The Fall of Nashville

Tennessee state capital in Nashville, 1862.

On February 25, 1862 Nashville, Tennessee became the first Confederate state capital to fall into Federal hands. L.K. Harris and the 36th Indiana were among the first Union troops to enter the city on that beautiful spring day.

Robert Best, a private in Company H of the 36th, wrote in a letter to his brother that the 36th “had the fun of being the first brigade landed in Nashville.” In his diary entry for February 25th, he wrote that they had “run on up to Nashville and landed where Genl. Nelson had the honor of raising the ‘stars and stripes’ on the statehouse.”

The 36th had left their camp eleven days earlier on Friday, February 14th–a cold, snowy morning. They marched hard thinking they were perhaps bound for Louisville. When they stopped for the night, the wagon train had fallen behind and there were no tents. They slept exposed in the cold.

The next day, Saturday, February 15th was filled with yet more marching, during which the wagon train caught up with the tired soldiers. Best wrote in his diary, “after a weary days march pitched our tents on the snow in an open field and made ourselves as miserable as possible.  weather cold.”

After one more day’s hard marching, they boarded the steamer Woodford on Monday the 17th and steamed out into the Ohio River “ready for a forced march of a different kind from that which we had just experienced.”

The Woodford joined eighteen other transports in steaming up the Ohio and down the Cumberland toward Nashville. Colonel Grose wrote after the war:

these waters were very high, all the valleys along the same being innundated. Frequently the steamers would for a shorter route leave the main channel and pass over farms, and by houses with the first story filled with water and the family in the upper, with their boats cabled to the building. The Woodford, in the advance, reached the landing at Nashville February 25, closely followed by the Diana, with the 6th Ohio, General Nelson and staff. The 36th Indiana and 6th Ohio were the first Federal troops that entered the city, driving out the few remaining rebel cavalry. General Nelson advanced to the State-house with the 6th Ohio and raised the stars and stripes thereon. The 36th Indiana advanced through the city by the court-house square and Main street, the rebel cavalry retiring before it at a respectable distance.

The first review of Federal troops in Nashville, February 1862.

According to Best, the 36th “laid in the city until evening” when they “moved out about 1/2 mile and camped [and] laid on our guns most of the night on account of firing by our pickets.”

Bull Nelson situated his camp on the Murfreesboro Pike just outside of Nashville, and he called it Camp Andrew Jackson after his military hero. Here the 36th would stay for several weeks. Here, on March 1st, L.K. Harris was promoted to First Lieutenant.

Andrew Jackson’s home, the Hermitage, near Nashville.

General Nelson had the greatest respect for Andrew Jackson. On March 12th, Jackson’s ninety-fifth birthday, Nelson led his men on an 11-mile march to visit the former President’s home and final resting place. After a few hours of walking around the property and remembering Andrew Jackson, the soldiers marched the eleven miles back to their camp. Robert Best reported that they “reached home a short time after dark, tired, but not regretting the march for what was to be seen.”

Little did these soldiers know that in just a few weeks they would march to Shiloh where they would take part in a battle that one of their own said “will be long remembered as one of the hardest days fighting in this whole War.”

— — —

Robert Best’s diary is at the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center.

Robert Best’s letters are found at the Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center.

To see Maurice William’s letter to his brother see the American Heritage Center site.

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Bull Nelson and the heavy hand of discipline

William "Bull" Nelson

For the boys of the 36th Indiana, the first few months of 1862 were filled with learning how to be soldiers while trying to stay healthy at Camp Wickliffe in Kentucky. During this time, General Buell assigned the 36th Indiana to the Tenth Brigade of the Fourth Division, William “Bull” Nelson commanding.

General Nelson was known as a strict disciplinarian. Colonel William Grose of the 36th called him a “complete disciplinarian, who taught us to act like soldiers in camp life, and informed us not to be uneasy about not getting into a fight, for we would have as much of that business as we desired in the coming two years.”

Nelson was known to be “overbearing, inconsiderate, tyrannical, easily giving offense.”  In spite of these traits, or maybe because of them, he was beloved by the enlisted men who served under him.  Their love for him may also have derived from the fact that he saved most of his outbursts and overzealous discipline for the officers.

Many of the enlisted men in the volunteer regiments during the Civil War had a low opinion of their officers.  Discipline was hit-and-miss among these independent men and boys who had volunteered their service to their country.  Most didn’t want to be ordered around by their friends and neighbors–their fellow volunteers.

Officers from the ranks of the volunteers found themselves in a challenging position. They reported to men like General Nelson who were trained military men with high expectations and often blustery attitudes.  At the same time, they were responsible to lead rowdy, independent volunteers, many of whom were young men out for adventure.

