The Indiana Homefront
Ball State University
Calvin Fletcher, an Indianapolis banker, recorded in his diary the “great excitement” that followed the firing on Fort Sumter: “Men doing nothing but walking up & down the street.” Military companies paraded, men volunteered for the three months service, women sewed flags and uniforms, and “but little business” was accomplished. From his central location in Indianapolis, Fletcher would observe the troops mustering from all over the state. On a Sunday in late April 1861, troops from Greenfield passed the Fletcher house en route to the war. Other regiments camped on the Fletcher farm. James Madison Jones remembered that when the 41st Indiana passed through the capital a few months later, “Large crowds lined the streets and roadside to see the Regiment pass.”
W.H.H. Terrell, Indiana’s Adjutant General, would credit the civilians of Indiana with making such regiments possible. In the early days of the war, “the people acted in the most liberal and patriotic manner, providing the men with blankets, underclothing, and other necessary supplies which the authorities could not at the moment furnish.” Hoosiers contributed to the support of families deprived of a breadwinner and wealthy capitalists such as Fletcher advanced money to equip the troops. Historian Kenneth M. Stampp pointed out that wartime Indiana was “a variegated mosaic of heroic, self-sacrificing patriotism and unblushing avarice.” Civilians did aid the war effort, but families complained that community support did not sufficiently compensate them for their men’s absence. Capitalists less scrupulous than Fletcher became war profiteers. Many citizens deplored the spreading vices of prostitution, gambling, and drunkenness encouraged by soldiers’ detachment from their home communities. Whether for good or ill, the Civil War altered the life of the Hoosier state.
Population, Labor, and Agriculture
By the time of the Civil War, Indiana was just past the pioneer stage of development. Population growth was slowing. Settlement shifted to the northern and central parts of the state away from the southern counties. Germans, about 55 percent of the foreign-born, were the largest immigrant group, followed by the Irish, about 20 percent of the foreign born. Indiana lagged behind other states in attracting immigrants, possibly because of the lack of cheap land and industrial jobs. Agriculture was still predominant with corn and hogs the leading products. Farmers were increasing their investments in farm machinery, a trend which accelerated because of the scarcity of labor during the war. Women also helped fill the labor shortage. Farmers feared that the wartime closure of the Mississippi River would disrupt their markets, but the army’s demand for food compensated for the disruption of their normal trade patterns and led to higher prices. Increased demand for food also accelerated the shift from a subsistence economy to a market economy. By the end of the first year of war, Calvin Fletcher noted that the demand for hogs in the east was greater although the expense of shipping them had also increased. Early in the war, a Jackson County farmer lamented that “Times is the Dullest I Ever Seen” and feared that corn would not sell for more than fifteen cents a bushel in the fall of 1861. Corn prices reached a high of 95 cents per bushel in 1864 and that of hogs over seven dollars. Bad weather in 1863 harmed the corn crop, and hog cholera affected hog production. Nonetheless the war was a prosperous time for northern farmers, allowing them to complete improvements and invest in machinery. Attempts to interest Hoosier farmers in scientific farming had resulted in the movement toward agricultural fairs during the decade before the Civil War. Just before the Civil War, the state Board of Agriculture acquired land in Indianapolis for a state fairgrounds. However, those grounds became the site of Camp Morton, a mustering-in and later prisoner-of-war camp. Fairs had to be held elsewhere in the capital and other Indiana cities until the fairground buildings were repaired and restored to use in 1868. Despite the efforts of notable Hoosiers such as Governor Joseph A. Wright to persuade farmers to adopt new methods, Hoosier farmers disdained “new-fangled notions” such as crop rotation and book learning.
Industry was still small-scale with an average of four employees. Processing of agricultural products—flour and gristmills and pork packing—predominated and clustered in the river towns. But the war hurt Indiana’s river towns, and meat-packing moved increasingly to Indianapolis. Before the Civil War, construction of steamboats had been important to the economy of the Ohio River towns. The Civil War halted that construction as orders from the South ceased, but these were eventually replaced to a degree by orders from the federal government for hospital ships, transports, and naval vessels. Before the war, Hoosier farmers and merchants transported their goods on the Ohio River toward the southern market. Legal trade with that market was now closed, although a small contraband trade continued. Early in the war, Fletcher noted that business at New Albany had been “greatly injured in consequence of the war.” But he also remarked on an increasing trade in cattle, horses and mules for the army, and flour. Patriotism did not prevent the unscrupulous from seeking a profit by selling “adulterated coffee, unsatisfactory clothing , and . . . inferior meat.”
