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Henry Sheppard, among the early people of Greene county, was the man who made and left the best impression.
He was born in Cumberland county, New Jersey, on November 8th, 1821, of the seventh generation from the original settler of his name. His father was a quiet man of moderate means who gave to his sons what education he could in schools and at home taught them, by precept and by example, industry, self-reliance and truth. The mother was a deeply religious woman.
Henry, the oldest son, an ambitious and independent boy supported himself from the age of fifteen. He was trained in business in an old-fashioned Philadelphia firm; and he learned well their lessons of judgment and labor. During these years of youth his chief recreation were a literary society and the volunteer fire company to which he belonged. Often after a hard day in the store he would run miles with his engine and work for hours at night, sometimes in stations of danger. A vent for his superabundant energy was necessary, and he found it in this innocent excitement. During this period he joined the church of Dr. Albert Barnes, whose influence on his life was great and good.
Leaving Philadelphia with the savings of his salary and full credit on his late employers’ book, he went in 1843 to Camden, Ark., where he remained about a year. The place was good for trade, and he always spoke warmly of the simplicity and honor of the people among whom he dwelt; but he was unwilling to take his promised wife to so unhealthy a country. He came to Springfield in 1844 and went into business with his friend Clement Jaggard, now a wealthy citizen of Altoona, Pa. He found a good climate and agreeable people. The place, though a mere hamlet, was promising, and his business prospered. In 1845 he went to New Jersey and married Miss Rhoda Nixon, the young lady to whom he had been attached from early youth.
For the next sixteen years his life was a busy one. A thriving trade, droves of stock collected and sent to other places as distant once as California, a temporary business in Fort Smith, Ark., preparations to take part in the Mexican war ended by the sudden peace, and other like things, occupied him closely; but this material life was softened by a happy home, by friendship, and by charity; it was made honorable by his uprightness, by his ever-developing intellect, and by his courage.
Mr. Jaggard returned to Pennsylvania in 1850 and Mr. Sheppard formed a partnership with John S. Kimbrough, now of Clinton, Mo., which continued until the war separated them. The friendship thus begun was ended only by death.
In 1861, Mr. Sheppard threw himself with all his heart into the cause of the Union. He was a Democrat and a slaveholder, owning a few domestic servants and satisfied that it was right to own them, but he was none the less a Union man. He served in the army in various grades from private to brigadier general. When he reached the latter rank his small stock of strength had all been given to his country, and he resigned, never to enjoy health again. On the 8th of January, 1863, with his regiment, he greatly assisted in repelling Marmaduke’s attack on Springfield, which saved immense stores of food, clothing, and ammunition to the United States. This success preserved the fruits of the war in Southwest Missouri, which would otherwise have been lost. That day’s fight was as heroic as Corse’s defense of Allatoona, for it was made with but little shelter of fortifications and with no hope of succor.
After the war Col. Sheppard was engaged in active business till 1868, when he retired. Thenceforth he attended to the light duties of a bank director, and he maintained his property; but most of the time he passed at his beautiful home, occupied with reading, writing, and horticulture. He was very fond of trees and of gardening, and in his success with fruit took more pride than in any other thing.
In 1874 he was attacked with pneumonia, which assumed a chronic form. The loss of a dear daughter in 1875, so depressed him that he was unable to rally, and thenceforth he gradually declined. Yet his illness, though painful, was not dark. He recovered his spirits in a great degree, he traveled, he read, he enjoyed the society of his friends, and his unselfish tenderness to his family grew with the passing years. At last on December 19th, 1879, in the City of New Orleans, among, his nearest and dearest, with sunshine and flowers about him, he fearlessly—almost gayly—went out of the painful prison of his body into the pretence of his long-loved Father. He left one son and one daughter, Francis, a retired officer of the navy, and Margaret. His other two children died before him.
Col. Sheppard was six feet tall and very slender, with black hair, gray eyes and a striking appearance. His manner, though decided, was kind and engaging; but he became stern in the presence of anything offensive to his moral sense. He never filled a political office, though interested and influential in politics; and he was not affiliated with any of the secret societies. He was an excellent writer, mastering his subject, treating it, originally putting his personality into the lines, knowing what to bring out and how to arrange, and possessing an easy and rapid but pointed and epigrammatic style. He was logical and clear, in speech or on paper; and he was strong in a playful sarcasm that convinced without wounding. His style was formed and maintained by careful reading through life of Shakespeare, Macaulay, Scott, Irving, Motley, Prescott, Bancroft and Thackeray, besides the standard poets and a great miscellany. He had a large fund of information which he constantly increased. Though he always regretted that he had not a college training, it is doubtful if many graduates are, at forty, better mentally equipped than he was; while in the careful and sympathetic courtesy which was born with him he had something no school ever gave. He was a natural gentleman. He was also a delightful social companion, reassuring appreciative, full of gayety, unassuming knowledge and pleasant humorous talk; and he had the faculty of inducing his comrades of the hour, were they high or low, to show only their good qualities. His personal purity was unquestioned; he hated meanness, and he loved the poor. None but himself knew the extent of his charity; but some persons knew it was large.
A volume could be written on the excellencies of this man, for he was most noble in nature. He was widely known and honored; and the better men knew him, the more they respected him. Doubtless he had faults—he was a man—but the memory of his virtues shine so brightly in the minds of those who knew him well, that its brilliancy either hides his defects or else makes them seem to be adornments, even as the sun turns the near clouds to gold. In him, will and courtesy, resolution and deference, purity and humor, tenacity and integrity, bravery and modesty, justice towards man and duty towards God, were so beautifully blended and harmonized that no person could name the one thing that gave him so much influence and love.