L.K. Harris was one of these officers–a young man himself at twenty-three years old in the spring of 1862 and serving as a second lieutenant in Bull Nelson’s division. Nevertheless, he shared responsibility for hundred or so men in Company F of the 36th Indiana.

L. K. Harris

Lieutenant L.K. Harris

I haven’t found any letters or stories that indicate the soldiers’ opinion of Lieutenant Harris the spring of 1862.  Nor have I found any official records that explain why he was promoted to first lieutenant in March of 1862.

At Shiloh, in April of 1862, L.K. Harris may have had the opportunity to see Nelson in all his glory.  On the first day of the battle, Nelson led his division–with the 36th Indiana at the forefront–on a double-quick march to reach the battlefield at Shiloh.  Arriving in the evening, they found soldiers from Grant’s army fleeing from the battle by jumping into the Tennessee River. As Nelson and several companies from the 36th Indiana were ferried across the river, Nelson shouted at the men fleeing battle and threatened to kill them himself as deserters.

Nelson was known for his temper and in late 1862 he paid for it.  He was shot to death by a brigadier general under his command.  General Jefferson Davis from Indiana felt slighted by an assignment from Nelson;  when he confronted Nelson and asked for an apology, Nelson publicly shamed him.  Davis came back with a gun and shot him dead in a Louisville hotel.  Governor Oliver Morton made sure that Davis went free and many saw the killing as a justifiable homicide of a tyrannical leader.

I can’t be sure L.K. was with Nelson on that night at Shiloh.  And I can’t be sure he ever interacted with him directly.  But since he was an officer and served in Nelson’s division, there’s no doubt he was exposed to Nelson’s bigger-than-life personality on some level.

It makes me wonder whether he loved him or wanted to shoot him.

— — —

To learn more about General William “Bull” Nelson, see the recent biography by Donald A. Clark, The Notorious “Bull” Nelson.

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Rain, rain go away!

It rained all day today.  A steady, cold, drenching rain.  In my twenty-first century, suburban existence, this tormenting downpour has meant nothing but frustration as I ran from my watertight car to my watertight house and back again.  But in the middle of the nineteenth century in the middle of America’s heartland, rain could wreak all sorts of havoc.

Almost immediately after enlistment, the soldiers of the 36th Indiana found themselves far from home with little in the way of protection from the weather.  The several weeks they spent at Camp Wickliffe and New Haven, Kentucky in the winter of 1861 and ’62 were memorable for disease, downpour and diarrhea.

On Thursday, October 17th–even while still in Indianapolis–Robert Best from Company H of the 36th Indiana wrote in his diary, “In camp all day, rained all day so that we could not drill.”

Excerpt from Robert Best's Diary entry for November 22 and 23, 1861. From the Allen County, Indiana Public Library Genealogy Collection. Click to enlarge.

Robert didn’t mention much about the weather for the first several days they were in Kentucky, except for occasionally saying it was pleasant.  But then on Friday, November 22nd, he reports, “weather wet, raining like the d—l all day.”  The next day, he drops his self-censorship:  “cold as the devil.”

From Robert’s diary, it looks like the end of November was more rainy than not. Then on December 2nd, it “snowed steadily all day.”

Through most of December, Robert characterized the weather as generally “pleasant” or “fine.”  But after the first few days of January, almost every single day’s entry includes the word “wet.”

Excerpt from William H. Thornburg pension application from the National Archives. Click to enlarge.

William H. Thornburg, one of the boys of Company F, remembered his time at Camp Wickliffe as nothing but “wet and bad and muddy.”

William summarized his experience of Camp Wickliffe by saying, “There was much sickness and I had diarrhea there and got to suffering from rheumatism owing to the rainy wet bad disagreeable weather and the exposure there.”  But unlike Robert’s contemporaneous diary, this memory was recalled 34 years later in a pension application.

There’s no doubt that there was much sickness and at least some of it was related to bad weather.  And there’s no doubt that these boys from the farms of Indiana had a love-hate relationship with rain.  When you’re raising crops to support a family, rain is coveted.  But when you’re marching off to war–sleeping in fields with thousands of your closest friends–rain is the work of the devil.

Blessing or curse, rain was a reality for the boys of the 36th.

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Death in the Camp

Lebanon National Cemetery in Lebanon, Kentucky.

In the Civil War, disease killed more soldiers than bullets.  The men of the 36th Indiana learned this startling fact quickly.

There’s little question that the gathering of lots of men from small communities and farms across the countryside into tightly packed camps with questionable hygiene had a deleterious effect on the general health of the army.  In the end, two men would die of disease for every one that died of battle wounds.

