News Bill Shoup brings the Civil War to Wayne County
By Jason W. Selby
Sep 24, 2013, 11:23
Shoupade in a backyard. Urban sprawl from Atlanta threatens to wipe out these entrenchments. Photo by the Georgia Battlefields Association.
Allerton resident Bill Shoup has always had an interest in history. Several of his relatives and antecedents fought on one side or the other of the Civil War. So when Bruce Clark and his father brought a period cannon to fire at Prairie Trails Museum in Corydon, Shoup watched attentively at this demonstration. The Clarks had built their Napoleon cannon to ¾ scale several years before. After conversing with them, it did not take Shoup long to figure out he wanted to join their regiment.
Shoup has been with the group almost five years now. They have reenacted battles across the country. Two years ago, they built a full-scale cannon in order to travel to national events for the 150th anniversary of the Civil War. They used this weapon in a reenactment at Shiloh, Tenn., shooting pyrotechnics instead of cannonballs.
“Either downhill or uphill,” Shoup says, “it’s been an enjoyable hobby—the people I’ve met, the parts of the country I’ve seen. It’s a good family activity—we invite families to participate in our group. Most everyone brings wives and
children. This was not uncommon in the Civil War, when families traveled with the soldiers. Everyone dresses in period dress.
“We cook outside, but we eat better than what [Civil War soldiers] did.”
Shoup is normally a paramedic at the Wayne County Hospital. He also owns a livestock farm with around 55 head of cattle, renting out the rest of the land for row crops. His thick mustache betrays his hobby, however.
This will be the third year Shoup’s unit reenacts the war at Corydon Lake Park. The first year, his group focused on the life of infantrymen. The second year, they featured the 3rd Cavalry based out of Centerville. This year, the reenactment and activities will focus on engineering—on military construction around forts and obstacles against the enemy.
It’s a subject Shoup knows well.
His great, great uncle, Brigadier General Francis Shoup of the Confederacy—as Sherman’s troops marched toward Atlanta—designed an earthwork blockade that the Yankees could not break through. The technique is still taught at West Point in the history of earthwork engineering. A sympathizer to the southern cause originally from Indiana, General Shoup moved to Florida and joined an engineer’s artillery unit. He had graduated from West Point in 1855.
Someone who appreciates General Shoup’s engineering expertise is Michael Shaffer, Assistant Director of Kennesaw State University’s Civil War Center in Kennesaw, Ga. He reports that at the time, West Point was more focused on engineering rather than infantry tactics. General Shoup was the product of this education.
“I lecture quite often on the River Line [a section outside Atlanta where earthwork fortifi cations built by General Shoup remain],” Shaffer says. “I don’t think you can fully understand the River Line until you have a better understanding of Shoup.”
Shaffer says the battles and tactics General Shoup witnessed beforehand, the successes and failures, helped sharpen General Shoup’s understanding of tactical earthwork construction. He knew what did not work and why, and possessed a sharp intellect and imagination that functioned well under duress.
His great, great nephew, Bill Shoup, paramedic by trade, is a member of Battery C of the 3rd Iowa Light Artillery Regiment. This is ironic. Although General Shoup did not participate in the specific attack while at Vicksburg, during the Battle of Helena on the Fourth of July in 1963—in a failed Confederate attempt to allay Vicksburg of Union pressure—the Confederates assaulted Fort Curtis. The rebels were repulsed in part by the original members of the 3rd Iowa Light Artillery Regiment. The Iowans—along with a regiment from General Shoup’s home state of Indiana—held the Fort. The Union later used this stronghold to seize Little Rock, Ark.
The Battle of Vicksburg, together with the Confederate defeat at Gettysburg the previous day, is often considered the turning point in the Civil War. At Vicksburg, General Shoup was captured, then paroled in time to rejoin the rebels in defense of Atlanta. He also fought at Shiloh, where he fired into the famed hornet’s nest.
“He performed well at Vicksburg,” Shaffer says. “General Shoup commanded many troops from Louisiana during the battle."
