“I Stumbled Across Your Picture Today”: Nathaniel Shoup of the 84th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry

Sometimes an old photograph stops everything.

Who was this person? What was his story?

Nathaniel Shoup, Company C, 84th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry Regiment (Library of Congress)

According to the 1850 U. S. Census, Nathaniel Shoup lived in Bedford, Pennsylvania, with his family. Nine-year-old Nathaniel attended school and probably had a list of chores before and after. His father, Samuel (age 32), was a farmer whose property was valued at $186.00. A closer look at the census page suggests that Samuel might have been farming with his brother; it appears that Nathaniel probably grew up surrounded by cousins, some aunts, an uncle, and probably grandparents. His mother, Rebecca (age 31), was living and probably busy looking after her children. Nathaniel seems to have the oldest child, and in 1850, had three little sisters: Elizabeth (age 8), Sarah (age 6), and Barbara (age 3).[i]

1850 Census (Ancestry.com)

The Bedford Gazette on March 26, 1858, reported that Nathaniel’s father won a local election to the post of School Inspector, suggesting that the family was active in their community and valued education.[ii]

The 1860 U. S. Census listed Nathaniel Shoup still living in Bedford County, though the family may have moved into the town of Liberty. The 19-year-old was listed as a “farm hand”, that he had been to school, and could read and write. His father still lived, but his mother Rebecca was not listed; instead, another woman named Matilda seems to have been recorded as Samuel’s wife. It is possible that Matilda is Rebecca’s middle name, but Matilda is listed as two years older than Samuel, posing the possibility that Nathaniel’s mother died and Matilda was his stepmother? Sisters Elizabeth, Sarah, and Barbara still lived at home, and Elizabeth was employed as a “housemaid.” Another household resident was Jacob Flack who was a carpenter; perhaps he boarded with the family and/or was a relative.[iii]

1860 Census (Ancestry.com)

Nathaniel enlisted as a private in Company C of the 84th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry on October 1, 1861.[iv] The regiment organized on October 23 and encamped at Camp Curtin near Harrisburg to train and complete their recruiting. On December 23, 1861, the unit officially mustered into service for three years under command of Colonel William G. Murray. The officers of Company C were Captain Abraham J. Crissman, First Lieutenant B. M. Morrow, and Second Lieutenant Charles O’Neill.[v]

In the words of the veteran who penned the post-war regimental history, “Your Regiment was to you the command which centered your soldier life.”[vi] Like thousands of other young men, Nathaniel made the adjustments from civilian life to soldiering. Whether that transition came easily for him or not is not known at this time; letters or other primary sources have not been identified in online records or online local history library finding aids as of the time of this blog post’s writing. Presumably, Nathaniel would have written to his parents and sisters. If he did, his letters probably would have focused on the details within his sight or perhaps military rumors that he heard. He would not have been invited to strategy meetings; he would have lived, thought, worried, and laughed at the things that happened within his mess, within his company, and maybe within his regiment. “Not many of us had the opportunity to know very much outside the limits of the Company; and fewer of us beyond the limits of the Regiment. And it was well for good service that the majority of soldiers were content with the work assigned them, and gave but little heed to the details of location of armies or corps, and but little thought to the place of divisions or brigades.”[vii]

Assuming that Nathaniel was with his regiment for the majority of the first half of 1862, he started the new year marching through bitter wind and snow as the regiment headed to their post near Hancock, Maryland, along the Potomac River and across from (soon to be) West Virginia. “The first in the long series of the weary, footsore, leg-tiring, patience-testing and body-exhausting marches which were to be taken.”[viii] In a rush, the regiment received their guns and hurried to cross the river and trek to Bath/Berkley Springs where they picketed a mountain road and spied “Stonewall” Jackson’s troops advancing in the Romney Expedition. Pulled off the picket line before any serious fighting, the regiment recrossed the river and started assembling their soldierly equipment. “It may be stated that the Regiment [first] crossed the river without belts, cartridge boxes or cap pouches, carrying the cartridges in one pocket and the caps in the other. This omission was for want of time to adjust the belts.”[ix] One wonders how Nathaniel felt about heading into enemy territory initially ill-prepared. For the rest of the winter, the 84th maneuvered, marched mountain roads, drilled, and readied for the spring campaign. They joined General Shield’s Division in General Nathaniel Banks’s force.

During the 1862 Valley Campaign, the 84th Pennsylvania took heavy losses at Kernstown (March 23), including the death of their colonel. Marching, guarding, and skirmishing occupied the majority of their spring days. Nathaniel probably would have seen the Shenandoah Valley burst to life with the beauty of spring, even as he experienced the boredom and terror of soldier life on campaign. The regiment headed east toward Fredericksburg in May, briefly joining McDowell’s force. Perhaps Nathaniel caught a glimpse of President Lincoln when he visited the army; the 84th was not a participant in the military review for the president, but they were in the camps in Stafford at that time. At the end of May, the regiment marched back across the state to the Shenandoah Valley and arrived in time to fight at Port Republic (June 9).

