Thomas Henry Sheppard, Sr. was keeper of the flag


TRI-CITY AREA — Life for Patrick Patterson continues to take a turn for the better, as is evidenced by a recent finding that he has ties to a Civil War soldier from Michigan.

Patterson discovered the news by researching his ancestry through and was shocked with the results.

In an interview with the Tri-City Times, Patterson said he was thrilled to learn of the connection and couldn’t believe how it all tied back to the Imlay City area.

Patterson is a graduate of Imlay City and the war hero, Thomas Henry Sheppard, was a Marlette native.

Family is believed to have had a house in Imlay City, near the end of Third Street.

Patterson said Sheppard was a color sergeant for Company E of the First Michigan Cavalry and carried the U.S. flag into the Battle of Gettysburg.

He managed to keep it safely hidden during 505 days of being a prisoner of war.

“It’s all just crazy” a shocked Patterson said. “To know we have family connections to the Civil War, it’s just amazing and I am so happy to have found this out.”

A volunteer at the Dearborn Civil War museum dressed in a Union uniform as he talked about the historical battle.

The flag has a storied life of it’s own, having originated in Marlette, Michigan where it was made by “The Ladies of Marlette”, featuring 34 stars on it.

The fabric measured seven-feet seven inches long by three feet nine inches wide.

Sheppard carried the tattered flag that survived 13 major battles, 100 skirmishes, six months of intense war and 505 days of capture.

It was riddled with 72 bullet holes from the field of battle and was known as “The Marlette Flag.”

Patterson and his brother Jason of Royal Oak, traveled to the Dearborn Historical Museum in October. It was there that the two boys learned of their favorite history lesson.

“We had no idea,” Patterson said. “They told us we had to go down there to find out the results of the tests. We get down there and are just standing all around with these TV cameras and newspaper people, still with no idea what was about to happen.”

Former State Rep Shane Hernandez, who just so happens to be a neighbor of Patterson, started working on a State Resolution for Patterson while still in office.

It was the work of Hernandez, and many others that made the discovery possible.

A museum volunteer, dressed in a Union uniform, explained how the connection came about and that Sheppard was a three-times over great grandfather to Patterson.

The bullet-ridden flag is on display at the Dearborn museum.

Patterson stood in shock and disbelief as several people at the museum helped connect the dots to the relation as they shared the story to him. Some even said he had a resemblance of looking a bit like Sheppard.

According to research, Sheppard was originally listed as in Almont and enlisted in the First Cavalry in September of 1861.

He transferred to Company E in January of 1862 and was later taken prisoner during the battle of Gettysburg in 1863.

He was discharged from duty 1865. He later passed away and was buried in Imlay City.

Prior to his passing, during a Memorial Day celebration in Imlay City, the elder Sheppard presented the flag, tattered, torn and with 72 bullet holes to his son who later put the flag in the possession of his son, Lawrence Sheppard, before going to war.

“It was amazing and quite moving to see the flag there framed and hanging on the wall in the museum,” Patterson said. “We were told too, that several groups of people are now trying to get a Presidential Medal of Honor for my great, great, great grandpa. We’re hoping that happens.”

In a timeline of the Sheppard family, Patterson discovered Sheppard, Sr. and his wife Mary Louis Ellacott were parents to several children. Thomas Henry Sheppard, Jr. settled in Goodland Township in 1860.

Patterson was told his great grandmother Pearl Sheppard was born in Imlay City in 1896 while his grandmother, Helen Bush was born in 1920.

“It is just so ironic, how it all comes back to this area,” Patterson said in disbelief. “It’s very overwhelming the amount of information, but I am so glad we started looking in to it. I’m really proud of my heritage and knowing I am related to a Civil War hero.”

Two documents Patterson shared delves deeper into what he discovered: The General, The Old Man, And The Flag Pages 94-95 “He Kept The Colors” By L. E. Johnson (of Marlette)

The whistle-stop campaign of America’s much loved General John Logan for Vice President of the United States of America took him across the fair state of Michigan. The train pulled into the little village of Marlette, in Sanilac County, on September 13, 1884, where a large group had indeed gathered at the railroad station. General Logan stepped out of the caboose, and everyone’s hero spoke to the crowd from the rear platform of the train.

