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Henry E. Shepherd (Henry Elliot), 1844-1929
Narrative of Prison Life at Baltimore and Johnson's Island, Ohio
Baltimore: Commercial Ptg. & Sta. Co., 1917.


Henry Elliot Shepherd was born January 17, 1844, in Fayetteville, North Carolina, to Jesse George and Catherine Isabella Dobbin Shepherd. He studied at Donaldson Academy in Fayetteville before briefly attending Davidson College and the North Carolina Military Institute in Charlotte. In 1860, he entered the University of Virginia but left a year later to join the Confederate army, becoming a lieutenant in the 43rd North Carolina regiment at age seventeen. Federal troops captured him at the Battle of Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, and he remained a prisoner until the end of the conflict. After the war, Shepherd returned to North Carolina to teach in Louisburg. In 1868, he moved to Baltimore, Maryland to become a professor of history and English at City College. Shepherd's early scholarly works include History of the English Language (1874) and Historical Reader (1881). He later served as superintendent of Baltimore's public schools, but after resigning for political reasons, returned to the Carolinas as president of College of Charleston, a position that he held for fifteen years. He retired to Baltimore in 1897, but continued to write. He published Commentary on Tennyson's 'In Memoriam' (1908) and Representative Maryland Authors (1913), as well as numerous encyclopedia entries and journal articles. Though he never returned to his studies at the university, Shepherd was given an honorary master of arts degree from Lafayette College in 1873 and honorary doctor of law degrees from Davidson College and the University of North Carolina in 1883. He died in Baltimore on May 29, 1929.

Shepherd's final book, Narrative of Prison Life at Baltimore and Johnson's Island, Ohio (1917), is the first-hand account of his time as a prisoner of war. He explains that his goal in writing his story is "to present a simple statement of personal experiences, not impressions of inferences deduced from the narrative of others" (p. 12). Union forces captured Shepherd on July 5, 1863, after he had been shot in the knee two days before. He was held first at a hospital in Frederick City, Maryland, and then at Baltimore prison. On September 29, 1863, Shepherd and thirty-five other officers traveled by railroad to the Union prison at Johnson's Island, Ohio, where nearly three thousand Confederate prisoners were held.

Because his battle wound was serious, Shepherd spent most of his early confinement in the hospital wing of the Baltimore prison. He also reports that the sick and wounded were not given special treatment or additional rations and that hospital wards were hardly conducive to healing. He details the dreary, sickening, unsanitary conditions there, describing the hospital as an overcrowded "carnival of horrors" (p. 8).

Shepherd outlines four main points for his narrative. The first two are the inferiority of the prisoners' rations and their lack of protection from the elements. He reports that hunger was rampant among the prisoners. Union guards refused to pass on or stole the supplies that his friends and relatives attempted to send for his aid. The typical daily meal in the Johnson's Island prison consisted of half a loaf of hard bread and a small piece of salt pork—no vegetables and no coffee or tea. This meal ensured survival, but Shepherd reports that he always felt on the brink of starvation. In addition to food shortages, the prisoners received few blankets or clothes to protect them from the harsh Ohio winter. The room in which Shepherd was held with seventy other prisoners did not have a roof, so the inmates were often forced to burn their furniture for warmth.

His remaining points pertain to the prisoners' treatment. He recalls that they were allowed very little communication with southern friends and family, even when mail was conveyed under a truce flag. Letters were often confiscated if they didn't meet strict length criteria, and only the envelopes were delivered.

Shepherd concludes his narrative with an abbreviated list of the officers he met at the prisons and a poem by Major McKnight, aka Asa Hartz, that he first heard while at the Johnson's Island prison.

Works Consulted: The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography, Vol. 33, New York: James T. White and Company, 1947; Powell, William S., ed., The Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1979; Who Was Who Among North American Authors, 1921-1939, Vol. 2, Detroit: Gale, 1976.

Jennifer L. Larson

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