Five thousand died of measles alone.

Epidemic diseases like measles, mumps and smallpox rampaged through the camps full of new volunteers in late 1861 and early 1862.  When the 36th Indiana joined General Nelson’s gathered forces at New Haven, Kentucky and nearby Camp Wickliffe in the fall of 1861, disease became a part of life.

The measles were particularly bad in New Haven and Camp Wickliffe.  Two soldiers from the 41st Ohio who were there later wrote in their regimental history:

The fighting, that winter in Camp Wickliffe, was continuous, but it was fighting a more potent foe than the Southern army.  Disease of various kinds played havoc with the men, and no precautions served to avoid it.  Measles was perhaps the most calamitous visitation; many men who recovered from the direct attack were left to fall into some other ailment more or less serious.  Battles of great note have been fought with less loss than was sustained by the troops at Camp Wickliffe.

On January 7, 1862, the correspondent to the Cincinnati Commercial newspaper reported, “There are nearly one thousand men sick in camp – mostly of measles.  The 41st Ohio and 36th Indiana have the largest per cent of sickness.”

Sibley tent on the left, wall tent on the right.

The correspondent went on to give his own opinion of the cause and its possible solution:  “Each regiment have the small wall tent, which crowds too many men in a small space.  I am glad to hear they will give place to the Sibley tent in a few days.”

For many of the men, any measures to slow down disease were too little, too late.  In L.K. Harris’s Company F of the 36th Indiana alone, three men died of disease in the winter of 1861-62:  William Funderburg died on December 18th at New Haven;  Nathan Danner died at Camp Wickliffe on January 7th;  and Christopher Jordan also died on January 7th and was buried in Lebanon, Kentucky in what is now called Lebanon National Cemetery.

In addition to these three whose deaths are recorded, six others from Company F are listed as discharged due to disability.  They almost certainly were suffering from one ailment or another.

Every company, every regiment felt the sting of death.  One victim was another ancestor of mine: Samuel A. Thorn of Company B of the 36th, my great-great grandmother’s cousin.  Samuel enlisted in September 1861 when he was 17 years old.  He took sick almost immediately and ended up dying of pneumonia at Camp Wickliffe on January 5, 1862.

These boys who had gone off to war seeking after glory found rain, mud and dysentery instead.  They ended up fighting an enemy more terrifying than any Southerner:  the unseen and unknown germs that filled their camps.

One Iowa soldier remarked wryly that death from illness offered “all of the evils of the battlefield with none of its honors.”

Many died; many others deserted out of fear and frustration or were discharged for disability.  The rest went on to fight a more human enemy on a more typical battlefield, but the specter of disease and the memory of suffering comrades surely never left them.

— — —

An award-winning book by Drew Gilpin Faust on death in the Civil War is called This Republic of Suffering: Death and the American Civil War.

Another excellent blog post on disease in the Civil War by Ron Baumgarten can be found at The Sickliest Soldiers in the Army: The Vermont Brigade at Camp Griffin

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Choosing More War

A card from L.K.'s military record that shows he was commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in Company F of the 36th Indiana on September 1, 1861. (Click to enlarge).

In September 1861, Lewis K. Harris chose to go back to war.  Like many of the ninety-day men (those who joined the initial three-month units called for by President Lincoln and raised by the governors of several states), L.K. wanted to stay in the volunteer army and continue to fight for the preservation of the Union.

L.K.’s experience in the 8th Indiana Volunteer Infantry, his promotion to 4th corporal, and his involvement in the Battle of Rich Mountain all probably played a part in his being commissioned as a 2nd lieutenant in the newly formed 36th Indiana Volunteer Infantry.

On September 21, 1861, the Broad Axe of Freedom (a local newspaper) listed all the officers and members of Captain George Hoover’s company.  L.K.  is listed third below the captain and his 1st lieutenant, Isaac F. Ogborn.  Captain Hoover’s company was raised primarily in Richmond.  Typically the captains and lieutenants helped fill the companies.  L.K. may have actively recruited some of the men himself.

A page from the Quartermaster's Book for Company F of the 36th. At the top, you can see that the enlistment date is September 1, 1861. All along the right hand column, you can see Lieutenant L.K. Harris' signature, acknowledging the supplies given to the soldiers of Company F on October 12th. (Click to enlarge).

The 36th had been forming for several weeks at Camp Wayne in Richmond.  According to L.K.’s official military record, he enlisted on September 1st.  That same enlistment date is given for the unit as a whole in the Quartermaster’s Book for the 36th.

