A Surgeon in a Unionist Prison
Dr. Joseph C. Shepard, born on Topsail Island, North Carolina, became Post Surgeon at Fort Fisher in 1864, and oversaw an earthen hospital beneath the Pulpit Battery of the massive fortress. During the second battle in mid-January 1865 against a massive Northern fleet with more cannon on its flagship than the entire fort contained, he dressed the leg wounds of Cape Fear District Gen. W.H.C. Whiting, and a short time later the left chest wound of fort commander Col. William Lamb.
After Gen. Whiting arrived at the fort before the second attack, he told Col. Lamb that he had come to share his fate as Gen. Braxton Bragg had “sacrificed’ the fort and its garrison. No reinforcements would be forthcoming.
Dr. Shepard was imprisoned at Governors Island at New York for six weeks, then exchanged and sent to Greensboro, North Carolina. There he cared for the wounded at a Presbyterian church converted to a hospital, and rejoined his family at Scott’s Hill, north of Wilmington, after Gen. Johnston’s surrender at Durham.
He wrote the following from his Governors Island cell:
“I suppose it was inevitable – the War, that is. Our customs were different from those of the North. But who is to say which way was right, which way was wrong. All I know is that as I sit here in this Unionist prison on Governor’s Island, I wonder if I will ever see my family again.
Confined to these prison walls, I have nothing to do but think. I cannot bear to think of the past several years and the ugliness of the War, so my mind drifts back to the year 1855. I had just graduated from the University of North Carolina and was preparing to study medicine in New York. Life was so simple then.
A smile embraces my lips when I think back to May 8th, 1861, my wedding day, and envision my beautiful bride Mrs. Henrietta Foy Shepard. Although a happy day for us both, my wife was in mourning over the death of her father, Joseph Mumford Foy of Poplar Grove Plantation, who died just one month earlier. A great man he was, Mr. Foy. His death was a great loss to us all.
I had great reservations about leaving my wife so soon after our wedding, but my burning desire to further my education in medicine took me to Paris, France. Shortly thereafter, war erupted between the States back home and my loyalty to the South compelled me to return and offer my services.
Although I had originally enlisted for twelve months, an act of Confederate Congress dated April 16, 1862, extended my period of enlistment to three years or the duration of the war. Isn’t it interesting that the war came to an end exactly three months before the end of the extended enlistment period.
Oh, this cell is so cold and damp. How I wish I were with Henrietta and my daughter, Gertrude, basking in the heat of a warm, glowing fire. God willing, that day will come.
War is hell. And the ravages seem hardly reparable. But it is over. God only knows what’s in store for us now. Time will tell. I have once again read the surrender of General Lee to Lt. General Grant. We lost – but at least it’s over.
I’ve heard rumor that the failure of General Braxton Bragg to send in replacement troops was responsible for the fall of Fort Fisher. I don’t know if there is truth to this, but still, it’s over. Praise be to God Almighty with a prayer that our families will never have to endure this living hell again.”
(Reflections of Dr. Joseph Christopher Shepard, Surgeon, CSA, Governors Island Prison, Winter 1865)