The General gave his brief and rousing campaign speech, ending as he always did with an anecdote about an unknown soldier from the Civil War …. Logan, himself known as the “great volunteer”, told his favorite tale of this nameless volunteer who marched off to war with “flashing eye. and sturdy stride”, proudly carrying an American flag made for him by the women of his little town, While he was talking, the General’s eyes looked out over the crowd and came to rest upon a gray-haired old man standing at the far edge of the crowd, a man whose form was bent and who held in his trembling hands a worn and tattered old flag. Pausing for a moment, Logan began anew. Glancing again at the old soldier, the General could somehow picture the scene on that day when the man was young and strode forth carrying that flag at the head of his regiment. Then the General ended his speech with a flowing tribute to the volunteers soldiers.

When the applause died down, he went back into his railroad car and sat down by the window. No sooner was he seated than there came a tap on the glass. It was the old man with the flag.

“General,” faltered the old man through the raised window’ “General, the women of this town made this old flag, and I had it with me all through the war. When I was captured I wound it around my body under my clothes, and kept it all through my imprisonment at Andersonville Prison. I’ve got a little farm here worth $3000, and I’ve got this old flag, but if I could keep but one the farm might go.”

The tears came to General Logan’s eyes as he answered tenderly: “Tell the boys Jack Logan says that when you come to die they must wind that flag around your body and bury it with you-twill be the countersign to admit you through the gates of heaven.” Then the train moved on, and the last thing we saw was the old man standing there with his flag.

(As told by William Bates, aide to General John Logan regarding their trip across Michigan in Logan’s whistle-stop Campaign for the Vice-Presidency of United States (reported in the Marlette Leader, Detroit Journal)

A second document spoke to Sheppard’s commitment to keep the flag with him at all costs, highlighted by a special Memorial Day service in Imlay City: The Tale of the Old Flag: By Lawrence C. Sheppard Excerpts from the article in the Dearborn Historian, Volume 18, Number 4

Thomas Sheppard’s last big celebration was the Memorial Day program at Imlay City on May 30, 1897. The Old Flag had been carried in the parade by his son Herbert and was now displayed on the speakers stand. During his address he stressed the passing of the virtues of loyalty and patriotism from one generation to another. Suddenly, he electrified the crowd by presenting his most cherished possession, the Old Flag, as a symbol of these virtues, to his son Herbert. Since Herbert was in training for service in the Spanish American War, an older brother, Samuel Theodore, offered to take care of the flag during his absence.

When Samuel Theodore died on October 22, 1929, his brother Franklin Thorton Sheppard, requested a “loan” from the family of the Old Flag, and carried it back to Marlette with him. Years later, Franklin, now a widower, entered a nursing home in Lapeer, the Old Flag was one of the few precious possessions he took with him.

Shortly before his death in 1953, Herbert, the original caretaker of the flag visited him in the nursing home and contrived to learn that the Old Flag was in a shoe box under his cot. After kneeling at his bedside in fond farewell, he departed with the Old Flag concealed under his arm.

Several years later Herbert contacted Lawrence Sheppard_ (grandson of Thomas Sheppard and son of Franklin Thorton Sheppard) and informed him he had a package which he wished him to have. In the package was the Old Flag which Sergeant Sheppard, Color Bearer of Company E, 1st Michigan Cavalry, had devotedly carried.

At last the flag was in his possession, but only for trust – for it was far more than a tattered piece of colored fabric, rather it is a symbol of high courage and sacrifice which belonged to everyone.

Realizing that it should be carefully preserved for all to see, he contacted Mr. Arneson, then Chief Curator for the Dearborn Historical Museum, and in August of 1972 offered it to him for his caretaking. The Historical Commission took the necessary steps to have the fabric professionally restored and it was publicly unveiled on May 5, 1973.

After being featured in the Memorial Day Parade on May 30th of the same year, it was put on permanent exhibit at the Commandant’s Quarters.

Patterson said he cannot thank everyone enough for helping him with his research and quest for answers of his family history.

He is truly thankful for his discovery and thankful to his three-times great grandpa Sheppard for taking care of “Old Glory” and becoming a key piece of Civil War history.