Shaffer also explained the circumstances of a paroled soldier. It was a bit like house arrest. Some prisoners of war on both sides, after surrender, were sent home and ordered not to take up arms, until part of a prisoner exchange, where the north or the south would agree on a exact number of captured troops to be released. Newspapers ran notices covering these agreements, stating that a certain group of soldiers captured at a certain battle were now free again to report to their regiments.
Of course this did not always work as planned. Some soldiers, if captured, often simply went right back to the war. If they were captured again, however, and it was discovered the soldier had been fighting while a POW, he was subject to the death penalty.
“It was virtually impossible to enforce,” Shaffer says.
Outside Atlanta, General Shoup did his part to defend against the pillaging tactics of the Northern troops. According to The River Line Historic Area, “Confederate Brigadier General Francis Asbury Shoup designed the River Line
using artillery redans [earthwork formed into a V-shaped angle at the point of attack] and unique, arrowhead-shaped infantry forts called ‘Shoupades.’ Cobb County, Ga. is the only place in the world where these unique fortifications
A scale model of the Shoupade. Photo by Roberta Cook, founder & coordinator of The River Line Historic Area, Inc.
The Georgia Battlefields Association provides a more detailed account:
“On June 18, 1864, the Confederate Army of Tennessee was about to withdraw. On that date, the chief of artillery, Brigadier General Francis Shoup, approached the Army Commander, General Joseph E. Johnston, about building
a defense line. Shoup envisioned a line so strong that it would deter any assault. Johnston approved the proposal, and Shoup and the staff engineers conscripted slaves from the Atlanta-area plantations to construct a unique set of fortifications over the next three weeks.
“From above, Shoup’s design appeared as a saw blade: At the point of each tooth was an infantry fort intended to hold 80 men. The arrowhead shape of the fort would allow its defenders to shoot to the left, right or front. Each fort would have log walls inside and out and a fill of dirt in between. The outer wall would rise above the inner to form a firing platform for the riflemen.
“Connecting the forts would be an infantry trench, but rather than running directly between the forts, the trench would recede from each fort to form an angle, where an artillery redan would hold a two-gun section. Any attacking force would be channeled by fire from the forts towards the recessed angle….
“After the June 27, 1864 Battle of Kennesaw Mountain, Federal forces threatened to outflank the Confederate left. As they occupied the strange structures, many Confederates were skeptical of the design… but highly regarded division commander Major General Patrick Cleburne judged the works to be excellent. Major General G.W. Smith remarked that the design would make Shoup famous and dubbed the forts ‘Shoupades.’
“On the morning of July 5, Federal Major General William Tecumseh Sherman observed Johnston’s River Line and later wrote: ‘It was one of the strongest pieces of field fortifications I ever saw.’”
Near Atlanta, Shoupade Park is still home to two of these fortifications, one now overgrown with trees. The second is, however, more prone to erosion. Urban sprawl threatens to bulldoze away the physical history of this engineering feat.
“Until his dying day, General Shoup believed with full conviction that the Confederates could have held the River Line indefinitely,” Shaffer says. “No question he was a brilliant man.”
After the war, General Shoup was a minister and taught mathematics and metaphysics at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tenn.
Bill Shoup hopes to recreate some of these lesser-known military engineering tactics for the citizens of Wayne County on Sept. 27 through Sept. 29 at Corydon Lake Park. In preparation, he is cutting saplings and bundling them together with dirt, a process still taught in Sapper School. Bill Shoup’s son teaches such a course at Ft. Leonard Wood, Mo.
On Friday night, Sept. 27 at 6 p.m., there will be a dinner with Lincoln at the Inn of the Six-Toed Cat in Allerton, featuring an Abraham Lincoln impersonator.
On Saturday, Sept. 28, if the weather is pleasant, the courtyard in Corydon will host a dance on the square; the dance will be held in the old Napa store in case of inclement weather. Beforehand, there will be a Victorian stroll around the square in period dress. At 7:00 p.m., the Exline Family Band will play in the courtyard. Cannons fire at 9:30 p.m. Saturday evening, shooting pyrotechnics and fireworks.
The Corydon & Allerton Chamber of Commerce along with the Conservation Park Board is sponsoring the event.