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Hoosier Soldiers in the Civil War

Thomas E. Rodgers
University of Southern Indiana


According to official reports, 196,363 Hoosier men served in the Navy and Army during the Civil War.  Of this number, 1,078 served in the Navy, 1,537 were African-Americans serving in black army units, and 193,748 were white males who served in the Army.  All but a few thousand of the latter entered the Army through state volunteer units taken into federal service.  In addition, thousands of men volunteered for the Indiana Legion, the reorganized state militia that primarily guarded the southern border of the state.  Indiana’s proportion of Army recruits to population was the second highest of any state on the Union side, and the highest among the six northern states with the largest populations.  This proportion is even more impressive given the fact that Indiana was the only northern state that did not recruit volunteers outside of its borders.  While some attention will be paid to all those who served, most of what follows focuses on the white state male volunteers, who were by far the largest group of Hoosiers in the war.

Source: Civil War Photographs, Manuscripts and Rare Books, Indiana State Library

Hoosier Volunteers for the Union

The men who joined before July 1862 were all volunteers.  Most recruiting was carried out at community meetings and, more often, by individuals who raised a company.  The latter were frequently prominent people of the community; often, it seems, aspiring politicians such as Benjamin Harrison, who anticipated political advantage in their service as well as a chance for exercising sincere patriotism.  A company consisted of about one hundred men.  The men of the company usually elected their officers.  The highest company rank of captain usually went to the man who had raised the company.  Ten companies, typically from the same congressional district, would be gathered into a volunteer infantry regiment. A regiment consisted of about one thousand men and was commanded by a colonel. The other regimental officers were major, lieutenant colonel, adjutant, quartermaster, chaplain, surgeons, and assistant surgeons. All were appointed by the governor.

While most men served in infantry regiments, there were also cavalry and artillery units.  Cavalry regiments consisted of twelve companies, and, like infantry regiments, were commanded by a colonel.  The other regimental officers were the same as the infantry regiments with the addition of a commissary officer.  Thirteen regiments of cavalry were provided by the Hoosier state.  Indiana provided one regiment of heavy artillery and twenty-six batteries of light artillery.  The former manned large, usually stationary guns, while the latter manned mobile field artillery, which moved with the infantry.  Artillery batteries consisted of about five officers, 143 men, and six guns.  Cavalry and artillery units were very popular—especially after the first year of the war—but the men in them only constituted around one-sixth of the Hoosiers in the Union Army.

Companies generally assembled at county seats or other large towns; regiments assembled at camps in major regional cities, such as Camp Allen at Fort Wayne and Camp Dick Thompson at Terre Haute.  Fairgrounds were often turned into military camps.  Most regiments spent time at Camp Morton in Indianapolis before being sent to the front.  The first regiments created in Indiana were those formed in response to Lincoln’s call on April 15, 1861, for 75,000 volunteers for three months.  Indiana’s share of the 75,000 was 4,683 volunteers.  The numbers given to these initial regiments began with the number six to honor the five Indiana regiments that had served in the Mexican War, 1846-1848.  Following this precedent, Hoosier regiments in the Spanish-American War in 1898 began with 157 in honor of the Civil War regiments.  Civil War units were recruited to serve for 30, 60, or 100 days, three, six, or nine months, or one or three years.  The most common term of enlistment by far for Hoosier men was three years.

Three of the white volunteer infantry regiments had an ethnic base.  The 32nd Indiana was composed of German Hoosiers from around the state.  The 35th Indiana was an Irish regiment.  In 1862, the 35th was merged with the 61st  Indiana, another Irish regiment.  The percentage of foreign born in Indiana in the 1860 census was the highest of any census in the state’s history.  However, the foreign proportion was still only 8.75 percent.  Since there were more male than female immigrants, foreign-born men made up 9.6 percent of the Indiana male population.  The origins of 118,254 of Indiana’s recruits are known, and of this group about 9.4 percent were foreign born.  Germans, the largest immigrant group in the state, appear to have been somewhat underrepresented among the recruits, while the Irish and English were a little overrepresented.  In the North as a whole, approximately 30 percent of the male population was foreign; however, only approximately 25 percent of the Union soldiers were immigrants.  Thus, it appears that immigrants living in Indiana were more likely to serve than immigrants in the North as a whole.

Edward Mueller, 32nd Regiment, enrolled August 24, 1861; he was a First Lieutenant and Regimental Quartermaster. Mueller mustered out July 23, 1863 to accept the federal appointment of Captain and Brigade Commissary (Indiana State Archives Civil War Records, Indiana State Digital Archives). Source: Civil War Photographs, Manuscripts and Rare Books, Indiana State Library.

Congress did not authorize the enlistment of African American men in the Union Army until July 1862, as part of the first draft law passed by Congress on July 17, 1862.  African Americans, once accepted, served in segregated units.  Until the end of 1863, Hoosier volunteer units only recruited white males.  Other states and the federal government began recruiting black males before Indiana. Some Hoosier African Americans went elsewhere to join; 81 black Hoosiers served in the famous 54th Massachusetts; others served in regiments from Michigan and Rhode Island and in eight of the federal United States Colored Troops units.  Because many Hoosier African Americans joined in other places, of the estimated 1,537 black men from Indiana who served, only about 800 were credited to Indiana’s quota. The 28th Regiment, United States Colored Troops, was the main black military unit from Indiana.  It had its origins on December 3, 1863, when the Indiana Adjutant General issued a general order to enlist Indiana’s first black soldiers. The troops trained at Camp Frémont, on land made available by Calvin Fletcher near present-day Fountain Square in Indianapolis.  After a parade through the Hoosier capital, the 28th  USCT left Indiana on April 24, 1864 for the front in Virginia, where nearly half of the regiment became casualties in the Battle of the Crater in July.  