Transportation and Wages
As other transportation networks, primarily railroads, developed, manufacturing moved northward, especially to Indianapolis, and the river towns fell into decline. In 1860, Jefferson County, the site of Madison, had the most capital invested in manufacturing in the state. By 1880, Marion County dominated with over twice the value of capital invested of any Indiana county. The population of Indianapolis doubled in size during the war with a boom in construction and industry. The war benefited Indiana railroads which had suffered the effects of the Panic of 1857. The state and national governments relied on the railroads to transport troops and war material which allowed lines to get out of debt and become profitable. During the war, however, some complaints that would come to dominate the post-war critique of corporations were already being voiced. The railroads were seen as a powerful political interest unresponsive to the people, and lack of competition along many routes resulted in high fares.
Wages rose during the war. Machinists and blacksmiths in Lafayette, who earned $2.00 per day in 1860, saw that rise to $3.00 per day by 1865. Some craft unions had formed. During the war, the typographical union went on strike against the Indianapolis Sentinel for a 20 percent raise. Also blacksmiths and machinists unions in Indianapolis went on strike. Railroad unions formed during the war. The shortage of labor during the war increased workers’ bargaining power, but everyone on the homefront suffered inflation. Governor Morton estimated that the cost of food rose 120 percent and that of clothing 60 percent. Peter Demaree complained early in the war that “times is very hard her ever thing We have to Sell is very low & every thing We bui is very high.”
Policies and Politics
Although Indiana had been a Democratic state in the antebellum period, the 1860 election gave the Republican party national control and the state a Republican governor, Oliver P. Morton. Republican dominance nationally meant the fulfillment of the old Whig economic program of a national bank, tariffs, and internal improvements. Indiana Democrats objected, feeling that the agricultural interests of the Midwest were being sacrificed to those of Northeastern, particularly New England, industry. Although the Morrill Tariff, passed in 1861, reversed the pre-war Democratic policy of low tariff rates and Congress continued to raise the rates during the war, the total amount of revenue raised by the tariff was comparable to the level of the 1850s. That did not stop Indiana Congressman Daniel Voorhees from blaming the tariff for the high cost of goods. Democrats in Brown County blamed tariffs that favored New England as “oppressive to our agricultural and commercial pursuits.”
Equally objectionable was Republican fiscal policy, including the issuance of paper money, called greenbacks. Although the Indiana Supreme Court refrained from ruling paper money unconstitutional, Democratic Chief Justice Samuel E. Perkins viewed the innovation with distaste. In one opinion, he said such money “operated as a fraud on the public creditors and a hardship upon the honest public servants, by depreciating and debasing the currency.” In this case, a creditor had insisted upon repayment of a debt in specie or in treasury notes equivalent in value to gold. His lawyer argued that greenbacks were worth only 47 percent of gold and that the creditor should not have to accept depreciated paper. In another opinion, Perkins ruled that although the state bank was required to redeem its notes in specie, it could redeem in the new greenbacks because Congress had made them legal tender. This allowed the state bank, short on gold which was rapidly rising in value, to suspend specie payments. Republican legislation was, of course, tending towards the creation of a national banking system. Congress adopted a tax on state bank notes in an effort to drive them out of circulation. Calvin Fletcher commented at the end of 1862 upon Treasury Secretary Salmon P. Chase’s plan “to drive the state banks to take in their circulation & substitute U. states paper instead. . . . This may create an entirely new phase of our banking system.” Many of the branches of the state bank, however, had sufficient capital to secure charters as national banks before the tax went into effect in 1866. By the end of 1864, Fletcher had concluded that the “the states banks must go down . . . & that national banks founded on the national currency must fill the whole space before occupied by state banks.” Fletcher proceeded to wrap up his banking affairs and make the transition: “I pray that the project may result to the good of buseness & my country.” By then, Indiana had thirty-one national banks, mostly former branches of the state bank. Some smaller banks, primarily in rural areas, continued as private banks. By 1867, almost all the state bank notes were out of circulation. Although he was a Democrat, William H. English became director of the First National Bank of Indianapolis, one of the largest banks in the Midwest.