At this time, it is not known exactly when Nathaniel became sick. Did he report to sick call one day? Did his tent mate find him curled up and ill? Someone decided that Nathaniel was so sick that he had to be sent to a proper hospital, and he eventually arrived at a hospital in Union-held Alexandria, Virginia. He was battling typhoid fever, a disease that can phase through multiple weeks. One of his symptoms was listed as “acute diarrhea” which must have been painful, probably embarrassing, and seriously weakened him. His doctors and nurses at the hospital knew his name; perhaps he was conscious most of the time, or perhaps another comrade had also been sent for medical care.

Were there letters sent home to Bedford County from that hospital bed in Alexandria? Did he begin to realize he would not survive or did death come swiftly? The U.S. Registers of Death of Volunteers, 1861-1865 for the state of Pennsylvania lists Nathaniel Shoup as a corporal in Company C of the 84th Pennsylvania Infantry. He died on June 28, 1862, at the G. H. (probably abbreviation for General Hospital) in Alexandria, Virginia. The cause of death was first listed as “Acute Diarrhea” but later amended to read “Typhoid Fever”; additional remarks note that there were burial records.[x] On June 29, he was buried. His remains rest in a marked grave in Alexandria National Cemetery; his headstone lists the rank of sergeant.

Nathaniel Shoup’s gravestone in Alexandria National Cemetery (Stan Jett, Find A Grave)

One day during his military service, Nathaniel had his photograph taken. When or where the ninth-plate ambrotype was created is not known, but presumably it was after the regiment was issued their belts! Nathaniel likely sent this photograph home to his family since a note found with it seems to indicate that his little sister Barbara eventually became the guardian of the image. She would have been a young teenager when somehow the tragic news arrived at the Shoup home that Nathaniel had died. Since he was buried in a distant cemetery, the family probably had much grief and little closure. Was the photograph kept in a visible, treasured place? Or was it put away, too sorrowful to think about the lost son and brother who would never come home? Perhaps descendants have Nathaniel’s letters, perhaps they have been lost or destroyed, or maybe they have passed into an archive or private collector’s hands. His photograph, however, was eventually acquired by the Liljenquist Family from an individual in Ohio in 2012. The Liljenquists donated the photograph to the Library of Congress, joining thousands of other incredible photographs from their collection which have been made digitally available. Nathaniel’s image and a marked grave in Alexandria ensure that his name and the remaining fragments of his story do not slip into forgetfulness.

I stumbled across your picture today

I could barely breathethe moment stopped me coldand grabbed me like a thief….

it breaks my heartI cry these tears in the dark….[xi]


Nathaniel Shoup photograph: https://www.loc.gov/item/2012650017/

[i] The National Archives in Washington D.C.; Record Group: Records of the Bureau of the Census; Record Group Number: 29; Series Number: M432; Residence Date: 1850; Home in 1850: Liberty, Bedford, Pennsylvania; Roll: 751; Page: 271a (Accessed through Ancestry.com)

[ii] Bedford, Pennsylvania  Friday, March 26, 1858, Page 3. Digitized by Chronicling America, accessed through Newspapers.com

[iii] The National Archives in Washington D.C.; Record Group: Records of the Bureau of the Census; Record Group Number: 29; Series Number: M653; Residence Date: 1860; Home in 1860: Liberty, Bedford, Pennsylvania; Roll: M653_1072; Page: 292; Family History Library Film: 805072 (Accessed through Ancestry.com)

[iv] Historical Data Systems, comp. U.S., Civil War Soldier Records and Profiles, 1861-1865 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations Inc, 2009.

[v] Thomas Edward Merchant, Eighty-fourth Regiment, Pennsylvania Volunteers (Infantry.) Accessed through Project Gutenburg. [eBook #46344]

[vi] Ibid.

[vii] Ibid.

[viii] Ibid.

[ix] Ibid.

[x] Ancestry.com. U.S., Registers of Deaths of Volunteers, 1861-1865 [database on-line]. Lehi, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2012.

[xi] Excerpt from song lyrics “Address in the Stars” by Caitlin and Will, 2009.

2 Responses to “I Stumbled Across Your Picture Today”: Nathaniel Shoup of the 84th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry

  1. The 1860 Census you showed listed Jacob Flack as 8 yrs. old and employed as a carpenter. I’ve never heard of any 8 year old carpenters.?? But it’s a very moving piece on the sacrifice Nathaniel, and so many others like him, made. Thank you.

    1. Hi Bill,
      Yes, that looked odd to me as well. My best guess is that Jacob was probably 18 or some other age ending in 8 and the census-taker just missed a number. It’s not uncommon to find mistakes on the hand-written census forms – especially in the age column 🙂

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