Women were not allowed to join the Army.  However, some women, such as Mary Wise of the 34th Indiana, disguised themselves as men and enlisted.  The number of women who secretly joined the Union Army is, of course, unknown, but the best estimates range from a few hundred to a thousand.  Even the latter estimate would constitute less than 0.05 percent of the 2.1 million people who served in the Union Army.  It is unlikely that more than a tiny number of Hoosier women joined the Army in the guise of men.  Most of the women who attempted to join the military service appear to have done so out of patriotism, love of adventure, or a desire to be near a male loved one.  In a few cases, the joining women were prostitutes plying their trade or transvestites.

When a state volunteer regiment was sworn into the army and sent to one of the field armies, it became part of a brigade that consisted of three to six regiments.    Brigades were combined to form a division, divisions were combined to form an Army corps, and corps were combined to create a field army.  Officers and enlisted men from Indiana units might be assigned to positions on the staffs of the brigade, division, corps, or field army of which their regiment was a part. The number of regiments per brigade varied so much because regiments quickly lost strength due to illness and battle casualties.  It was not unusual for a regiment to be reduced to half of its original one thousand men in a relatively short time.  Over a three-year term of service the reduction could be even greater.  Governor Oliver P. Morton was instrumental in helping devise a successful federal plan to encourage the volunteers of 1861 to re-enlist at the end of their 3-year hitch.  Although three-fourths of these veterans from Indiana chose to rejoin, their total number was just 12,433.  Despite their small numbers, the enlistment of experienced and patriotic veterans from Indiana and other states was important to maintaining the Union war effort.

1862 and 1863 Draft Laws

At first, volunteers for the Union Army were plentiful, but as they became more scarce, Congress passed the first draft law—the federal Militia Act on July 17, 1862. This first draft was implemented by the state governments.  In Indiana, Governor Oliver P. Morton created a new group of officials to carry out the draft rather than have it done by existing county officials.  Quotas were set for each township, and those that could not fill their quota with volunteers were subject to a draft.  White men 18 to 45 years of age were subject to the draft.  Those drafted could pay a $200 commutation fee to get out of service.  Under this system, 3,003 Hoosiers were drafted; 2,183 of these men entered the army, and the rest either ran away or were exempted for disabilities.

When the 1862 militia draft proved inadequate, Congress passed the Enrollment Act on March 3, 1863.  This new draft was administered by federal officials, including an Acting Assistant Provost Marshal General for the state and officials at the Congressional District and local level.  When the president issued a call for more troops, each state was given a quota.  Indiana divided its required number of men into quotas for each township.  A draft was held only if a township failed to meet its quota through volunteers.  In fact, the primary purpose of the draft was to stimulate volunteering.  Since being drafted was commonly seen as an embarrassment, most men would rather volunteer than be drafted. Many counties, townships, and cities instituted a bounty to encourage volunteers.  The federal government as well as local governments issued bounties.  Amounts offered by local governments varied, and young men might shop for the highest bounty.  Bart Dooley, for example, volunteered on one occasion in Montgomery County, which was paying a $400 bounty, instead of in his home county of Parke, which offered only $300.

Most of the men who were drafted in the North during the war did not end up going into the army.  Many men were unable to pass the physical because of hernias and other physical problems.  Others bought their way out.  Until July 1864, a person could pay a commutation fee of $300 to get out of the Enrollment Act draft.  A fee applied only to the current draft, and, if one were drafted again later, one would have to pay again to avoid service.  One could also hire a substitute to go in one’s place.  As long as there was a commutation fee option, the price of substitutes remained in the $200 to $275 range in the North; after the end of commutation, the price of substitutes rose dramatically.  Elizabeth Anne Butler, for example, noted in a letter in October 1864 to her son Scot how an Indianapolis man they knew paid $1,000 for a substitute.

Detail from the roster of “additional enlisted men” of the 79th Regiment, showing the high number of substitutes. Source: W. H. H. Terrell, Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Indiana, Vol. VIII, 1861-1865 (Indianapolis, 1868), p. 291, at (Accessed March 28, 2011).

The Enrollment Act of 1863 did not exempt conscientious objectors from the draft.  However, they were allowed to pay the $300 dollar commutation fee throughout the entire time the 1863 draft was in effect; 785 Hoosier conscientious objectors paid the fee.

The $300 commutation fee was the equivalent of roughly one-year’s income for the average Hoosier male of the 1860s.  It has been suggested that the Civil War was “a rich man’s war, and a poor man’s fight” since a typical Indiana man would find it difficult to pay a commutation fee or hire a substitute.  Although this suggestion might seem plausible at first glance, it is not correct.  First and foremost, numerous affluent Hoosiers volunteered for service without being drafted.  Second, even relatively poor men found ways to buy out of the draft.  For instance, in Tippecanoe County, there was an organization called the Fairfield Township Draft Association.  Membership cost $50.  If a member was drafted, the club paid the $300 commutation fee.  It should be noted that the Union Army did not have the “long tail” of twentieth-century armies, in which the vast majority of military personnel were in intelligence, supply, or other non-combat roles.  In World War II and other twentieth-century conflicts, the army used testing and soldiers’ education levels to assign troops to positions in which they could be of greatest use.  The least educated and intelligent, who were often impoverished, were the most likely to go into combat.  In the Civil War, all units could expect to see combat.  In all likelihood, more Hoosiers of affluence, intelligence, and education were in front line combat units during the Civil War than in any of America’s twentieth-century conflicts and probably in any its other nineteenth-century wars.

