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William H. Sheppard was born on March 1, 1845 at Union Town, Fayette County, Pennsylvania where prior to his enlistment into the military, Sheppard worked as a farmer and a blacksmith. On August 19, 1862 at the age of seventeen Sheppard was mustered into Company H of the 142nd Pennsylvania Infantry at Connellsville, Pennsylvania, as a private.

Recruits of the 142nd Pennsylvania Infantry gathered at Camp Curtin, Pennsylvania during the month of August, 1862, where they were mustered into service as they arrived. On the 1st of September a regimental organization was formed by a choice of field officers: Colonel Robert P. Cummins, of Somerset county, Lieutenant Colonel Alfred B. M'Calmont, of Venango county and Major John Bradley, of Luzerne county. Company H was formed of men from Fayette County. 

On the day following its organization, the 142d was ordered to Washington, D.C.  and upon arrival set about in the construction of Fort Massachusetts, then Fort Stevens and in the digging of rifle-pits and cutting the forest in front of each; which continued until the latter part of the month. It then moved to Frederick, Maryland, where it was detailed to guard the town, erect hospital tents and care for the wounded returning from the bloody fields of South Mountain and Antietam.

In early October the regiment was ordered to report to General Meade, in command of the Pennsylvania Reserves, which then formed the Third Division of the First Corps. The division was then deployed to Fredericksburg and the 142d prepared for battle. At the time, Colonel Cummins was sick and in the hospital, but when he heard that a battle was imminent, he quickly made his way to the front, arriving just as the fighting began. The 142d was immediately pinned down by heavy Confederate fire and unable to return fire due to the brigade commander. Out of five hundred and fifty men who had advanced, two hundred fifty were shot down in the first hour; with Colonel Cummins having his horse shot from under him and Major Bradley receiving a mortal wound.  

It was at the Battle of Fredericksburg, Virginia on December 13, 1862, that Sheppard received a severe gunshot wound to his right thigh and spent considerable time in the Hinley Hospital at Washinton D.C.. During that battle he also lost his three best friends. In August 1863 Sheppard returned to his regiment but was deemed unfit for duty and sent to additional hospitals in Washington, Baltimore and Pittsburg; until he was  transferred to the Veteran Reserve Corps in January 1864.

On May 4, 1864 the 142nd participated in the Wilderness Campaign and despite heavy losses held its portion of the line from noon on May 4th  until the end of the day on  May 5th, when it was forced to retreat. On the morning of the 6th however, though they were in reserve, the brigade in which the 142nd was a part made a counterattack and forced the Confederates from their newly acquired positions. After fighting at the Wilderness, the regiment moved to Spotsylvania Court House, receiving heavy artillery fire, then they moved on the 21st  to the North Anna River and Bethesda Church, on Tolopotomy Creek, where it was at the front of the fighting; receiving  flattering recognition for its gallantry from General Cutler.

On the June 6th the brigade arrived at Cold Harbor and was transferred to the First Division under General Joshua Chamberlain. There it spent a week in the Chickahomin swamps before moving on towards Petersburg. In route it made raids on the Weldon Railroad, destroying some twenty miles of track, engaged the enemy at Peeble's Farm and then again went into winter quarters. It remained in winter quarters until the beginning of the spring campaign, except for one engagement on February 6, 1865, during which the regiment received heavy losses.  On the March 30th it left camp by way of the Quaker Road and pushed the Confederates back from the Boydton Plank Road. On April 1st the 142d again engaged Confederate forces at Five Forks, and again suffered heavy losses. The enemy was defeated, however, with many prisoners being taken. The Confederate Army was soon in full retreat and after eight days of rapid marching, General Lee was forced to surrender. The 142nd was present for the Confederate surrender at Appomattox Court House and after a two weeks rest, where the regiment was placed in charge of rebel property, it proceeded to Petersburg, through Richmond and on to the area surrounding Washington. On the May 29, 1865 the regiment was officially mustered out of service. Sheppard, however, was transferred to Company F of the 6th Regiment of the Veteran Reserve Corps and was discharged at Cincinnati, Ohio by General Order , on July 10, 1865.

Sheppard during his period of service fought under numerous famous Union leaders, including Generals George McLelland, Ambrose Burnside, Wadsworth and “Fighting Joe” Wheeler.  With the assistance of Captain Joshua Dushane, who was an eye-witness when he received his wound at Fredericksburg, Sheppard was able to achieve an early pension in the sum of $6 (US) a month.

After receiving a discharge, Sheppard left Pennsylvania traveling to California, where he joined the U.S. Navy. The USS “St. Mary” was a Union sloop of war that served with the Pacific Squadron seeking out Confederate raiders and at the same time protecting Union merchant ships. She operated in the Pacific Ocean until 1868 before putting into Mare Island where she remained for four years, before returning to active service in the fall of 1870. Muster rolls for the USS “St. Mary” dated September 30, 1870, reveal Sheppard signed on board the USS “St. Mary” as a machinist at Mare Island on July 9, 1870, with the rank of Warrant Officers Cook. Records reveal he also served as a blacksmith on board, was single at the time and had no family in the colonies. The Muster Roll dated December 31, 1871, shows he disembarked at Sydney, Australia on December 9, 1871 at his own request.

Henry took a wife, one Elizabeth Sloan, in the year 1871. Then on July 17, 1880, Prisoner Registers in Victoria reveal that Sheppard was sentenced to a term of one month’s hard labor and/or a fine for “indecent language, resisting a constable and a first time conviction for assault”.  Soon after that, in 1879, Sheppard settled in the town of Hay, New South Wales; a center for sheep and fruit production and the site of a Cobb & Company Coach Factory. Being an experienced blacksmith, Sheppard quickly became a valuable asset to the community.

On June 28, 1898 Sheppard submitted a pension application  in which he gave the name of his former wife as Elizabeth Sloan; stating he knew nothing regarding her death or divorce, or the date or place of either. The New South Wales Registry of Birth, Deaths and Marriages in registration number 1887/3801 confirmed he did indeed marry Elizabeth in 1871; who died around 1901.  The same records revealed Sheppard also married Jenny Guernsey, a widow with three daughters, at Hay, New South Wales on April 11, 1887. Sheppard once met an old compatriot, George Redmond who had served in his company, when the American fleet made a visit to Sydney and around 1920 he made another trip to visit with his old friend. It was to be his last. William Henry Sheppard died on October 11, 1934 at the age of 89 and his obituary appeared in the “Riverine Grazier” in Hay, New South Wales. Sheppard was buried in the local Hay Cemetery, C/E Row AE Lot 18 in an unmarked grave. In 1990 a marble headstone was received from the American Veterans Administration in Washington DC and placed on his gravesite.

 

Birth, Marriage and Death Records, New South Wales

Hay Cemetery Records, New South Wales

“History of Pennsylvania Volunteers, 1861-1865”, Samuel P. Bates

National Archives, Washington, D.C.

“Official Records of the War of the Rebellion”

Pennsylvania Regimental Histories

Pennsylvania State Archives, Harrisburg, Pa.

 “Riverine Grazier”, Centenary Edition, newspaper, 1931

U.S. Veterans Administration, Washington, D.C.

 

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