One man’s zeal keeps Civil War history alive

Jim Shipman’s zeal for Civil War history was sparked by learning his own family’s past. From genealogy, his interest grew into identifying and honoring Civil War veterans buried in Everett’s Evergreen Cemetery.

For years the owner of Schaefer-Shipman Funeral Home in Marysville, Shipman was also a former manager of Evergreen Funeral Home and Cemetery. Shipman died in 2013. He was 72.

On Saturday, his contributions will be honored and the Shipman family will be presented with a plaque during “Echoes of Blue &Gray, ” an annual Civil War event and battle re-enactment at Evergreen Cemetery. It is put on by Dignity Memorial, which operates Evergreen Cemetery, and organized by the Washington Civil War Association.

Dennis Christie, the cemetery’s general manager, said annual Civil War events began there a decade ago, when Shipman was instrumental in the placement of a Grand Army of the Republic monument at Evergreen.

“Echoes of Blue &Gray,” starting at 11 a.m. Saturday with displays, encampments and a fife and drum corps, will also include a ceremony at 12:30 p.m., a speech by Cascade High School teacher Steve Bertrand on “Why the Civil War is Still Relevant,” a battle re-enactment, children’s march and more.

“When we were planning it, I always loved the enthusiasm he had,” Christie said of Shipman. “He’d do research, and try to find the next guy’s information to prove he was a Civil War veteran.”

Bertrand and Christie said there are about 160 Civil War veterans in Evergreen Cemetery, including two former slaves who fought for the Union, and at least one man who fought for the Confederacy.

Researcher Karyn Weingarden and Washington Civil War Association member Bruce Smith have used miliary and cemetery records and obituaries to write biographies for many of the veterans. They are posted on a website, http://civilwarvetswastate.com.

Shipman was devoted to an effort that resulted in the federal government providing headstones for Civil War veterans whose Evergreen Cemetery graves had no permanent markers. In 2012, he helped commemorate the placement of 18 new headstones for Civil War veterans at the cemetery.

And in 2008, Shipman worked with local historians and Civil War buffs on research that determined President Barack Obama’s great-great-great grandmother, Rachel Wolfley, is buried at Evergreen Cemetery. Military records show that her husband, Robert Wolfley, served in the 145th Ohio National Guard infantry in the Civil War.

The president’s mother, Stanley Ann Dunham, lived on Mercer Island before moving to Hawaii as a young woman. Obama’s grandmother, Madelyn Payne Dunham, helped raise him. Rachel Wolfley was Madelyn Payne Dunham’s great-grandmother, according to a 2008 Herald article about the cemetery discovery.

“He had always been interested in history,” said Jan Shipman, Jim Shipman’s widow.

She said her late husband’s curiosity was piqued when an aunt showed him a poem about his great-great grandfather, Robert Forsythe, who was murdered along with other family members in northern New York. “His son, Joseph Forsythe, was a Union soldier,” Jan Shipman said.

Jim Shipman’s interest in the Civil War blossomed. He joined with Smith and Weingarden in researching Civil War veterans at Evergreen Cemetery. “He became an avid reader of anything he could get his hands on about the Civil War,” Jan Shipman said.

Bertrand got hooked on Civil War history after visiting famous battlefields back east. For 15 years, he has been involved with the Washington Civil War Association and with re-enactments, some near the battlefields of old. “On the East Coast, it’s such a huge thing,” said Bertrand, who added that 11,000 re-enactors participated in an event commemorating last year’s 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg.

At Evergreen Saturday, Bertrand expects re-enactors from Washington and Oregon, and more than 100 spectators. In mock battle, he uses a replica black-powder Enfield rifle.

“It’s a great local event, with so much rich history,” he said. Although seven of his ancestors fought for the Confederacy, as a re-enactor he is part of the 7th Wisconsin Volunteer Infantry Regiment, part of the Union Army’s esteemed Iron Brigade. “Being on the Union side was never a question for me,” he said.

Bertrand noted that it wasn’t until a century after the Civil War that Martin Luther King Jr. and other civil rights leaders began to achieve equality under the law.

“Just because people were free didn’t mean they had liberty,” Bertrand said. “Lincoln said in the Gettysburg Address that we are ‘dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.’ Yes, we have stepped forward. We are still moving toward that vision.”

Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; jmuhlstein@heraldnet.com.

Civil War event Saturday at cemetery

“Echoes of Blue &Gray,” with Civil War displays, a fife and drum corps, Civil War battle re-enactment, and a tribute to the late Jim Shipman is scheduled to begin at 11 a.m. Saturday at Evergreen Cemetery, with a ceremony starting at 12.30 p.m. The public is welcome. Evergreen Funeral Home and Cemetery is at 4504 Broadway, Everett.

Learn about the Washington Civil War Association at: www.wcwa.net/

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