Hoosier Soldiers Go to War

The departures of companies and regiments were often marked by community celebrations or public meals.  For example, when Theodore Upson’s company left, the men were treated to “a grand dinner in a grove” hosted by “the ladies and citizens” of South Milford, La Grange County.  Troops might also be treated and feted in other places as they made their way to the front.  Another common ritual for departing troops was a flag presentation ceremony.  Regimental flags were typically made and presented by women, who were related in some way to the men in the regiment.  The heroic rhetoric of these flag presentations might seem florid and hyperbolic to modern ears; but, as described later in this essay, these flags were very important, and soldiers defended them with a courage that could make the seemingly exaggerated oratory of the flag presentation ceremonies seem like understatement.

The training the Civil War soldier received was quite different from that of recruits in modern armies. After entering the Army, by far the most common form of training enlisted men received was marching drills.  Soldiers’ letters and memoirs are filled with references to drilling.  Men were taught how to march in columns and deploy into battle lines.  Theodore Upson recalled how his regiment was also instructed in how to form a hollow square: a configuration in which infantry could defend against cavalry by having the men fix bayonets and form a square with all men facing outward.  There appears to have been very little in the way of training or conditioning beyond drilling.  One rarely finds descriptions of target practice.  Wayne Alford found himself deployed to Kentucky without even having been issued a weapon, let alone firing one.  Beyond marching, there is no evidence that men did any significant physical training, underwent training in hand-to-hand combat, or were put through live fire exercises to acclimate them to the noise and smoke of battle.

The make-up of the company in which the Civil War soldier served and the way in which he related to his comrades were also very different.  In World War II, for instance, a recruit would be given the same haircut and grooming and clothes as everyone else and placed in a group of strangers of similar age from all over the country.  Individuality was suppressed, and unit cohesion was promoted.  The latter was seen as essential for men to be able to perform under the stresses of battle conditions.  Hoosier Civil War soldiers had no uniform hair cuts or standard grooming, and if the basics of their uniforms were similar, there were a lot of non-regulation clothing items being sent to the troops by wives and mothers.  A company would contain varying numbers of strangers, but there would also be a number of people who knew each other well.  Companies raised in cities appear to have had more strangers than those raised in rural counties.   For instance, in companies C and D of the 11th Indiana raised in Terre Haute in 1861, almost all of the men listed their home as Vigo County; however, among these men, only 29.3 percent of enlisted men and 42.9 percent of noncommissioned officers had been listed in the 1860 manuscript U.S. census for Vigo County taken about a year before their enlistment.  In contrast, in Company E of the 43rd Indiana raised in rural Sullivan County, 57.5 percent of the enlisted men and 76.9 percent of the noncommissioned officers (including all of the sergeants) who listed their residence as Sullivan County, were listed in the 1860 census.  Since only 8.8 percent of Indiana’s population in 1860 was urban, the figures for Company E of the 43rd Indiana are probably far and away more typical of Hoosier companies in the Civil War.

“Frank E. Lowe, a Military Agent for Indiana, stationed in New York, sent this cover letter with a report of the sick and wounded of Indiana regiments, to Governor Morton.” Source: Report of Indiana Military Agencies to the Governor (Indianapolis, 1865), Indiana Division, Indiana State Library.

The composition of Indiana companies also was a reflection of the demographics of mid-nineteenth century America.  While young women tended to stay with parents until marriage, young men were highly geographically mobile.  One modern study of young midwestern farm laborers determined that only approximately 15 percent of these men stayed in one place between the censuses of 1850 and 1860.  In essence, single, young men aged from the mid-teens to mid-twenties—among the men most likely to join the Army—were in a kind of game of geographical musical chairs; when Fort Sumter stopped the music, a set of young men were left in the Indiana chair.  Most of these young men were Hoosiers moving around within their county or region of the state, but others were not Hoosiers.  E. B. Reese, for example, was a laborer from Pennsylvania who happened to be living in rural Owen County when the war came, and he joined the Army as a recruit in an Indiana unit.  Most companies probably had a majority who knew each other well, but also had a significant minority of strangers from other parts of the state and nation.  Among those who knew each other, it would not be uncommon to find brothers, cousins, and fathers and sons, as well as neighbors.  While younger men might make up the bulk of the recruits, units would typically contain a range of ages.  Theodore Upson, for example, noted that his company, when it first formed, had men ranging in age from 16 to 43.

Company officers, as noted earlier, were elected and were often people of local prestige.  Thus, local familiarity and connections might extend to the officers with whom the men had the most contact; the status of the officer in the civilian community reinforced his authority within the military.  Connection to the home community went beyond simply most men knowing each other and their officers.  Massive numbers of letters were exchanged between Hoosier soldiers and their loved ones.  These letters routinely contained information about other local men in the company as well as the soldier who wrote the letter.  Information was shared among neighbors who had boys in the same unit; often letters were read aloud in churches or country stores.  Some letters were even printed in local newspapers.

