A Civil War Biography

George Foster Shepley

Shepley was born 1 January 1819 in Saco, Maine. He attended Harvard then Dartmouth College graduating in 1837 from the latter. He read the law in 1839, was admitted to the bar, and practiced in Portland until named US District Attorney for Maine in 1848. He served as district attorney until 1849, then again from 1853 until 1861. He was a delegate to the Democratic National Convention from Maine in 1860.

When the war started he helped organize the 12th Maine which mustered in on 16 November 1861 with Shepley as colonel. The 12th was sent to Mississippi and joined Benjamin Butler's Expeditionary Corps. Shepley, a political friend of Butler's, was given command of the 3rd brigade in the Department of the Gulf in March 1862.

After the surrender of New Orleans Shepley was named acting mayor, military commandant, of the captured city on 20 May 1862. He would remain acting mayor until 11 July 1862 when he was replaced by Godfrey Weitzel. Shepley was appointed military governor of Louisiana on 3 June 1862 and brigadier general of volunteers on 18 July 1862. He remained in charge of all Union held territory in Louisiana until 4 March 1864 when Michael Hahn, who had been elected governor to head the Union government in the state, took office. During Shepley's tenure as governor he actually did much of what Butler was later blamed for doing. The most notable was granting a blanket pardon which virtually emptied the state prisons of dangerous criminals.

In the spring of 1864 Shepley was sent to command the District of Eastern Virginia. He remained in command there until July 1864 when he was attached to the XXV Corps, the Army of the James, then commanded by Godfrey Weitzel. In early 1865 Shepley was named chief of staff of the XXV Corps. On 3 April 1865, after Richmond fell, he was named military governor of the Confederate capital. He remained in that position until 1 July 1865, the day he resigned from the army.

Following the war Shepley returned to the practice of law. In 1868 he was a delegate to the Republican National Convention. President Ulysses S. Grant on 8 December 1869 nominated Shepley to the bench as a judge of the US Circuit Court for the First Circuit. He was confirmed by the US Senate and took his seat on the bench on 22 December 1869. He served on the bench until his death from Asiatic cholera on 20 July 1878.

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