By Jared Olar
Local History Specialist
Last week we reviewed the history of the 29th U.S. Colored Infantry, which was the State of Illinois’ African-American regiment during the Civil War. As we noted then, 11 men from Tazewell County served in the 29th U.S.C.I., eight of them from Pekin – and five of them were present with their regiment at the first Juneteenth in Galveston, Texas.
This week we’ll take a closer look at one of those 11 – namely, Thomas Shipman of Co. D, a sharpshooter who gave his life for his country during the Appomattox Campaign in the Spring of 1865.
Longtime readers of this weblog may find Thomas Shipman’s surname to be familiar, because previously we have here told the story of Moses Shipman of Elm Grove Township, Tazewell County, an African-American employee of a white Revolutionary War veteran named David Shipman.
Was Thomas Shipman related to Moses? We cannot be absolutely sure, but it is very likely that Thomas was one of the sons of Moses Shipman. The reasons it is likely are: 1) Thomas’ Civil War service records say he was born in Pekin in or around 1841, which is the right period of time for Thomas to have been a son of Moses, and 2) there was only one African-American Shipman family living in Tazewell County at that time.
Further information about Thomas can be gleaned from U.S. Census records and Peoria County records.
Thomas first appears on record in the U.S. Census returns for the city of Peoria, dated 15 Aug. 1850, which show “Thos. G. L. Shipman,” age 16, “mulatto” (i.e., of black and white ancestry), living in the household of Harvey Green, 40, laborer, and Mary Ann Green, 27. Also living in this household were George W. Lee, 5, Juliett Lee, 4, Richard Toombs, 41, Charles W. Shipman, 23, and David Shipman, 24.
This census record is significant, because it provides additional information that supports the identification of Thomas Shipman as a son of Moses Shipman of Tazewell County. To begin with, Charles W., David, and Thomas were almost certainly brothers. Next, court records located by Susan Rynerson of the Tazewell County Genealogical & Historical Society show that Moses Shipman had a children named Mary Ann and David, who must be the David Shipman found in this census record.
Another indication that Charles, David, and Thomas were brothers in the same family is that they were living with Mary Ann Green, who is known from marriage records to have been a Shipman as well. Tazewell County marriage records show that Mary Ann Shipman married a certain James Lee on 12 July 1843. Thus, George W. Lee and Juliett Lee of this census record must be the children of Mary Ann by James Lee. By the time of the 1850 census, though, Mary Ann was remarried to Harvey Green, for her first husband James perhaps had died. Mary Ann and Harvey later had a daughter Alice Green, as shown in the 1860 census (by which time Mary Ann had again remarried to Charles Granby, as shown by Tazewell County marriage records).
As an interesting aside, Mary Ann’s son George W. Lee later married Mary Jane Costley, daughter of Benjamin and Nance (Legins) Costley of Pekin and sister of Pvt. William Henry Costley of the 29th U.S. Colored Infantry, Co. B. George himself also served in a colored regiment during the Civil War, but in George’s case he ended up being assigned to the 55th Massachusetts Colored Infantry, Co. H. So, our Pvt. Thomas Shipman was related to the Costleys of Pekin.
Thomas was also related by marriage to the Ashbys of Liverpool Township, Fulton County, who provided four men to the 29th U.S.C.I. Peoria County marriage records show that David Shipman, who was almost certainly Thomas’ brother, married Elizabeth Ashby on 28 Jan. 1849. From available records on the Ashby family, it seems most probable that Elizabeth was a sister of Pvt. Nathan Ashby of Pekin, of the 29th U.S. Colored Infantry, Co. G., one of four Ashby men of Pekin who served in Co. G. Nathan himself was very probably a son of Fulton County’s first African-American physician, Dr. James Ashby (1808-1850).
After his enumeration in the 1850 U.S. Census, Thomas Shipman next appears in Peoria County marriage records, which show that on 27 June 1859, he married Martha Ann Powell, born circa 1840 in Indiana. Then the U.S. Census returns for the city of Peoria, dated 5 July 1860, show Thomas Shipman, 21, laborer, born in Illinois, with Martha A. Shipman, 20, born in Indiana, married within the year, and Franklin Shipman, 3 months old. Thomas, Martha, and Franklin are all classified as “mulatto” and unable to read or write. The 1863 Peoria City Directory lists Thomas as a laborer then residing at 77 S. Washington St.
When the call went out from President Abraham Lincoln a few years later for the states of the Union to organize regiments of colored troops during the Civil War, Thomas Shipman was one of the African-American men of Peoria and Tazewell counties who answered the call of duty. He registered for the draft in June 1863, and his Civil War service records show that he enlisted in the 29th U.S.C.I. on 21 Sept. 1864 at Springfield, being assigned to Co. D.
Thomas’ service records show that he was a sharpshooter, and was present for active duty with his regiment for the remainder of 1864 and the first months of 1865. He thus would have fought in the Battle of Hatcher’s Run in Virginia in October of 1864, would have served on the Bermuda Hundred front and before Richmond, Va., and took part in the Appomattox Campaign in late March 1865.
Thomas then made the ultimate sacrifice, catching a bullet to his skull at a location near Hatcher’s Run on 31 March 1865. His name is engraved on the Tazewell County Veterans Memorial on the Tazewell County Courthouse lawn.
It is not known whether Thomas was buried in Virginia where he fell, or if his body was brought back to his widow and son in Peoria. His widow Martha did apply for a Civil War pension on 12 May 1865, however.