Many also objected to rising taxes to pay for the war. In addition to a protective tariff, the United States government also levied the first income tax in its history as well as luxury taxes, sin taxes, stamp taxes, license taxes, and value-added taxes. Historian James M. McPherson claimed “almost everything but the air northerners breathed was taxed.” In a case that arose from Elkhart County, Justice Perkins ruled the stamp tax on legal documents to be unconstitutional. Daniel Voorhees objected to the costs of the war, arguing that one Lincoln administration had cost the nation three times as much as all the administrations from George Washington to James Buchanan combined. He could foresee “no land of rest . . . for the tired taxpayer!” Just as the war reshaped Indiana’s economy, it also altered the fabric of social life.
Churches, Beliefs, and Society
The Civil War divided churches. While some churches opened themselves to recruiters and their ministers supported the war effort from the pulpit, others punished members with Unionist sentiments. In Portland Mills in Parke County, Oliver P. Badger allowed recruiting officers to march down the aisle carrying flags to the sound of drum and fife during his service. But James Sill, a Union draft officer, had to leave his Baptist church in Putnam County because of his Unionist sympathies. In some cases attendance declined as men left for war; in others, mini-revivals took place. Indiana churches generally saw the war as an act of divine providence on the United States for the sin of slavery. Quakers’ abolitionism got the better of their pacifism, and many Quakers served in the Union army.
During the war, the Sabbath was kept less strictly and by war’s end, it became common for businesses—even beer gardens—to stay open on Sunday. Calvin Fletcher worried about young girls in Indianapolis being accosted by drunken soldiers. He stopped a “fine young Soldier” and “a fair looking girl of 19” on their way into his orchard, found they were not married, and forbade the girl from going with the young man. “The war has produced much demoralization in the vicinity of bodies of troops that are stationery,” Fletcher concluded. Later he found “lewd women” sleeping in his stable. Fletcher may not have realized that some of these women were forced into prostitution because the war deprived them of male breadwinners.
Civilians lamented that soldiers lacked respect for property rights. Fletcher frequently complained about missing fence rails. Soldiers accustomed to living off the southern countryside burned fences for firewood and raided hens from coops and apples from orchards. When Sarah Hamrick complained that soldiers passing by the family’s property on the train raided the orchard, her brother Simpson, a sergeant in the 27th Indiana, chided, “You have but a Small idea of Soldier depredations.”
The theater boomed in Indianapolis partly because of the large population of soldiers there during the war, but also because of the wartime relaxation of traditional religious objections to plays. Minister’s wife Sarah Hawley was distressed that Abraham Lincoln had been attending a play when he was shot and prayed “that every Union man might resolve never never to go into a theater.” Parades became a constant form of entertainment for the population during the war. Every community saw its boys off to war with certain fanfare. “The Ladies of GreenCastle presented us with a beautiful Flag,” George Chapin wrote. Many troops paraded upon arrival in Indianapolis before being shipped to points at the front.
Women and Children
Women’s participation in such rituals—sewing flags and uniforms, preparing banquets for departing troops—signified the homefront’s support of the war. Occasionally, a wife protested her husband’s enlistment. A Lewisville wife followed her volunteer husband to the railroad depot “where she clung to him and shrieked and sobbed and refused to let him go.” Several men restrained her while her husband “coolly” got on the train. Her helplessness indicated women’s comparative powerlessness. An Indiana Asbury University student dismissed a young woman’s concern about her lover’s enlistment with “Anna must console herself with the hope that he will be safe.” A Henry County woman, Sarah Smith, wished for the end of “this heart rending war.” She worried about her husband, Philander, a sergeant in the 8th Indiana: “If God in his wisdom sees fit to not return you to me what a sad Oh! wretchedly sad fate is mine.”