Excerpt from a page of the Indiana Sanitary Commission report to Governor Morton, listing the goods shipped to soldiers in November 1862. Source: Report of the Indiana Sanitary Commission Made to the Governor, January 2, 1865, (Indianapolis, 1865)

The local community did more than send and read letters.  A steady flow of socks and other clothing, food items, newspapers, and other useful things were sent to supplement whatever was provided by the Army.  In addition to this local support, the State of Indiana probably provided more for its soldiers than any other northern state. Governor Oliver P. Morton, who gained the nickname the “soldiers’ friend,” was very active in looking out for the needs of Indiana troops.  He established the Indiana Military Agency to identify and provide for various needs of Hoosier soldiers.  This state agency was supported by the Indiana Sanitary Commission, a private organization.  Indiana was the only state which had its own sanitary commission to provide aid to its soldiers, rather than depend on the United States Sanitary Commission.  The Indiana Military Agency and the Indiana Sanitary Commission provided extra food supplies to Hoosier fighting men.  They also provided extra medical personnel for wounded Hoosiers, additional transportation to evacuate the badly wounded to hospitals far from the front, and other services.  Overall, the Indiana Sanitary Commission raised a reported $606,570.78 in cash and commodities for the benefit of Indiana soldiers.

Who Joined the Army?

Since Hoosier Civil War recruits did not receive the training and psychological conditioning believed necessary today for a man to function in combat, how did they perform so effectively when confronted by the chaos and horror of battle?  The answer to this question is to be found in the values and motivations that led Hoosier men to join the Union Army.  To understand combat performance, one must begin with an examination of who joined the Army.  In the past, scholars have suggested, first, that many of those who joined the Army were young men looking for adventure, and, second, that both Democrats and Republicans must have joined in large numbers given the size of the enlistments and the fact that the state was roughly evenly divided between the political parties.  Supporting evidence for the second point can be the disproportionately large numbers of men who enlisted from the heavily Democratic southern part of the state.  In reality, however, the large numbers of enlisted men from the southern areas of the state is evidence for the first rather than the second point.  Southern Indiana—especially the southeast—was settled decades before many northern parts of the state; parts of northwest Indiana were still frontier areas as late as the 1850s.  The longest settled areas had the most mature populations, and, in fact, were spinning off excess people.  It was these areas that had the largest number of young men who could be spared from their economies.  Hence, overall volunteer rates in various regions of the state tended to reflect the availability of young men looking for adventure more than other factors.

Common sense might dictate that such large numbers of volunteers as Indiana produced must have been the result of both Democrats and Republicans joining in substantial numbers; this view is reinforced by the presence of high visibility Democrats, such as Lew Wallace, in prominent positions in the Army.  Nevertheless, a close examination of those who actually served demonstrates that the common sense view is incorrect.  Take, for example, Jefferson Township, Sullivan County, where voters were about 81.3 percent Democratic.  Common sense would hold that in so heavily a Democratic area a substantial number of its volunteers must be Democrats.  However, a study of Jefferson Township volunteers for the pre-draft year of 1861 identified approximately 75 percent of recruits as Republicans; no recruit was definitely identified as a Democrat.  Similar findings have been reported in studies of other townships and in the biographies of Civil War era Hoosiers in county histories.  One study of biographies in nine county histories determined that 37.9 percent of married Republicans and 64.7 percent of single Republicans joined the Army; among Democrats, just 8.0 percent of married men and 31.0 percent of single men served.  These biographies do not provide a random sample, but they do represent long-time, often prominent residents.  They are also based on the entire war and, therefore, include volunteers and those drafted or stimulated by the draft to volunteer.  Anecdotal evidence is also consistent with these findings.  Anyone who has been through a number of Indiana Civil War letter collections, diaries, and memoirs knows that the documents containing political expressions were overwhelmingly written by Republicans.  It is relatively rare to find one written by an active Democratic voter who had not become a War Democrat.  Similarly, numerous instances of Republican families sending multiple sons to the war can be cited, while similar findings for Democratic families are unusual.  For example, Samuel R. Cavins, the leading Republican in Greene County, had four sons in the Army; another Greene County Republican, Lewis P. Letsinger, had six sons and three sons-in-law in the service; and Republican William Harrison of Putnam County had all four of his sons and his younger brother in the Army.  The high volunteer rates of Republicans and the fact that their median wealth was greater than that of Democrats, provides additional evidence that the Civil War was not a “rich man’s war and a poor man’s fight.”

What Motivated Hoosier Soldiers?

Obviously, Republicans were highly motivated.  What was it that so inspired them?  Many historians today contend that the Civil War was first and foremost about slavery.  Certainly, there is evidence that some Hoosier Republicans were so motivated.  George Squires of Allen County filled his letters with passionate denunciations of slavery (and Democrats) that left little doubt that opposition to slavery was a powerful motivation for him.  Similarly, historian Jacquelyn S. Nelson has shown that some Hoosier Quakers so strongly opposed slavery that they were inspired to take up arms despite their pacifist beliefs.  However, anyone who has read extensively in the manuscripts left behind by Hoosier Civil War soldiers knows that slavery was not frequently mentioned, and that men like Squires were more the exception than the rule among soldiers from Indiana.

