THE REBEL FORT
I, William Turner, being near my 96th birthday and I believe the only living person who ever saw the Shipley, or as it was sometimes called (The Rebel Fort) I will attempt to give a description and the location of this fort
This fort was built of eight gum logs. Two logs on each side the fort being square. These logs being notched to fit close together and every two feet there were notches cut in these logs to permit the occupants to shoot through without being exposed to anyone on the outside who might attack it. As these logs were 3 1/2 feet in diameter and 60 feet long, it required about 100 men to place them in position. When completed the walls were 7 feet high and the fort was covered with clapboards made from timber, which grew near the location of the fort.
This fort was about 3 1/2 miles northwest of Mill Shoals and about the same distance southwest from Barnhill, Illinois. Specifically the location was in Section 15, Town 2, South Range 7, East of the 3rd P. M. in Wayne County, Illinois. I have heard men who claimed to be smart argue that this fort was on Horse Creek in the northwest part of Wayne county. Then again you will hear some fellows say that it contained a band of rebels. I was acquainted with most o f the occupants of this fort and will say that they were far better citizens than most of the fellows who were trying to arouse the people to run them out of the country. It is true some of the occupants were drafted men and some were from the Southern army, who did not propose to fight against the United States. This seemed to be a haven for anyone who did not want to engage in war. We now call such fellows Conscientious Objectors. The head man at this fort was Thomas Shipley of Jefferson County. He was too old for army service and was respected by many who knew him and always stood for the rights of other people. Therefore, he was selected as Commander of this fort. This fort was constructed in the Fall of 1864, at a bend of the Skillet Fork River and still is sometimes called the Rebel Bend. This was an ideal location for such a fort as the river made a big bend here going around a large piece of land and coming back to within a short distance from where it made the turn. The fort was located about 24 rods from the mouth of the bend. At that time there was but little under-growth so you could see a man on horseback for quite a distance.
This entrance was guarded when an attack on the fort was expected. One morning in the early Spring of 1865 (I don't remember the day of the month) I went with 5 other men viz. Isac Taylor, William Taylor, George Gray, and John Simpson from White County to this fort. We were all on foot. I had a gun as deer and turkey were plentiful in those days and I intended to hunt on my way home. At the entrance to this bend we met John Garrison, who was taking a sack of meal into the occupants of the fort, as was the custom of the settlers to furnish meat and the inmates got their meal from wild animals. When we attempted to enter the bend, we were halted by 7 men from the fort. The signal was given and the men explained that they had gotten word that the fort would be attacked, that day and they were on guard. John Garrison told them there was nothing to it and convinced them whereupon they returned to the fort. After dinner the men from White County pursued their journey home. They going east and John Garrison and I west toward our homes in Wayne County. When we were nearing the outlet of the bend we were confronted by nine men and commanded to surrender. Garrison had no gun and the gun I had was a borrowed one, but I surrendered it and we became captives.
When we became captives one Hiram Purcell made a motion that they hang us there and then. (I'll have to say here that I have regretted for many years that I never got the opportunity to settle with him for this motion), whereupon the 9 men took off their coats and were preparing to hang us when Kal Schell told them to hold on just a minute as he wanted to question the young man (which was I) before hanging him. He then asked me my name. Whose boy I was and when I told them, he said they could not hang me as he had soldiered with my father in the Mexican War. Some of the men seemed disappointed when they were told they could not hang us and said all right then we will make Garrison put on a Lincoln overcoat and march in front of them to the fort. We told them we could give the signal and go in all O.K. but not one of them would get out of there alive. They gave up the plan and decided to hold us prisoners, which they did. I being the only one on foot, I had to walk 14 miles through the snow to one John Boswell where Garrison and I were guarded through the night. The word that we were prisoners and that the fort would be attacked spread over the country and at sunrise the next morning there were 106 men on horseback with guns at Boswell's home. Some were for attacking the fort and some planning to help defend it. It was agreed by the defenders to get in the rear on the 14 mile ride to the fort and when the fort and when the first gun was fired to shoot the attackers in front of them. Boswell got on to this arrangement and when ordered next morning by Captain Watson to get his horse ready to go help capture the fort became very sick and could not go. We prisoners were furnished a bed, but I'll admit we slept but little and when Boswell feighned sickness I told Captain Watson. "There is one of your good men". "Yes." said the Captain, "and Hell is full of better men than he is". (To the credit or disgrace of Captains Barret and Watson and Provost Marshall Moss, all of Mt. Vernon Illinois, I'll say they did not seem very anxious to capture that fort). They had planned to capture on different times, but always knew of some good horses they would need and would go for them first. When they got them, of course, they had to deliver them to the Army and get their money. They well knew if this fort was out of the way that they would not have the excuse for taking these horses. In fact on the very day of my arrest these men left the other 6 men in the woods and started to Hansen Harrol's place near Barnhill to take some of his horses. On their way there they met a man riding very fast and hailed him When he got stopped he was about 35 yards from them. They asked him where he was headed for. He told them he had heard that the fort was to be attacked and he was going to help defend it. Whereupon they told him who they were and that they would just arrest him. He brought his rifle to position and told them they would do no such thing. He forbid them coming any closer to him. Then they told him they had started to his place to get horses for the army. He told them that he would shoot the first man that crossed the fence of his lot. When he had convinced them that he meant what he said, then they said they would go in and warm before going back. He informed them that he would shoot the first man that set foot on his porch and that they could not pass him in the road but must go on east to where a road turned off and that is the way they returned to the men they had left several hours before. They told some of the men the night I was under guard that Harrol was the bravest man they ever saw. This was their reason for being late at the fort and I am really sorry they did not get there in time to make the attack as all the 15 occupants were in the fort when we left about 30 minutes before we were arrested.
Next morning when they arrived at the fort only 3 men were at the fort and they surrendered without resistance. These would-be captains took John Simpson, Thomas Shipley, and Jim Butler and started for army headquarters to collect their $35, apiece for them. Butler, the only drafted man, jumped off the moving train and escaped. Simpson and Shipley were too old for soldiers and were freed. Besides their excuse for taking horses was gone. I know not what occupations these fellows took up after this. When they started for the fort, Jim Porter was put over me as guard to take me to George Peer's home and guard me there, but on the way, I passed in 1/4 mile of home and deliberately walked away from Porter to my home. You may be proud of or hang your head in shame for the part your ancestors took in this affair, but as this is the only true history written of this fort as far as I know, I leave it with you.
Born Oct 5 1843 Died July 17 1939
Age 95 yrs 9 mos 12 days
This is a retyped copy of a personally signed copy which was given by Charles French to Paul Stallings in October, 1999.
This article contributed by Rick Moore