Even though the Sanitary Commission and similar soldier aid groups often handled requests for furloughs and other issues related to injured, ill, or needy soldiers, Brig. Gen. George F. Shepley received many similar requests -- especially from soldiers in the 12th Maine Infantry that he had commanded, and from soldiers in other Maine regiments stationed in Louisiana.
In addition, soldiers and their families wrote to Shepley with other types of requests as well.
Here, Pvt. Charles Billings of the 12th Maine asked Shepley for help in getting a commission that would help him advance.
Billings, of Waterford, wrote, "could I not serve my country as well and do much better for myself if I had a chance?
Issues at home often led soldiers to seek discharge or furloughs.
Joseph Baker of Augusta asked Shepley to intercede to release John Frazier from his duties with the 12th Maine because he was needed at home.
Frazier of Portland, who, according to the letter, had studied law in Shepley's office, enlisted in Co. B of the 12th Maine at age 19 in November 1861.
His father, John A. Frazier, later enlisted in the 12th Maine and was ill at the General Hospital in Augusta. The father, through Baker, argued that the son was needed at home and that the son's duty had changed since he enlisted and was "less desirable to him."
Writing on the back states that Shepley could not effect a discharge with a surgeon's determination of disability.
The younger Frazier pursued the issue himself -- with the same outcome.
Shepley, responding to a plea from a friend of the family, received word that the surgeon could not certify a discharge for a family issue in Maine.
A note on the back of a letter from the younger Frazier letter suggests that Frazier could not be discharged without a surgeon's note of disability.
In another case of hardship at home, another solider apparently was denied relief from duty.
George A. Perkins of Carthage, who enlisted in Co. A. of the 12th Maine Regiment in November 1861, at age 35, asked for help in getting a furlough because "my wife and family have been turned out of doors and is in every poor circumstances."
Perkins sought a furlough of two months. He apparently later sought a discharge. He died on disease on Feb. 9, 1864, a common fate for Civil War soldiers.
After Perkins sought a discharge, George M. Sternberg, acting medical director of the Department of the Gulf, wrote Shepley that he found no disability in the case of Pvt. George A. Perkins and therefore could not support a discharge.
Military discipline was a new concept to many who had joined regiments, perhaps in a flurry of patriotism, or hoping to improve their economic conditions.
The reality of taking orders and facing little choice was not always easy.
In April 1863, Charles Nealley wrote from Portsmouth Navy Yard about his son Pvt. Charles E. Nealley who had apparently deserted from the 12th Maine.
Nealley, of South Berwick, had enlisted in November 1861 at age 19 in Co. B. He was moved into the Signal Corps when his regiment got to New Orleans in early 1862.
His father wrote that the son liked the assignment, but wanted to return to his own regiment when a new commander took over the Signal Corps.
When Nealley was denied his request to return to the 12th Maine, he deserted and joined the crew of the Owasco,, a Union gunboat that was part of the blockade at New Orleans. Nealley joined under an assumed name.
His father asked Shepley to allow the son to go back to his given name and not be considered a deserter, since he was still serving the Union cause.
Nealley was mustered out of the 12th Maine on June 15, 1863 and enlisted as an "ordinary seaman" in August 1864.
In August 1863, Abby W. Scott, writing from Shepley's hometown of Portland, sought a furlough for her ill husband.
John M. Scott of Co. G, 13th Maine Regiment, was ill at the Hospital at Fort Jackson.
Scott, of Augusta, enlisted on January 16, 1862 at age 30. He died in New Orleans November 25, 1863.
Noah Smith, a businessman in Calais, wrote seeking information about Pvt. John Feeney of Co. K of the 12th Maine Regiment.
Feeney's wife was a domestic servant in the Smith home and had not heard from her husband for some time.
Smith enclosed a letter to Feeney that he asked Shepley to forward.
John Feeney does not appear among the Adjutant General's records of the 12th Maine.
Information about soldiers often was hard to come by -- families were not always sure where the soldiers were or what their status was.
B.H. Mace, a lawyer in Bangor, wrote on Oct. 17, 1863, seeking information for the family of Sgt. Benjamin M. Kelley, Co. I, 28th Regiment Maine Volunteers.
Kelley, of Orono, was 44 when he enlisted as a corporal in October 1862. He was promoted to sergeant in November 1862.
Kelley was in a hospital in Baton Rouge when his regiment returned to Maine and the family had not heard from or about him for several months. Mace was hopeful Shepley, a Maine native with ties to Bangor, could get information.
On the back of the letter, officials at the Baton Rouge hospital wrote that they had no patient of that name and they forwarded the letter to the Convalescent Hospital.
Officials there reported that Kelley died on August 27, 1863, of chronic diarrhea.
Disease was a far more common killer than battlefield injuries during the war.
On Nov. 2, 1863, Pvt. John N. Scott of Co. G, Maine 13th Infantry, wrote to Shepley seeking his help getting a furlough to visit his wife in Maine, who was quite ill with consumption and not expected to live. Scott also was ill and in St. James Hospital in New Orleans.
Shepley, on a visit to Maine earlier in the fall, had spoken with Scott's wife about the furlough.
Scott was 30 years old and living in Augusta when he enlisted in January 1862. He died of his illness at the end of November, less than a month after writing the letter.
A.W. Longfellow request for soldier's effects, Portland, 1863
Item 76194 info
Maine Historical Society
Alexander W. Longfellow of Portland wrote to Shepley on behalf of Silvanus Baker of Yarmouth who sought to retrieve the belongings and funds of his son, George O. Baker, who reportedly had died at St. James Hospital in New Orleans.
Longfellow wrote that an acquaintance of the younger Baker had written about the youth's death.
Longfellow said that Silvanus Baker was for many years his steward on the coast survey and "a very worthy man."
He sought Shepley's help in getting the money and effects returned.
Notes on the back of the letter from the assistant surgeon report that Baker was never at the St. James Hospital. Nevertheless, military records state that he died of disease on May 13, 1863 in New Orleans.
George A. Baker was 18 when he enlisted in the 1st Light Artillery Regiment on Dec. 18, 1861. The letter was written in November 1863.
As evidenced by Mary Davis's letter to Shepley, soldiers sometimes enlisted expecting to do particular jobs. If they were assigned another duty, they sometimes believed they should be able to leave the army.
Mary O. Davis of Portland sought Shepley's help in having her son, Pvt. Horace O. Davis of "Baker's Cavalry" (the 1st Maine Cavalry) discharged.
She wrote that her son had been promised he could serve as a musician, but after an illness, that position was no longer open. She said Pvt. Baker was unfit to be a soldier.
Davis had enlisted as a musician in Co. A of the 25th Maine Infantry in September 1862. He was "returned to ranks" on Jan 10, 1863 -- in other words, moved from the rank of musician to the rank of private.
When the 25th Maine was mustered out in July 1863, Davis's enlistment probably was not up and he was transferred to the cavalry unit.
Request for Gen. Shepley to find relative, Richmond, Va., 1865
Item 76622 info
Maine Historical Society
Not all the requests Shepley received related to Maine soldiers -- or even to soldiers.
After Lee's surrender, while serving as military governor of Richmond in 1865, Shepley received a letter from Aaron B. Reid of Haverstraw, New York, asking Shepley to get a letter to Reid's sister, a resident of Richmond.
Reid wrote, "I have some relatives among the mis-guided & unfortunate citizens of Richmond..."
Reid also praised Shepley for his previous work as military governor of Louisiana, predicting that "the same urbanity, justice & kindness of heart, which caused you to be such a favorite among all classes at New Orleans, will win for you the same admiration at Richmond."
This slideshow contains 13 items