If slavery was not the primary inspiration, suggestions for alternative motivations can be located in historian James M. McPherson’s study, For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War.  McPherson determined that soldiers on both sides most often wrote that their motivations were republicanism and their personal liberty.  Both republicanism and liberty meant different things to different people.  America was founded as an experiment in democratic-republican government.  In the Civil War era, people used the term republicanism to convey their interpretation of how the Founding Fathers defined this experiment.  Republicans believed their political ideology embodied the beliefs of the Founders.  Therefore, individuals who strongly opposed the Republicans were not considered to be the true sons of the Founders and possibly a threat to the liberty created by America’s noble experiment.  The Republican Party came into being in the 1850s first and foremost to stop the “Slave Power Conspiracy.”  According to Republicans, this conspiracy was a plot by the planter class to overthrow the experiment of the Founders as the Republicans defined it.  Secession and the attack on Fort Sumter were seen as extensions of the prewar subversion efforts of the planters.  Republicans were thus, in their view, fighting for nothing less than the survival of the Founders’ experiment.  Since liberty, as Republicans defined it, was only possible within the experiment, the liberty of each soldier, and of their children, and of generations yet unborn were at stake.  Since the American experiment was seen as determining if humanity was capable of freedom, not only the freedom of Americans but that of all mankind was in the balance.  The Founders had fought to establish liberty through the great experiment, and anyone who wanted to be a true son of the Founding Fathers must be ready to fight for liberty—to put their bodies on the altar of the nation.

Hoosiers articulated their republicanism and their liberty concerns in a number of ways.  Theodore Upson expressed himself in this way: “This Union your ancestors and mine helped to make must be saved from destruction. . . .  I don’t feel right to stay at home any longer.”  Henry C. Marsh wrote: “I miss home the Church and my friends very much but am willing to give them all up for my country in this great strugle for Liber[t]y.”  Elijah Cavins wrote: “Let the avenging hand of destruction sweep over the entire south . . . rather than . . . bringing out an answer that a republican form of government is a failure.”  Others expressed it by speaking of the need to sustain the Government or maintain the best Government on earth.  As Ara Fraizer put it, “I, with thousands of others . . . periled our lives—for the sole purpose of putting down the rebellion, & to maintain this Government, the best that the world ever knew . . . .”

McPherson also found that men in both the South and the North spoke often of honor and duty, but that Southerners most often mentioned honor, and Northerners most often mentioned duty.  Indeed, the word duty appears often in the writings of Hoosier soldiers and was an important part of the lives of many Indiana men. For example, James Grimsley, wrote that he was “willing to bear any thing with becoming dignity and grace, that my duty may demand.”  Most Hoosiers lived in rural and small town settings among kinfolk and long-time friends.  If men and their immediate family pursued financial security and profit, they knew that there would be times when they would need the help of kith and kin, who provided one’s social safety net at a time when government services were minimal by modern standards.  People helped each other and expected help in return.  This included soldiers who assumed kith and kin would help the wives and children they left behind.  Duties and responsibilities to neighbors were just the beginning of the obligations of males.  White men were privileged in this period in Indiana.  In 1860, only white men could vote, serve on juries, serve in office, and fight in state military units.  With these privileges came an obligation—a duty—to vote and to serve in office, on juries, and in militias.  To be a man in Indiana was to accept both duties and privileges.  It was very easy to extrapolate from duty to kin to duty to the community to duty to the nation—especially, when defending true republicanism preserved one’s own freedom and the freedom of one’s kith and kin.  Republicans saw and understood the world around them in terms of their political ideology.  In 1861, they saw a vital threat to their liberty and to the democratic-republican experiment of the Founders, and they felt a duty to act against this threat.  This is what motivated so many Republicans to join the Army and to fight with such determination and ferocity.

Democrats also believed deeply in liberty and the experiment in democratic-republican government of the Founders, but they defined these concepts differently.  In the Democratic perception of the world, secession was wrong, but an even greater threat to liberty was posed by the policies of the Republicans.  Democrats believed that the way to save the republic was to defeat the Republicans at the polls, assume office, and find a negotiated rather than a military solution to secession.  Hoosier Republicans tended to misinterpret the Democratic version of republicanism as pro-Confederate sympathy and disloyalty.

Source: Evansville Daily Gazette, July 19, 1862

Highly motivated Republicans formed the core of Hoosier forces and provided the élan for which the troops who joined before the draft were known.  Their commitment and sense of duty was crucial to allowing the poorly trained troops to perform in combat.  Their courage was enhanced by the peer pressure of knowing that one’s performance was observed by so many others from one’s community and that what one did or did not do would be described in letters home to so many one cared about and wanted to impress. Many of the youth who joined for adventure early in the war and the men who were later drafted, pressured into joining by the draft, or joined for money (bounties or paid as a substitute) were not so highly motivated or as committed to moral deportment as the Republicans.  Indeed, official records indicate that some 10,846 Indiana soldiers were so poorly committed to the cause that they deserted during the war.  Hoosier soldiers thus displayed a wide range of levels of patriotism, courage, and morals, even as the overall impression left by most Hoosier regiments was one of great commitment to cause and country.

The young, single men who joined for adventure were at a malleable point in their lives, and were thus capable of becoming more committed to the cause like their Republican comrades.  In the Confederate field armies, extensive missionizing efforts were able to create spectacular revivals and tens of thousands of religious conversions among the impressionable young men of those armies.  It makes sense to assume that the pliable young men of Hoosier companies were similarly susceptible to political missionizing by zealous Republicans.  Simpson Hamrick of the 27th Indiana described how recruits were “credulous & easily influenced” and how Democratic officers were silenced if they attempted to influence the enlisted men.  Jacob Fletcher and William Jerauld of the 97th Indiana described how many men in their regiment were opposed to Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation until Republican officers began working to change their minds.  The officers were so successful that the regiment passed a resolution unanimously approving Lincoln’s emancipation plan.  The numerous straw polls of Hoosier soldiers that usually displayed huge majorities for Lincoln can be explained as the result of large numbers of Republicans joining the Army and the political conversions these Republicans made among the malleable young men in their ranks.

