“Left camp at 9 o’clock. Rained all last night. Bad roads, slavish traveling today. Snowed all day, stalled several times … traveled 10 miles.”
Pvt. Albert S. Underwood of Parke County wrote those words Jan. 18, 1864, as he moved south toward Tennessee with the 9th Battery, Indiana Light Artillery, during the Civil War.
There were no skirmishes that day. Nothing remarkable to note in his diary. Just walking in the snow to an uncertain destination.
Underwood was among 208,348 Indiana men who fought for the Union and one of about 27,000 who died in the cause. He was killed in early 1865 along with most of his unit when the boiler on the steamer Eclipse exploded on the Tennessee River in Kentucky.
His journal, available in the manuscript collection at the Indiana Historical Society, is an intimate reminder of the toll the war took on ordinary Hoosiers. It is a leather-bound, 3-by-5-inch pocket diary with “1864” inscribed on the cover, its pages brittle and its handwriting barely legible in faded pencil.
Such diaries were common among Union soldiers, who wrote of weather, daily mileage and food rations — almost anything but the politics that plunged the nation into Civil War on April 12, 1861, with the Confederate bombardment of Fort Sumter.
On April 15, President Abraham Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers, hoping to end the South’s rebellion in 90 days. In Indiana, 22,000 men reported — three times the quota established by the War Department.
Historians attribute Indiana’s high enlistments to patriotic instinct more than anything else. Hoosiers weren’t interested in the divisive issues of the day, according to Richard Nation and Stephen Towne in their book “Indiana’s War.” When Hoosiers marched to war, most did not do so to end slavery. They marched to preserve the Union.
With Gov. Oliver P. Morton at the helm, Indiana remained solidly pro-Union for the war’s duration, and Indiana regiments played significant roles from Antietam to Vicksburg. The state ranked second to New York in the percentage of adult males who enlisted.
Far from the main theater, Indiana itself was the site of occasional border raids from the Kentucky side of the Ohio River. On July 8, 1863, Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan crossed the river at Brandenburg, Kentucky, and headed with 2,000 troops to the former Indiana capital at Corydon.
On July 9, a hastily gathered fighting force of 450 confronted Morgan’s men outside town but could not hold off the advancingcavalry. Union Col. Lewis Jordan, recognizing the odds, surrendered.
Morgan’s men raided Salem, Dupont, Versailles and other small towns before crossing into Ohio, where they were captured on July 26.
Today Hoosiers can follow their path by driving the 185-mile John Hunt Morgan Heritage Trail. The route runs through seven Indiana counties and is marked by directional signs and 27 roadside point-of-interest displays.
Although the Battle of Gettysburg in July 1863 represented a turning point for the North, the war dragged on for almost two more years before the South surrendered. Recruiting became difficult, even in patriotic Indiana. About 18,000 Hoosiers went to war as a result of three separate drafts, a much lower percentage than the national norm.
The story of Indiana’s critical war role is told at the Col. Eli Lilly Civil War Museum in the Soldiers and Sailors Monument in Indianapolis. Exhibits illustrate the life of an ordinary soldier, from the mustering of troops to the soldiers’ return home.
What: Colonel Eli Lilly Civil War Museum
Where: Lower level of the Soldiers and Sailors Monument, 1 Monument Circle, Indianapolis.
This is one in a series of essays leading up to the celebration of the Indiana Bicentennial in December 2016. The essays will focus on the top 100 events, ideas and historical figures of Indiana, beginning with the impact of the Ice Age and ending with the legacy of the Bicentennial itself. Andrea Neal is a teacher at St. Richard’s Episcopal School in Indianapolis and adjunct scholar with the Indiana Policy Review Foundation. Send comments to email@example.com.