November 7, 1861
George Shepley, of Saco, was serving as United States District Attorney for Maine in 1860, when he met fellow lawyer Benjamin Butler at the 1860 Democratic National Convention in Baltimore, Maryland.
The two men became friends. That friendship would help both men. Butler, already prominent in the Massachusetts militia, sought and accepted command of the 8th Massachusetts Infantry Regiment at the outbreak of the Civil War.
Shepley, who had no military connection other than Butler, resumed service as U.S. Attorney for Maine.
Butler soon accepted an appointment by President Abraham Lincoln to the Union Army, was assigned to Fort Monroe, Virginia. While awaiting reassignment from Fort Monroe, Butler met with the President and lobbied him to have more Democrats appointed as officers of regiments. Persuaded, Lincoln directed Butler to act on his proposal and named him the commander of the New England Department, with the goal to be recruiting regiments from each state.
Visiting each state’s governor, Butler identified Democrats who he thought would be good officers.
In Maine, Butler had a short list. Shepley, 41, was at the top.
Gov. Israel Washburn met with both men, and appointed Shepley to be Colonel of the 12th Maine Infantry Regiment.
Shepley was grateful to his political friend and military mentor, Butler. He also regularly praised Gov. Washburn for the appointment, in part because he would need Washburn’s support in appointing and promoting regimental officers.
"Thank God! By the kindness and efficiency of the Executive and the General Staff, and the efficiency of my officers, and the patriotism of the people, the Twelfth Maine will be the first regiment in the field of the new ones authorized to be raised by Gen’l Butler," Shepley writes to Gov. Washburn in November, 1861.
The 12th Maine was mustered in that month, and almost immediately was sent to Mississippi to be part of Butler's Expeditionary Corps in the Union Army’s Department of the Gulf.
Shepley showed a flair for the job, and Butler promoted him to command the 3rd Brigade there. And, after New Orleans formally surrendered to the occupying Union Army in May, 1862, Butler named Shepley the city’s acting mayor and military commandant. The position was upgraded two months later when Shepley was appointed military governor of Louisiana. He remained in charge of all Union-held territory in Louisiana until March, 1864.
- Was Shepley’s appointment politically motivated?
- Benjamin Butler is described as a political general as opposed to a military general. How is that an accurate description?