Hoosiers in Battle

Indiana units fought in the first substantial battle of the war at Philippi, Virginia, on June 3, 1861, and in the last significant engagement at Palmetto Ranche, Texas, on May 13, 1865.  Indiana soldiers were involved in 308 battles in sixteen states and one territory.  Indiana regiments fought in all major theaters of action, but more were involved in the fighting west of the Appalachians than east of them.  For example, just six Indiana regiments were involved in the Battle of Gettysburg and six regiments and artillery batteries in the fighting at Antietam, while some fifty-five Hoosier regiments and artillery batteries fought at Atlanta, fifty-five at Kenesaw Mountain, and fifty at Resaca.  Typically, men fought in two-deep line formations.  Instead of company and regimental officers remaining in command posts off the battlefield, as was common in World War II, officers often led their men into battle.  With their distinctive dress, swords, and sometimes mounted on horseback, officers became prime targets for the enemy.  The bravery the officers displayed in battle earned them the respect of their men, and, conversely, if they failed to show courage, the disdain of their men.

The battlefield was a terrifying, disorienting place.  What one saw could be terrifying: solid shot from cannon could split men or even horses in twain.  The noise from thousands of small arms and explosive cannon shells could be deafening and bewildering.  Men might react to these terrors in varying ways; especially men who were not battle tested.  It is generally thought that in a fight one veteran soldier was worth two soldiers who had not yet been in battle.  An outstanding veteran unit, such as the famous Iron Brigade that included the 19th Indiana, tended to perform well in battle.  At the Battle of South Mountain, on September 14, 1862, Iron Brigade men fired their weapons until they literally became too hot to handle.  On the other hand, among the 24,000 loaded muskets collected after the 1863 Battle of Gettysburg, about three-fourths had multiple loads.  In other words, in the noise and confusion of battle thousands of men were loading without having fired the previous load.  It was widely believed that having men stand in a line, shoulder to shoulder, reinforced the bravery of each soldier, but some men would be rattled nevertheless and make mistakes such as multiple loadings and firing in the air with their eyes closed.  As the war progressed, both sides used field fortifications more and more.  As Sherman advanced toward Atlanta and Grant toward Richmond in 1864, troops repeatedly dug trenches and often reinforced them with logs.  The trenches created during the nine-month stalemate before Petersburg from June 1864 to early April 1865 were several miles in extent, and adumbrated the trench warfare of World War I.

If the sight of men killed and dismembered before one’s eyes was terrifying, the smoke of battle was disorienting and confusing.  Since neither side used smokeless powder, the entire battlefield would be enveloped in smoke once the firing began.  Men could become lost in the smoke, and even fire by mistake at their own comrades.  A key person on the battlefield was the regimental flag bearer.  If things became chaotic, one looked for the flag and moved toward it to reunite with one’s unit.  Men typically considered it an honor to carry the flag, despite the fact that the flag bearer was a prime target for the enemy.  The importance Civil War soldiers gave to defending their flag and capturing that of the enemy was remarkable.  Stories of flag bearers holding the flag aloft despite multiple wounds until others could take their place sound like romanticized fiction, but such actions were commonplace realities among men of both armies.  Amory K. Allen recalled: “the colors is always a mark to shoot at and the color bearers is almost sure to get shot but our flag is bound to wave [.] . . . there was 6 of us color guards [at Antietam] and out of the 6 4 of us was shot[.]”

Whether battles were fought from line formations or from trenches, most of the fighting was done by infantry.  Cavalry units were used primarily for reconnaissance and raiding.  Cavalry also might be stationed near the rear of a battlefield to prevent individuals from making unauthorized exits from the battle.  Another function that was especially important west of the Appalachians was guarding lines of communication.  The rapid advance of the Union armies in the West created long supply lines that were vulnerable to the attacks of Confederate cavalry.  Union commanders used both cavalry and infantry to protect bridges and other vital points and to pursue rebel attackers.  A number of Hoosier units, mounted and unmounted, were detailed to protect lines of communication.

One of the most celebrated of the Confederate raiders, John Hunt Morgan, led a foray into Indiana in 1863.  The rebels never made a sustained invasion of the Hoosier state, but they did make occasional raids, such as at Newburgh in 1862.  The Indiana Legion was given the task of protecting the Ohio River border, which could be easily crossed because of freezing in winter and low water in summer. Morgan’s raid was by far the largest incursion into Indiana, involving some 2,400 Confederate soldiers.  The Legion met Morgan in battle at Corydon.  Morgan had cannon and was able to win the battle against the outnumbered Legion soldiers.  Morgan hit a few other towns, but made a quick exit into Ohio as some 65,000 Hoosier men volunteered to fight against him in just forty-eight hours.  This remarkable response suggests two things.  One is that despite the large number of Hoosiers serving in the Army, Indiana’s manpower reserves were by no means depleted.  Another is that the Confederates found little support among Democrats in southern Indiana and, given the number of Republicans already serving in the Army, many of the volunteers to fight against Morgan must have been Democrats.  This suggests that Democrats were not disloyal and would fight to defend the state when it was invaded.

Army Life and Its Hazards

Thomas H. B. McCain, 86th Indiana Regiment Source: Civil War Photographs, Manuscripts and Rare Books, Indiana State Library.

