He Kept The Colors
The true story of The General, the Old Man and the Flag
About the Book
Back in the beginning days of America’s Civil War, the women of the small town of Marlette, Michigan, in the very heart of the Thumb wanted to show their support of President Lincoln and the Union forces in some small way. They collectively designed and sewed a huge Union flag of 34 stars, four rows of eight with an extra star at the end in between each two rows. This precious flag was then given to a gentleman they knew who lived just to the south who was leaving for the war. Color Sergeant Thomas Henry Sheppard’s story, along with that of the Battle Flag of Company E, First Michigan Cavalry, is one of the most incredible true stories to ever come out of the Civil War. The Detroit Free Press back in the 1880’s called it “an episode of the Civil War which has a strong coloring of Romance”, as the Press told of how the colors of the First Michigan Cavalry were protected as the red, white and blue bunting became more and more tattered and sun-faded and bullet-ridden, and still the flag “assumed a dignity and interest even beyond that which the colors have of their own right to every loyal man”. Thomas’ account intersects with the lives of two of the War’s most famous Generals and is written by a close relative of the third. The Color Sergeant took the colors and with his regiment carried them to the front lines where they saw hot service, and from which many did not return. In his words, the 1st Michigan “fought through the Shenandoah, on Banks’ advance and retreat, in the campaigns of Pope and Burnside, and did yeoman service at the Battle of Gettysburg. They were under fire twice at Winchester, at Middletown, Strasburg, Harrisonburg, Occoquan and Thoroughfare Gap.”
About the Author
The author was born in Detroit, Michigan, in October of 1949, the third of four children of Harold and Marjorie Johnson. Harold was from Albion, New York, where his great-grandfather had come in on the opening of the Erie Canal and settled at a place called The Bridges, New York. Harold came to Michigan to work in the automobile plants during the Depression, where he met and married Marjorie Dawson, who was in the city attending Beauty School. In 1957 they returned to her hometown in Marlette in the Thumb of Michigan and bought the family farm started by Grandfather William Dawson in 1882.
Lois graduated from Marlette High School in 1967, Salutatorian and Class Treasurer. She pursued her college education at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan, receiving a Bachelor of Arts in Elementary Education in 1971. Although she was offered the newly-formed position of Director of Alumni at OU, it was only a half-time position then, and she instead went to work for Warren Consolidated Schools as a Math/Science teacher at Grissom Junior High on 14 Mile and Ryan, beginning her first real job walking the picket line, on strike. Pink-slipped at the end of her first year teaching, Lois returned to the Thumb and spend the next 27 years teaching Math, then Social Studies and Reading, to 6th graders, taking Early Retirement in 1998. She earned a Master’s Degree from Central Michigan University, and 18 hours towards her Specialist’s.
In the early 1970’s she purchased 50 acres of the family Centennial Farm, turning it into a Michigan Non-Profit Wildlife Sanctuary, where she now raises beautiful free-ranging peacocks on one of the most lovely spots on earth.
In 1985, Lois happened to visit a stunning old Victorian House in town, where she was amazed to learn that it had been built by her mother’s Great-Uncle, Thomas Usher Dawson, Marlette’s leading businessman in the 1890’s. That started her on a quest for family information that ultimately led to the town’s newspaper office, The Marlette Leader, where she found the old copies of the newspapers. It was that visit that eventually sparked enough interest that she convinced the newspaper editor, John Frazier, to help her start The Marlette Historical Society and Museum. They then microfilmed the old newspapers, and had three Marlette buildings named to the State Historic Sites Registry: the Victorian House of Thomas Usher and Jennie Dawson; the Marlette First United Methodist Church, and the 1890 Marlette Depot. They wrote grants for a museum, bought the old depot and did everything necessary for its restoration, thanks to two additional grants from the State of Michigan and M-DOT. 1987 was the 150th of the State of Michigan, the 125th of the City of Marlette, and the 100th Year of the High School, which they commemorated with a 432-page book, in conjunction with the High School Yearbook, IMAGES. Lois then followed up on that book with an 820-page Millennium Edition.
She adopted 12-year old twins in 1989. She was named to Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers in 2000 and again in 2005, an honor given to less than 3% of America’s Elementary Teachers.
She wrote of her father’s friendship with the World’s Greatest Santa Claus, Charlie Howard, in the book, My Dad Knew Santa Claus, which she is gratefully updating now that additional information has come in. Charles Howard, of Albion, New York, who unbelievably held 5 million children on his lap, was the famous Macy’s Santa who started the World’s Only School for Santas and the wonderland for children, Christmas Park, the unequaled Santa Claus Headquarters of the World. Howard died in 1966, when he was entered into the United States Congressional Record as the Dean of Santa Claus. It is an adult story for the child in each of us.