Over half of adult Hoosier men were absent in the war effort. This created a labor shortage, particularly on the farms. A transition to machinery compensated, especially mechanical reapers that increased the productivity of the wheat harvest, but women and children had to run farms while men were absent at war. In Clark County, Lydia B. Peck informed her soldier husband of the many arrangements she had made about their finances, the running of their farm, and the sale of farm goods. In some instances, she was following his instructions; in others she was “sorry to trouble you” about matters but felt the need of advice; and in still others “you wrote to me that I would have to suit my self.” Mary Hamilton noted her father’s reliance on his daughters’ farm labor: “When we thrash he has my younger sister drive the horses and my brother to rake the straw from the machine and my oldest sister to pitch the sheaves to me and I have to unbind them and get them up on a table so he can get at them and he feeds the machine him self. I do not know what he would do if it was not for his girls.”
Other women were not so lucky as Lydia Peck. Malisa Row complained that when her husband enlisted in Pulaski County, the speechmakers “Made the promes . . . that his family shut be taken Care of.” But when her husband did not receive his pay, and she was forced to turn to the township trustee for charity, he wanted to put her and her young children out to work. One German American soldier’s wife made money by selling pies to the soldiers in Indianapolis, but still was turned out of her home for failing to pay the rent. While some historians have found the war gave women the confidence to manage farms and businesses, other women struggled not to lose their property. Families who were not middle class could find the absence of the husband threw them into poverty. Although wives often felt the community owed them support in return for their husbands’ war service, requests for charity opened them to community scrutiny. One historian has found that wives of volunteers received more generous support than wives of draftees. The stress of war was too much for some women. Amelia A. Lewis tried to kill herself, fearing that her son had died in the army. Prominent men such as Calvin Fletcher served on committees to aid the soldiers’ families. Communities collected wood for soldiers’ families during the winter; farmers donated food to be distributed to families at local stores. As the war went on, Fletcher noted that the charitable spirit seemed to wane: “The war seems to have chilled out benevolence even where the party is better off this than last year or in former years but each feels exhausted more or less in consequence of the demands made on them.” In particular, families that had sent sons to the war were less likely to feel like giving to others.
Women who had been involved in women’s rights now devoted their efforts to the Sanitary Commission and war work. The Indiana Woman’s Rights Association did not convene during the war. One woman’s rights leader, Richmond’s Sarah Iliff Davis, served as presiding officer of the state sanitary commission. About twenty-five of the 150 delegates at the meeting of the state sanitary commissions in Indianapolis in 1864 were women, ranging in age from eighteen to middle age, but were all “decided[ly] benevolent looking ladies.” Calvin Fletcher noted, however, that it was the male members who spoke at the convention. Another prominent woman’s rights leader, Amanda Way, went south to nurse soldiers. After the battle of Stones River in Tennessee, Governor Morton asked twenty-five women to volunteer to nurse the wounded in Nashville. More commonly, women at home raised goods for the troops. The Ladies’ Aid Association of Greencastle shipped boxes of food and donations of money to a member who was working at a hospital in Kentucky. Wives sent individual packages of food to their husbands. John Applegate wrote his wife that “the Mess passed a vote of thanks to you . . . it was the best box of grub we have receiv yet.”
Women worked in industry—especially the state arsenal in Indianapolis. An observer described the workers at the state arsenal as “ninety blushing young virgins and elderly matrons.” He found it “a beautiful and patriotic sight to see the young and tender happy in the bloody work.” They laughed as they rolled cartridges for Colt revolvers and Enfield muskets which were “intended to let daylight through some man’s heart.” Such work, however, was dangerous. A Pennsylvania arsenal exploded in 1862, killing thirty-nine young women. Women’s work was not acknowledged as equivalent to soldiering, nor were female arsenal workers paid as much as male workers, but historian Judith Giesberg labels women’s contribution to feeding and supplying the military, an “army at home.”