There was more to Army life than battles and guarding supply lines.  For most troops most of the time there were long lulls between battles.  A soldier’s life during these lulls could be arduous and taxing in a number of different ways.  If the army was stationary, it could usually be easily supplied; and there would often also be private entrepreneurs called sutlers, who followed the armies, to sell the men food, paper, and other items.  Small groups within a company would form a mess whose members would eat together.  Typically, each member of the mess would take turns doing the cooking for the group.  A Hoosier soldier usually had his closest associations with his messmates.  When on the march, a soldier would carry a haversack with a few days supply of food, and a knapsack for clothing and other personal items.  Men might cook enough food for a few days, but all too often being on the marchresulted ingoing without food, being limited to hardtack crackers, or subsisting on the land along the route.

Army life also meant being exposed to the elements.  Thousands of men marching on dirt roads might find themselves in heat and clouds of dust or in cold and rain with the mud sucking at their feet and legs with each step they took.  When on the move, men might sleep in the open or in a kind of pup tent made from ponchos.  In more permanent camps, they might have a more substantial canvas home, such as the Sibley tent.  In the coldest parts of the year, armies went into winter quarters.  Men used various materials to enhance tents or build cabins for the cold weather.  If a camp was within striking distance of the enemy army, the various units within the camp had to take turns leaving their cozy quarters to be on picket duty.  Pickets were spread rather thinly around the camp.  They could not stop a large body of men, but they could stop infiltration of the camp and warn of any major approaching attack.  Standing guard alone in the dark with the sundry noises common in the gloom of night could be unnerving and led to accidental friendly fire incidents and other problems.  In some instances, pickets were in contact with the pickets of the other army.  In such cases, unofficial truces might be made and trading of various items might take place.

On January 4, 1862, R.C. Lane, Company A, writes from Camp Lafayette, Louisville, Kentucky, to his home newspaper. Lane describes the trip from Indianapolis and the new Sibley tents. Source: “From the Fortieth.” Lafayette Daily Courier, January 8, 1862.

Camps were not safe places.  One of the best known facts about the Civil War is that approximately two soldiers died of disease, accidents, and other non-battle related causes for every soldier who died in battle.  It is not so well known that the proportion of battle deaths to disease and other non-battle related deaths could vary widely from state to state.  It appears that men from predominantly rural states were more susceptible to death from disease.  Indiana, which was 91.2 percent rural in 1860, had approximately 2.5 disease and other non-battle related deaths for every one battle death (7,243 battle deaths, 17,785 non-battle deaths).  Massachusetts, which was approximately 59.5 percent urban in 1860, had fewer men die of disease and other non-battle related causes than men who died in battle.  Army surgeons from Indiana and other northern states spent much more time treating illnesses than battle wounds.  Overall, Union army doctors treated some 6,000,000 cases of illness as opposed to approximately 400,000 cases of battle wounds.   Some diseases were communicable and spread among these large numbers of men in close proximity; other diseases were related to poor sanitation and contaminated water.  One should remember that an Army camp contained not only thousands of men, but also hundreds of cavalry horses and draft animals dropping “road apples” (feces) that a heavy rain could dissolve and send flowing throughout the camp.

Medical care was impaired because germ theory was not discovered until after the war; this lack of knowledge enabled practices that led to complications from wounds.  If a Hoosier soldier was wounded, he would take himself, if ambulatory, to an aid station established on the back edge of the battlefield where initial bandaging and a dose of whiskey for shock might be administered.  If incapacitated, the soldier would have to wait on the battlefield for stretcher bearers.  If the Union army lost the battle and retreated, his wait might extend to a few days.  Ambulance wagons took the wounded men from the aid station to a field hospital, typically located just beyond the range of the enemy’s cannon.  Hospital orderlies often washed more than one man with a sponge dipped in a common wash basin.  Musket bullets moved at a slow velocity and their soft lead often deformed upon impact and remained within the body.  Doctors would probe the wound with bare, often unwashed, fingers feeling for bullet fragments.  Among the most serious wounds were ones to the abdominal area; they were fatal 59 percent of the time if the large intestine were hit, and they were basically always fatal if the small intestine were hit.  A bullet that fractured the pelvis was also very serious, with a fatality rate of approximately 80 percent.  A number of leg and arm wounds, which could be differently treated today, resulted in amputations.  Anesthetics such as chloroform and ether were available, but a number of doctors preferred to operate without them if a patient was in shock, which would mute the pain.  Depending on the location of the army, wounded men would then be taken by steamboat, train, or ship to a general hospital, such as the large facility at Jeffersonville, Indiana.  Some hospitals were specialized, such as the eye and ear hospital at St. Louis, Missouri, or the venereal disease hospital at Nashville, Tennessee.

As the venereal disease hospital suggests, promiscuity created yet another health risk for soldiers.  As noted above, there were a large number of migratory young men in Indiana before the war.  The major cities in Indiana at this time had areas centered around saloons and bowling alleys that catered to young “sporting men” looking for booze, gambling, and prostitutes.  When such young men entered the Army, they appear to have continued their sporting ways, searching for alcohol and sex and engaging in gambling and ample use of profane language.  The notoriety of such behavior is evident in the complaint of Bart Dooley that the girls he knew would not date men who did not enter the service; however, when he returned from the Army looking for a date, they would not go out with him because of all the stories they had heard about the wild, immoral behaviors of soldiers.  Still, it would be wrong to overemphasize soldier licentiousness.  In comparison to men in most other wars and armies, what stands out generally about Civil War soldiers is their restraint and morality.  Theodore Upson described the pious as well as the wild in his company, and perceptively noted how the cussing men of his unit would not use profanity if a chaplain was near.  Rufus Dooley, despite his mother’s entreaties, indulged in alcohol for a while, but then he returned to the straight and narrow and actually formed a temperance society in his unit.  The famous feistiness of Southern women toward Union invaders was possible because of the respect with which Hoosiers and other Northern soldiers generally treated women.  The kind of raping typical of invading armies was largely absent in the Civil War.

