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Shipman Family Correspondence
The Shipman correspondence was occasioned by the Civil War service of Jesse Albert Shipman (c1843-1863), for two years a private in the Confederate States army. Shipman was the oldest child (and only son) of Andrew Robinson Shipman (c1820-1906) and Sarah Tow (or Towe), of Henderson County, North Carolina. On 20 May 1861 Albert Shipman enlisted in a cavalry company then forming at Asheville, the Buncombe Rangers, who that October would be incorporated into the Confederate army as Co. G, 1st Regiment North Carolina Cavalry. Shipman served in the regiment (in the Department of Northern Virginia, October 1861 to March 1862; the Department of North Carolina, March to May 1862; and the Army of Northern Virginia) until being fatally wounded in a cavalry skirmish near Martinsburg, West Virginia, 19 July 1863. He died three days later.
At the time of his departure for the army Albert Shipman was living on a Henderson County farm owned by his paternal grandfather Edward Shipman (c1776-1864), then over eighty years of age. The property is valued at $1,500 in the 1860 Federal census. It is likely that Andrew Shipman, who also lived on the farm but is not recorded as owning land, managed this property, and oversaw the ten slaves (also owned by his father) who resided on it. Henderson is a highland county, located just west of the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains, along the South Carolina border. The $1,500 cash value of the Shipman farm is rather on a par with the average farm value ($1,354) for all North Carolina's mountain counties in 1860. But the ten bondsmen were far less typical. In 1860 only 10.3 per cent of North Carolina highland heads of households held slaves, and fewer than 2 per cent held ten or more. The same figures for Henderson County are 13.7 and 2.4 per cent. And those statistics are at least marginally inflated by the inclusion of slaveholding "summer people"—seasonal residents who traveled to the mountains (and to Henderson County in particular) to escape the oppressive Low Country summers. For native yeomen like the Shipmans (whose direct forebears had moved into the area in the eighteenth century) ten slaves were a substantial number—more, one supposes, than could have been kept productive working the relatively modest family farm. It is possible, even likely, that the Shipmans profited from their slaves by hiring them out for work off the property, agricultural or nonagricultural. This was a not uncommon practice elsewhere in the South, but it was especially characteristic of the slave economy in the mountains, as John C. Inscoe, in his study of slavery in highland North Carolina, has pointed out. In 1860 seven of the ten Shipman slaves were boys or young men between the ages of 12 and 28, likely deemed capable of the most demanding physical labor.
The Shipman family's situation midway through the war, a week or so before Albert's death, is evoked in the draft of a letter written to North Carolina Governor Zebulon B. Vance, seeking Andrew's exemption from state service. The draft bears no signature, and is in an unknown hand. Vance himself was a native of Buncombe County, just north of Henderson:
govner vance dear sir owing to the condition of Andrew R Shipmans family we the under signed do ask you to exempt him from state service the said shipman is in his 44 year has only one son which was only 18 years old when the war Began he volunteert for 3 years or during the war in the 1st Redg of N C cav his wife is dead and he has 4 little girls and noboddy to leave with them his Father is 85 years old and A criple and will hav no one els to controle his negroes or protect him and his home 13 July 1863
The Shipman correspondence includes ten letters directed by Albert Shipman to his father Andrew, and one more to Nancy, the oldest of his five sisters (b. c1845); two others are jointly addressed. Sarah Tow Shipman, Albert's mother, had died in 1860. The four earliest letters (2 June 1861 to 5 October 1861) were written while Shipman and the company were yet in training, at Asheville and subsequently at Fort Beauregard in Warren County. When ready for active service the 1st North Carolina Cavalry was sent to Virginia, where it spent much of the winter on outpost and picket duty around Manassas; three letters (23 October 1861 to 22 March 1862) date from this period. Then came several months in Kinston, North Carolina (one letter, 22 May 1862), followed by a return to Virginia during the Peninsula campaign (one letter, 19 June 1862). One brief letter (September 1862) was sent in the aftermath of Antietam. Shipman's final three letters date from 1 May to 2 June 1863, when Stuart's cavalry was gathered in Culpeper County, Virginia, prior to the Confederate advance into Pennsylvania.
Also in the collection are five letters to Andrew Shipman from other members of Co. G, postdating Albert's death. The earliest of these (20 July 1863) was written the day after the Martinsburg fight by Pvt. A. P. Corn of Henderson County. It relays the news of Albert's wounding but is unsure about his fate, since ". . . the yankees took him off before we could get him out . . . ." There follow two short letters (25 July and 27 August 1863) from Sgt. J. K. P. ("Polk") Shipman (c1845-1864), a cousin of Albert's from Buncombe County. Polk, who was not present at Martinsburg, asks Andrew about the disposal of Albert's horse, and later attempts to respond to inquiries about his death and burial. Finally, there are two letters from the following February (1864): one from Lt. Thomas L. Matthias, dealing with the matter of Albert's back pay, and a second, personal letter (5 February 1864) written over the signatures "E J. H." and "J Stepp". E. J. H. is almost certainly Pvt. Elias J. Hestiler (b. c1842), of Buncombe County, another cousin of Albert's. J. Stepp is Pvt. Jackson Stepp (b. c1827), also from Buncombe and a man who finds frequent mention in Albert Shipman's letters. The letter is in the hand (and voice) of Hestiler, and is most notable for the depth of its disenchantment with affairs in the regiment.