Confederates from Iowa:

Not to Defend, but to Understand

Gentlemen, Don’t do this: A Cautionary Valentine’s Day Tale

On their wedding day, Nancy and John Shipley had great hopes and dreams.  They married amidst the gloomy financial Panic of 1857.  Twenty-five-year-old John and 19-year-old Nancy thought the best was yet to come.

But hard times became harder.  Some men lost fortunes, others lost land.  A history of neighboring Scott County notes, “Work became very scarce.”

Heading to Memphis

John and Nancy headed to Memphis, Tennessee, a town that was fairly booming.  Companies were engaged in construction, and steamboat manufacturing, repair, and reconditioning.

And baby makes three

Nancy conceived and came back to Muscatine to deliver their son, William Everett Shipley, born in June 1860.  Nancy and the baby rejoined John in Memphis.  Nancy felt their marriage was “happy and contented.”

Unidentified family (Library of Congress}

Back to Muscatine

After Lincoln was elected president, South Carolina threatened to secede in mid-November 1860.  John sent Nancy and five-month-old William back to her parents’ home in Muscatine.  She supposed it was “because of the political troubles.”   Nancy’s parents supported her and the infant.

Missing her husband

Nancy missed her husband, so she returned to Memphis five months later, in April 1861, around the time of the firing upon Fort Sumter.  John immediately sent her back to Muscatine, saying she “might find it difficult to get back.”  A few weeks later, John enlisted in the Tennessee Infantry.  He stopped sending letters, and he didn’t send any child support.

What happened to Nancy and John?

Nancy’s father went to Confederate-held Tennessee, the following spring of 1862.  He saw John’s “manner and action” and thought “his affections were entirely alienated from his wife and child.”  His conclusion?  John was devoted to “the Southern confederacy.”

Mutual friends said that John had been promoted.  He was now a captain and Acting Commissary of Subsistence (who provided food to soldiers).  But he still didn’t send money to support Nancy and their son.  Of course, John was paid in Confederate dollars that Nancy couldn’t spend.

Unidentified Confederate soldier (Library of Congress)

Bad press

The Muscatine Journal reported that John was in the Confederate Army, and had been captured at Island Number 10.  (He wasn’t captured.)

The Journal also stated that the 11th Iowa Infantry lost half of their officers at Pittsburgh Landing.  Local passions burned against rebels and their families and supporters.

The marriage ends

The next year, on January 14, 1863, Nancy filed for divorce, claiming “desertion and abandonment of her and their child.”  Her lawyer said that John was serving “a nefarious cause.”

Nancy believed that John had sent her back to Muscatine in order to “free himself” from his responsibilities, and to aid the Confederacy.  She obtained a divorce on June 1, 1863, while John was in Shelbyville, Tennessee.  Nancy soon married another Muscatine man.

John’s motives are a mystery.  One descendant implied that John’s drinking was a factor in the divorce.

Captured!

Two years later, Robert E. Lee surrendered, and Jefferson Davis fled Richmond, heading for the Deep South.  In the manhunt that ensued, Union Brigadier General W.J. Palmer captured John near Athens, Georgia, on May 8, 1865.

Post-war career in Muscatine

After the war, John returned to Muscatine and worked as a bookkeeper and insurance salesman.  In 1893, he was elected to one term as Muscatine City Treasurer.

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Thank you for reading my blog!  This article was originally posted in early February 2016.  Please leave any comments below.

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4 Comments

  1. howard newton

    the world has not changed when it comes to personal problems and marriage breakdown

  2. Kathleen Parsons

    Hmm. Did John ever try to contact Nancy after he returned from captivity? Did John care that his child was being raised by someone else (and possibly under the new husband’s name)? Did John remarry himself, 25 years later, after becoming the Muscatine City Treasurer? The mind spins! But you are a Civil War historian and cannot answer every question. Your title, therefore, begins quite succinctly: ‘Gentlemen: Don’t Do This’… Thanks for such an insightful exploration of one rogue soldier’s life.

    • David Connon

      Hi, Kathy. You ask very good questions. I can answer only one of them. When John was about 49 years old, in 1883, he married 27-year-old Frances M. Moses Chittenden. They got married in Muscatine. Thank you for reading my blog!

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