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  • Soldiers at Sand Creek (a series): Three Colonels, Three Majors and a General - Part X

Soldiers at Sand Creek (a series): Three Colonels, Three Majors and a General - Part X

Colonel George Laird Shoup: The Invisible Commander – Part 3

CAPTION: First Lieutenant George Laird Shoup, Captain Backus’ Co. L, 1st Regiment Cavalry, Colorado [U.S.] Volunteers, about 27 years old, probably taken in Denver about 1863. Courtesy of SAND NHS Collections & author.When people posed for photographs in the 19th century, it seems like we always get a non-plus, emotionless deer-in-the-headlights staring back at us. This photograph of the young cavalry Lieutenant who’d ridden over half of southern Colorado mountains and plains and out onto the prairies of New Mexico doesn’t give us much of a clue about his personality. There was good reason for expressionless photos back then.

The cameras were simple & downright primitive to ours. The lens was wide open without a snapping of a shutter. The subjects of photos had to remain frozen like a rock until the photographer capped the lens. If they moved, the image would blur on the glass plate capturing the picture. Catching an adult likeness was challenge enough; imagine a family sitting for a camera portrait.

We do get some idea who the young man was. His clothes appear neat and clean. His face is clean shaved, but, then again, he may not have had much facial hair like fellow officers sporting goatees, moustaches and a trimmed little triangle of whiskers just under the lower lip as was the fashion of French Army officers. (That little delta of carefully shaved hair was known as a “Napoleon” after Emperor Napoleon III of France.) Sometimes the goatees were also called “Van Dykes.”

Shoup does appear to have a necktie around the collar of his buttoned white shirt. He also is wearing a waistcoat (vest) buttoned all the way and over those layers a military blouse (coat). The vest and coat were most likely wool and a dark Union (or Navy) blue. On each shoulder are epaulets showing single bars of a lieutenant. His eyes appear steely.

It’s hard to believe this young man would, on August 17, 1864, be launched into a trajectory of command that raised him beyond Captain, Major and Lieutenant Colonel to the rank of full Colonel, a Regimental Commander. That would have been astounding to his troops and fellow officers. Some found it audacious if not curious.

This rapid advance of Shoup is one of many mysteries of the Sand Creek history.

It was clear that Lieutenant-Colonel Sam Tappan [*] of the 1st Regiment, an avowed thorn in Colonel John Chivington’s [*] side, would not be given the position which would make him equal in rank as his nemesis. First Major Edward W. Wynkoop of the 1st was commanding Ft. Lyon out of Chivington’s district under the authority of MG James Blunt commanding the District of the Upper Arkansas, so he was off the list. Second Major of the 1st Regiment, Jacob Downing [*] had experience in the spring of 1864 commanding “Indian fighting” units against the Cheyennes but was out of district as a court-martial witness at Ft. Leavenworth and was involved in a controversy regarding his duty as “District Inspector” trying to frame LTC Tappan for malfeasance. The Third Major of the 1st, Scott J. Anthony, commanded Ft. Larned, Kansas, also beyond Chivington and Evans’ grasp.

LTC Leavitt L. Bowen [*], 3rd Regiment’s Vice-Commander with some militia background, was a known lush and hardly fit for a regimental command. First Major William F. Wilder, 3rd Reg., a veteran of the 1st Reg. had seen combat in New Mexico, but he, like Third Major Samuel McKey Logan, 3rd Reg. who’d also seen combat against the Confederates, both served as recruiters during the organizing phase of the 3rd. Neither Majors would march with the 3rd when it left Denver. Second Major Hal Sayr [*], 3rd Regiment, although an enthusiastic 29 year-old, had not seen service. Sayr came straight from being a civil engineer and mining superintendent, acting as a recruiter raising Co. B, 3rd Reg. in Central City to Captain then Major of the regiment. Inexperienced Sayr would not do.

On its face, it seems that through fate, chance or caprice the command of the Third Regiment Cavalry fell to this clean shaven 28-year-old, a saddle worn pursuer of guerillas and stage robbers. Shoup [*] was the surprise candidate and was shortly placed in command of the “Bloodless Third” a One-Hundred Day’s Regiment.

The War Department telegraph came on August 11, 1864 to Territorial Governor John Evans [*] from the Provost Marshal General of the United States Army, in Washington, D. C. to form a short-term  regiment of infantry and by the end of the day the order was amended to allow organisation as a cavalry [mounted] regiment.

Jeff C. CampbellWithin six days, the Wednesday August 17, 1864 Rocky Mountain News named 3rd Regiment command as: “-- GOOD APPOINTMENTS. -- The following appointments have been made for the Hundred day Regiment --- Lieut. Shoup, Colonel; Gen. Bowen, Lieut. Colonel and Capt. Wilder, Major. The most general satisfaction has been expressed by these appointments. None better could have been made.”

Only four days before (August 13) 1LT Shoup and his men had captured the James Reynolds gang of Confederate guerillas, partisans, or stage robbers as you may prefer, a couple dozen miles from Pueblo. Events were now set in motion to organize the 3rd, find equipment, horses and wagons to outfit the “Hundred Dazers,” plan a campaign, spend most of October and November rallying the regiment, endure blizzard conditions at Bijou Basin and along the “Cherokee Trail,” rendezvous the regiment at Boone’s Ranche (Camp Fillmore), march down the Arkansas and ...

[* = member of the Masonic Lodge, A.F. &A.M.]

Next time: The Invisible Commander, Part 4.

Travel well.
Jeff C. Campbell