In 1860, children were about one-third of the country’s population. John Applegate wrote his daughter Allie of his relief that she was not exposed to the hardships of war he saw southern children enduring: small children turned out of their homes with their families in the night and their dwellings burned. But northern children experienced the war as well. Like many fathers, John provided his daughter with instructions: to mind her mother, be a “good girl,” and go to school every day. Middle-class fathers such as Aden Cavins of Greene County had more elaborate instructions about character formation for his sons. He wanted them to be “industrious and studious” and learn to govern their tempers. The war also shaped the political values of the next generation. Even three-year-old Ally Chapin understood that her father was “gone to war. Gone fight Webels.” Thomas R. Marshall, later vice president of the United States under Woodrow Wilson, recalled that his father and grandfather were told by their Methodist minister that they would be struck from church membership if they continued to vote Democratic. Marshall’s grandfather, a migrant from Virginia, replied “that he was willing to take his chance on Hell but never on the Republican party.”
John Applegate may have desired his daughter to have schooling, but education had foundered in Indiana before the war when the Indiana Supreme Court ruled that townships could not levy a special tax to fund schools. Efforts to amend the Indiana Constitution to provide for funding failed. In addition, the war caused closure of the schools in some areas. New Albany rented its school buildings to the United States government during the war. The situation was not rectified until two decades after the war. During the Civil War, Indiana students went to school for an average of slightly over two months per year and less than 50 percent of school age children attended. Those who did go probably went to a rural, ungraded, one-room school with an inexperienced teacher. Even the Indianapolis high school which opened in 1864 had a principal and a teacher, but no building. Not until 1865, did the state pass funding for teachers’ institutes and to create a state normal school for teacher training. After the war, the length of the school year doubled, attendance grew, and teacher pay and professionalism increased. The Civil War led to a decline in enrollments on college campuses. Franklin College was forced to close temporarily. The Morrill Land Grant Act provided for the creation of a state agricultural university which became Purdue.
Perhaps the greatest change the Civil War brought to Indiana was in race relations. The Constitution of 1851 had forbidden black migration to the state. In the pre-war period, Hoosiers were convinced that the state would be inundated with African Americans as a result of slavery in Kentucky—for example, elderly slaves freed when they were no longer useful—if there were no prohibition. An abolitionist such as Calvin Fletcher saw early in the war “that we would be compelled to proclaim Slavry at an end before the close of the war.” Other Hoosiers feared that this would be the result of “The Abolition War of Seward, Lincoln and Company.”
Although many Hoosiers were willing to accept emancipation as a military necessity, others feared the threat to white supremacy was too great. A Democratic state legislative report condemned the Emancipation Proclamation as “unconstitutional, unwise, and calculated to do the cause of the Union incalculable injury.” One Hoosier soldier frankly said that he did not think African Americans were human beings. Although some historians have argued that black military service gained African Americans respect, a Clark County man felt the claim that black soldiers were necessary to win the war was a “most degrading and miserably humiliating” admission. During the 1864 election, Democrats made race a political issue, declaring, “This is a white man’s government, founded by and for white men; and . . . we never will submit to being placed upon an equality with the African race.” Indiana Democrats in Congress refused to vote for the Thirteenth Amendment. The Quaker-settled Centreville newspaper might celebrate the Proclamation as restoring the United States to its place as “the beacon light to all the oppressed of the earth,” but many Hoosiers worried that when slavery’s bonds loosened during the war, migration north of the Ohio River of a “worthless and degraded” population would increase. Hoosiers feared competition from black laborers, the cost of “forcing the State to assume the support of a horde of black paupers, idlers and thieves,” and the eventual “amalgamation of the two races.” During the war, the black population of Indiana doubled although it was still less than 2 percent of the total population. Increasingly, African Americans moved to Indianapolis rather than settle in the river towns. A “great flow of contrabands” and refugees took refuge with the black African Methodist Episcopal minister in Indianapolis, Willis R. Revels, who provided them with food, clothing, and shelter. White benefactors, especially Quakers, also formed freedmen aid societies, which collected clothing for former slaves and sent teachers and doctors to the South. Some contrabands took jobs as servants for families in Indianapolis. Simpson Hamrick arranged for a contraband named Henry to go to Indiana to escape a Maryland master who demanded the military return Henry to slavery. Sometime during the war, Wyatt James escaped slavery in Mississippi and came to Greencastle, Indiana. In early 1864, he enlisted in the 28th Regiment, United States Colored Troops, Indiana’s only black regiment. After the war, he settled in Putnam County, married into a local free black family, and lived out his life as a laborer. Still, until the Thirteenth Amendment freed all the slaves, the runaways lived in fear. A worker on Calvin Fletcher’s farm left after someone “innocently told him he was in danger of being taken up.” Finally, in 1866 the Indiana Supreme Court, by that time controlled by Republican justices, declared exclusion null and void.
