Well Done, Indiana
Hoosiers born and bred in Indiana are likely familiar with the vestiges of the state’s involvement with the Civil War, but they may not be aware of how significant Indiana’s contributions actually were. When news of war reached Indianapolis by telegraph on April 12, 1861, 12,000 volunteer soldiers converged on the city within the first two weeks. During the course of the war 200,000 Hoosiers volunteered to fight—7,200 troops were killed or wounded and 18,000 died of disease.
The casualties Indiana experienced were unfortunate, but their honor is written down in the stories of some of the most pivotal battles of the Civil War.
Produced by WFYI and the Indiana Historical Society in tandem with the Lilly Endowment and the National Endowment for the Humanities, Well Done, Indiana is a tribute to Indiana’s contributions to the American Civil War. The title for the documentary derives from a personal note U.S. Secretary of War Edwin Stanton wrote to Indiana Governor Oliver P. Morton commending Hoosier contributions to the war. “Well Done, Indiana,” Stanton penned.
Well Done, Indiana recalls the significant military and political contributions Hoosiers made to the Civil War including: the Indiana 19th at Gettysburg, Maj. Gen. Lew Wallace holding off Confederate forces at Washington, Indiana’s 28th regiment at the Battle of the Crater, and Hoosier minutemen fighting off Morgan’s Raid across southern Indiana.
Giants in their Tall Black Hats
When commander John Gibbon inherited the 19th Indiana regiment it was an undisciplined, unkempt unit. As a way to instill discipline, Gibbon dressed the men in the unique uniforms that have since distinguished them in Civil War history. Under his direction, the Indiana 19th donned their tall black hats and long blue coats.
But the 19th’s contribution to Civil War history goes much deeper than its characteristic regalia. After the regiment’s establishment in Indianapolis on July 29, 1861 the Indiana 19th went on to fight at Second Bull Run, South Mountain, Antietam, Fredericksburg and Chancellorsville before heading to Gettysburg in June 1863. For their war-forged performance in battle alongside their Midwestern counterparts, they earned the name the Iron Brigade.
In August 1862 the Hoosiers went up against Stonewall Jackson at the Battle of Brawner’s farm where they were outnumbered three-to-one. For nearly two hours the Hoosiers and other Midwesterners held their position against the Confederates until both sides disengaged by mutual consent. They lost a third of their own men in that battle.
As the Iron Brigade marched toward Gettysburg in June 1863, C.A. Stevens remarked that the group looked like “Giants in their tall black hats.” At Gettysburg a force of 288 Hoosiers from the brigade bolstered the Union cavalry. As the fighting waged on they were flanked by enemy troops. But instead of pulling back, as military convention would suggest, the Hoosiers turned to fight and ended up pushing the Confederates back momentarily. During that day, the Confederates mounted five separate attacks on the Midwestern troops. For their refusal to yield, the brigade suffered some of the highest casualty rates in the war. Nevertheless, the Iron Brigade’s dogged determination delayed the Confederates long enough to allow 80,000 Union troops to arrive, preventing General Lee’s troops from taking the high ground.
Savior of Washington, D.C.
General Lew Wallace was a Hoosier officer who was known for his levelheadedness in battle. Well Done, Indiana quoted Wallace saying, “My greatest personal satisfaction was due to the discovery of the fact that in the confusion and feverish excitement of real battle I could think.” For his battle-tested clarity of mind he became a Major General at the age of 34.
At the start of the Civil War Gen. Lew Wallace took command of the 11th Indiana Volunteer Infantry. And at the battle of Ft. Donaldson he told the men, “you’ve been wanting a battle boys. Here it is. Hell’s before you.”
In April 1862 Wallace led troops into battle at Shiloh, but due to a tactical miscommunication he misstepped and caused numerous casualties. Though the Union won the day, 13,000 soldiers were lost in battle. Following the engagement, Wallace bore much of the blame in the press. Consequently, he was relieved of his command and returned to Indiana. It wasn’t until March 1864 that he was asked to return to service.
That spring Confederate troops under the command of General Jubal Early were moving toward Washington, D.C. At the request of General Grant, Gen. Lew Wallace and a band of 5,800 untrained troops took up arms to delay Confederate forces. Wallace knew he couldn’t win the battle, but his objective was to delay the Confederates long enough to give Grant the time to reinforce Washington. Wallace’s troops withstood five separate charges. Though they were outnumbered two-to-one, they were able to hold off Confederate forces long enough to allow General Grant to send reinforcements.
For his service, Secretary of War Edwin Stanton called Wallace to Washington and told him that he saved Washington. Likewise, Gen. Grant wrote that Wallace had achieved more by means of a defeat than most men achieve by a victory.
Heroes Carved in Ebony
When Indiana Governor Oliver P. Morton issued a request for volunteers, 600 African-American soldiers answered his call. The Indiana 28th was the only black Hoosier regiment, and they are perhaps best known for their bravery at the Battle of the Crater.
On July 30 1864, Union forces stormed the Confederate stronghold at Petersburg, VA. In order to drive into Petersburg, Union troops had to assault the Confederate works and breach their line. To that end, Northern troops dug a tunnel under the Confederate works and blew it up. One observer described the resulting explosion: “The earth began to shake as though the hand of God intended a reversal in the laws of nature. This grand convulsion sent both soil and souls to inhabit the air.” The explosion left an enormous crater in place of the Confederate works. As the Union line pressed forward, troops poured into the crater instead of going around, creating chaos in the lines.
In preparation for the operation, the 28th Indiana Regiment, as part of the 9th corps, had trained for a solid month to lead the assault through the resulting crater. But due to political concerns Gen. Grant refused to let the black division lead the assault. As a last resort, they sent in the black division, which went ripping into battle.
More than 4,000 lives were lost in the Battle of the Crater. The 28th alone suffered 50 percent casualties. For their valiant performance, Union Commander Colonel Henry Thomas recognized them as “heroes carved in Ebony.”
Assault on the Home Front
In July 1863, a detachment of about 2,500 cavalry, under Brigadier General John Hunt Morgan, broke off from the Confederate Army to make an incursion into Indiana. Morgan’s Raiders, as they were known, crossed the Ohio River south of Corydon, Indiana. From there they pillaged the towns of Corydon and Salem
Governor Oliver P. Morton called for volunteers to muster a militia to oust the Confederate invaders. Back from the battle of Shiloh, Maj. Gen. Lew Wallace was chosen to lead a 1,300 man deployment. Wallace and his troops prepared for battle along the Muscatatuck River, but Morgan turned east. On his route he attacked Dupont, Versailles and Sunman. For six days Hoosiers battled the Confederate raiders on their own soil—the only major attack in Indiana during the Civil War. On July 1, 1863, Morgan’s raiders left the state at Harrison near Cincinnati.
After experiencing the triumphs and tragedies of the Civil War, Hoosiers would continue to answer the call to service for their country through every major war fought by the United States. Since 9/11 alone, 15,900 Indiana citizen soldiers have deployed on active duty.
With each war, Indiana enshrines Hoosier sacrifice in monuments across the city of Indianapolis. In fact, today Indianapolis is second only to Washington, D.C. for the number of monuments and acreage dedicated to veterans. The city is also home to the national and state headquarters of the American Legion. Even as the dynamics of war have changed beyond what Civil War soldiers could have imagined, troops raised from the same Hoosier soil continue to answer the call.
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