and fifty miles,
reported to General McDowell at Fredericksburg. After one day's
rest, the news of General Bank's defeat in the Valley arrived,
and the Regiment was ordered back to the Valley, making forced
marches over a distance of another one hundred and eighty miles.
After a few days' rest, the Regiment was ordered to Alexandria,
Virginia, and immediately embarked on transports for the James
River, and reached Harrison's Landing in time to take part in
the closing scenes of General McClellan's seven days' fight and
seven nights retreat. While at Harrison's Landing, the Regiment
was kept at the front, on picket duty, and had a series of
unimportant skirmishes, until about the middle of August, when
it participated in the second Malvern Hill fight, but without
material injury. From this point a number of officers and men
were sent away sick.
The Regiment was
here assigned to the First Brigade, Peck's Division, Keyes'
Corps, and retreated with the army to Fort Monroe. September 1,
it was sent to Suffolk, Virginia, where it remained for the
space of three months, fortifying the place, and making frequent
expeditions to the Blackwater, where heavy skirmishes frequently
occurred. On one occasion it participated in the capture of two
pieces of artillery and forty prisoners.
On January 20,
1863, the Regiment again embarked, accompanying General Foster's
expedition to Hilton Head, South Carolina where it remained in
camp on St. Helena Island, South Carolina, for several weeks. On
the 1st of April, the Regiment took part in General Hunter's
expedition against Charleston, and, after landing on Folly
Island, took a prominent part in the erection of batteries with
which Morris Island was taken. The Regiment was next ordered on
to Morris Island, where it was assigned to General Alfred H.
Terry's Division, and again worked zealously and long in the
trenches, parallels and forts, which resulted in the final,
capture of Fort Wagner.
Shaw at that point was deemed unfit
for duty, due to a “scrofulus affection of left knee joint”, and
was discharged on September 22, 1862; but on October 3, 1864
Shaw reenlisted as a private at Saginaw, Michigan into Company K
of the 29th Michigan Infantry and records list him as becoming a
The 29th Michigan Infantry was
organized at East Saginaw, Michigan, mustering in on October 3,
1864, the same day Shaw reenlisted.
It was immediately ordered to Nashville, Tennessee, and after
arriving continued on to Decatur, Alabama
on October 1864.
There it served in the defense
of Decatur against Hood's attack, on October 26th through the
29, 1864. It stood garrison duty at Decatur until November 24th
when it moved to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, from November 24th
through the 27th, and participated in the Siege of Murfreesboro
from December 5th through the 12th
moved to Anderson on December
27th and assigned guard duties on
the Nashville and Chattanooga Railroad, until July 1865.
It than moved to Dechard, to
Murfreesboro, Tennessee again and garrisoned there until
September 6th when it mustered out and was discharged at
Detroit, Michigan on September 12, 1865.
Before his discharge, Shaw had been
promoted to Sergeant.
Shaw and Jessie had six children;
James born in Illinois in 1866, Mabel born in 1868, Nellie born
in Sacramento, California in 1872, Edwin born in 1875, Katie
born in 1878 and Arthur born in 1882. James, his youngest,
suffered badly from bronchitis as he did and needing to get to
warmer weather the family left for California; but ended up in
Portland, Oregon. Largely due to the wet cold weather his son
James died in Portland, Oregon. Finally making it south to a
warmer climate, they lost Mabel, his second child, who died at
Grass Valley, California.
The Shaw family eventually gave up
on the United States and migrated to Australia in 1885, setting
up house at Penrith, New South Wales. Shaw’s eyesight began to
go bad in 1897, which he blamed on a case of sunstroke he had
gotten a few weeks before being mustered out of military
service. As a result of his failing eyesight Shaw was unable to
continue his occupation as a tailor and applied to the U.S.
Government for an invalid pension. He made a trip to the U.S.
Consul in Sydney, appeared before Consular Orlando Baker and on
December 10, 1902 made a solemn declaration; in hopes a pension
would be granted.
He stated that “while fighting
General Jackson’s army at Bath in W. Virginia were compelled to
wade the Potomac at a place called Sir John’s Run and that night
to keep gard (sic) until reinforcements came we were in our wet
clothes. I caught a sever cold which resulted in Bronchitis and
was treated for this by our own Doctor at Cumberland Maryland.
He advised me to take a furlow (sic) home for better
treetment.(sic) I was there treated by Doctor Hathway who tended
me about three months. Thinking I was able for duty went to
Chicago to report and was discharged as not being fit for
service. A very urgent call was made for troops in the begning
(sic) of 64. I joined the 29th Mich. Vols. as Chief Musician and
although trubled (sic) now and then during the rest of the war I
stood it to the end and came back with the Regt at the finish of
the war. But the climate of Ill. Being too cold in winter I took
my Family and moved to California in 1872, was there until 85
and was treeted (sic) now and thenduring that time by Doctor
Rankin of Hollister Call. Being told Bronchitis was not known in
Australia we came heer (sic) in the spring of 1885 and I had
fair helth (sic) until about seven years ago when I began to
fail and am now worse than ever”
During the last years of his life,
being unable to do for himself, Shaw was cared for by his
daughters Nellie and Katie. James Burns Shaw died on December
29, 1915 at the age of 82; at his daughter Nellie’s home in
Bankstown, New South Wales. He was buried in the Church of
England’s Section 5 in Waverley Cemetery, grave numbers 660/663;
beside his son Arthur, who had died in 1886.