Excerpt from an extensive listing in the newspaper of Indiana soldiers killed, wounded, and missing after the Battle of Murfreesboro/Stones River, Tennessee in late December 1862. Source: Indianapolis Daily Journal, January 26, 1863.

Accidents constituted another hazard for Hoosier warriors.  The incidents of carelessness recounted in the letters and diaries of soldiers are remarkable by modern standards of safety.   James Grimsley, for instance, recorded that the first death in his unit was the result of a man hitting his head on a bridge while riding on top of a rail car.  Perhaps even more remarkable is the nonchalance and fatalism with which accidents were greeted by officers and men.  Accidents and the response to them provide an important clue to profound differences between the Hoosiers who fought in the Civil War and most Hoosiers today.  Modern Americans are heirs of the Second Industrial Revolution—its regimentation, its life lived by the clock, its impersonal corporate and governmental bureaucracies, its consumer safety mentality, and its sense of man being in control.  Most Hoosier Civil War soldiers existed in a rural environment governed by the rhythms of the natural world and lived within a very personal network of kinfolk and neighbors; they perceived a great many things to be beyond their control.  For most people of the Civil War era, God was in command, and one must submit to His will.  When informed of his soldier brother’s death, Wayne Alford wrote, “This stroke seems hard to me . . . but I feel Christians ought to submit quietly and without murmuring to the dispensation of Divine Providence . . . .”  Such Christian fatalism had consequences for how one responded to the dangers of the battlefield as well as to accidents.  The more historians study the fatalistic reactions of Civil War soldiers to accidents, the more profoundly they will understand the war and the people who fought it.

The lack of regimentation in civilian society complicated Army discipline.  Civil War soldiers could be a rowdy bunch.  One soldier, for instance, recorded in his memoir the difficulty officers had in obtaining so basic a thing as getting men to stop firing their guns in camp.  Punishments were meted out to try and maintain order. The flogging used in the American Revolution was outlawed in June 1861 in the Union Army, but other forms of physical punishments were allowed.  One of the most common was bucking and gagging in which a man sat with his knees up, had his hands tied together and placed over the knees, had a stick placed under the knees and over the arms, and then a stick or bayonet tied into his mouth. Men might also have to ride a rail or walk about the camp wearing a barrel.  One Hoosier soldier recorded how two men who had displayed cowardice were forced to promenade around the camp wearing women’s dresses.  Severe crimes might result in execution, which would often be carried out in front of the troops for their edification.  Minor punishments of enlisted men would be administered by officers.  More serious non-capital offenses of enlisted men could end up in a regimental court martial; general court martial tribunals dealt with all offenses by enlisted men or officers, including cases involving capital punishment.

Prisoners of War

In addition to death, wounds, illness, physical punishments, and accidents, captives were killed, but these were relatively rare in the Civil War—especially among soldiers of the same race.  Early in the war an exchange cartel was established in which men were assigned a value based on their rank, and then equal values were exchanged.  For instance, a lieutenant could be exchanged for four privates, or a commanding general for sixty privates, or fifteen lieutenants, or some other combination of men that equaled sixty privates.  Men might be paroled back to their homes to await exchange if they promised not to fight until exchanged.  The system worked well until the Confederates refused to treat black Union soldiers in the same way as white soldiers, and exchanges were suspended. A severe overloading of Confederate prisons resulted, leading to such things as the horrors suffered by Hoosier soldiers at Andersonville Prison in Georgia.

The honor system used in the parole of prisoners might seem quite naïve today, but other aspects of the POW experience appear even more so.  John V. Hadley recorded how in one prison in which he was placed, a group of Union soldiers who were about to be sent out to gather firewood would be required to make a solemn oath that they would return.  They were then sent out without guards.  As Hadley plotted his prison break, he absolutely refused simply to walk off when sent out to gather wood without a guard.  His promise to return held him more securely than any Confederate cell.  Hadley had to find another way to escape.  As with fatalism and accidents, there are profound things to be learned about Civil War soldiers from studying the sanctity so many gave to an oath.  Indeed, despite all that has been written about the soldiers who fought in the Civil War, there is still much to learn.

Sailors in the Civil War

The same might be said for the sailors of the Civil War. Only a fraction of one percent of the Hoosiers who served in the U.S. military during the Civil War did so as sailors. Their experience was remarkably different from that of Hoosier soldiers.  A naval recruit did not serve with a number of people he knew, as was typical of soldiers.  A ship’s crew was a quite heterogeneous group: over 45 percent of the men in the Navy were foreign born, the native-born in the crew came from all over (although most were from the east coast), and the crew, unlike Army units, was racially integrated.  Naval officers were never elected by their men. The new recruit conformed to the existing order in the Navy, including its dress, customs, and strict discipline. In contrast to soldiers who did little more than drill, sailors had to become proficient in a variety of maritime skills.  The Navy even had its own time system with the day divided into four-hour shifts.  In short, the Navy was a world to itself, and each of the 1,078 Hoosier males who entered this world had to play by its rules.


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