Violence marred the change in race relations. In 1862, a riot occurred in New Albany. A race riot in Evansville a few months after the war’s end marked concerted attempts to drive African Americans out of the community. White rioters set fire to a vacant house where homeless blacks had taken shelter and even burned out an elderly black man who had been a resident in the town for two decades. They threatened arson against tobacco manufactories which employed blacks. But Calvin Fletcher even found that “most of the old resident colered citizens . . . do not sympathise with the new freed men from the south.” Perhaps, like white Hoosiers, they disliked the competition for work.
African Americans asserted their new place in the polity. On the first anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation, blacks in Indianapolis celebrated with a parade. Silas Schucraft, who had helped persuade Governor Morton to recruit black troops, looked forward to the day when he and others would “exercise and enjoy the inestimable right of suffrage as free American citizens of color.” A few years after the war, the legislature opened public schools to African-American children. Although some districts maintained segregated schools if there were sufficient black children for a separate school, segregation was not required. Some disagreed with the increased racial openness. An 1867 Sabbath school procession in Franklin in which a class of black children participated “caused A goodeal of talk.” Peter Demaree disapproved, feeling the inclusion of black scholars contributed to “sosial equality.” Demaree was right: Indiana was no longer a “black law” state able to discriminate against “American citizens of color.”
The War Ends
On April 5, 1865, Calvin Fletcher recorded in his diary the news that Petersburg and Richmond, Virginia had capitulated: “All Joy.” A few days later, Robert E. Lee surrendered his army. Throughout the state, citizens fired off cannon, draped homes and businesses in patriotic bunting, and listened to celebratory speeches. But the victory celebrations were cut short by the shocking announcement of the assassination of Abraham Lincoln. Bells tolled in towns throughout the state. Businesses shut down. Houses were draped in mourning colors. Hoosiers listened to speeches and sermons in honor of the president martyred on Easter weekend. In Indianapolis, an estimated ten to fifteen-thousand people marched in solemn procession to honor the president’s funeral. Lincoln’s funeral train passed through Indiana on the last day of April. Governor Morton and a party of distinguished citizens including Calvin Fletcher and several clergymen met the train at Richmond and escorted it to Indianapolis where crowds thronged the streets despite a hard rain. The body lay at the State House, viewed by an estimated 50,000 Hoosiers. The funeral train stopped in Michigan City, La Porte County, before it continued on to Springfield, Illinois for burial.
Before the outbreak of war, Abraham Lincoln had assured Governor Morton that for “the salvation of this Union there needs but one single thing, the hearts of a people like yours.” One historian estimated that over half of Hoosier families sent members into the war. Over 10 percent of those men died. Those who returned were veterans of combat, “ragged & proude.” Just as parades, speeches, and banners provided the ceremony for sending men to war, the returning soldiers were greeted with similar pomp. Over the summer, mustered out regiments were received at the state capital and in their home towns with welcoming receptions of speeches and dinners. The war had brought changes to families and individuals, to the Hoosier society and economy. Calvin Fletcher captured the most profound change when he noted at the end of the war, “the colered man will have full privileges as a citizen in due time.”
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Rable, George C. God’s Almost Chosen Peoples: A Religious History of the American Civil War. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010.
Silber, Nina. Daughters of the Union: Northern Women Fight the Civil War. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2005.
Stampp, Kenneth M. “The Impact of the Civil War upon Hoosier Society,” 249-65. “No Cheap Padding”: Seventy-Five Years of the Indiana Magazine of History, 1904-1979. Compiled by Lorna Lutes Sylvester. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Bureau, 1980).
Thornbrough, Emma Lou. Indiana in the Civil War Era, 1850-1880. Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Bureau and Indiana Historical Society, 1965.
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