During the first few weeks of September, young men arrived and prepared to be soldiers.  Robert Best, an eventual member of Company H, arrived at Camp Wayne on September 6th.  The very next day, he woke up to a bugle call, drilled for an hour before breakfast, then went to see Colonel William Grose to take the Oath of Allegiance.  L.K.’s experience was probably similar.  In fact, as a 2nd lieutenant, he may have led some of the drills himself.

George Hoover’s company reached full strength in time to be mustered in as Company F of the 36th on September 16th.

September was filled with drill, guard duty, dress parade and lots of rain.

The 36th continued to organize and drill until October 11th, when they left for Indianapolis.  Their first day there, each soldier received an allotment of clothing.  Lieutenant L.K. Harris recorded these in the Quartermaster’s Book (see image above).

While in Indianapolis, the soldiers encamped at Camp Murphy.  The rain continued.  On October 19th, Robert Best wrote home to his brother: “the weather has been a little hard on us for a few days, but our ‘little while houses’ turn water admirably, and the ground on which we are camped is of a gravelly nature and dries very quickly.”

By October 25th, four companies of the 36th had received their Enfield rifles.  A few others were to receive muskets while still at Camp Murphy.  The final two companies had to wait until their next stop in Kentucky to receive their firearms.

After a couple of weeks in Indianapolis, the 36th joined General Don Carlos Buell’s force in New Haven, Kentucky (thirty miles west of Louisville) on October 30th.  They called their new home “Camp Grose” after their leader, Colonel William Grose.  In a letter to his cousin, Maurice Williams from Company G of the 36th described what it was like at the camp in late November 1861:

Colonel William Grose

We have not had any Cold Weather worth nameing yet.  We are very Comfortable so far…We also have plenty to eat.  Such as fresh beef potatoes and so forth.  We have to eat hard Crackers now….

General Buel has not been With us any yet.  Colonel Grose is the Commander of the first in his absence.  We have our guns loaded all the time and keep our things ready to March at any Moment.

The 36th stayed at New Haven until December 15th, “trying hard,” in the words of Colonel Grose, “day and night to cease to be citizens and learn to be soldiers, officers and men being fearful that the war would end and they would not get into a fight.”


To read the diary of Robert Best, a member of Company H of the 36th, see the digital archive at the Allen County (Indiana) Public Library.

To read more of Maurice Williams’ letter to his cousin, see the digital archive at the American Heritage Center

To learn more about the 36th, you can find Stories and Marches of the Thirty-sixth Indiana by William Grose at GoogleBooks.

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O Captain, My Captain

Discharge papers from the 8th Indiana Infantry for L.K. Harris. (Click to enlarge).

L.K. Harris served his first three months in the Civil War under a man named Mayberry M. Lacey.  After his three-month service in the 8th Indiana Infantry, Captain Lacey became Adjutant in the 69th Indiana Infantry and served with L.K. Harris in that unit until the end of the war.

Prior to the war, Mayberry Lacey was clerking in J.S. Starr’s clothing store in Richmond, Indiana.  He claims to be the first man to volunteer as a private on April 17, 1861.  Years later he recalled, “I lived in Richmond when the guns of Sumpter woke the nation to a realization of the fact that war was upon us.”

The very same day he volunteered, Lacey was elected first lieutenant of William P. Benton’s company.  The whole company went to Indianapolis the next morning and “within a week Captain Benton was made colonel of the regiment and I was promoted to captain.”

In mid-June, General McClellan sent the 8th Indiana to western Virginia to join the force he was building there.  On July 11th, the 8th played an important role in defeating the Confederates at Rich Mountain.  The 8th captured “1500 stands of arms, 5 guns and 1000 prisoners, and all their camp equipage.”  The only banner in the engagement at Rich Mountain was that of the 8th Indiana, emblazoned with the motto, “Above us or Around us.”

After the battle, the Battle Axe of Freedom (a Richmond newspaper) reported “Capt. Lacy won enduring laurels at the battle of Rich Mountain, for his coolness and bravery.  An eye witness tells us that he was foremost in the charge that made the rebels fly, and gave more than one ‘secesh’ striking proof of the excellence of the sword made for him by Henry Hunter of this city.”

Mayberry M. Lacey and the other field staff of the 69th Indiana Infantry. Lacey is seated on the left. (Click to enlarge).

Many years after the war, Lacey proudly told his family, “I never missed a march or a battle, was wounded twice, once quite badly and taken prisoner.  I soldiered in every southern state but two, Georgia and South Carolina…That War of 61 to 65, its marches, drear and long many of them, the camp, the bivouac, the battle line, the sickening after screams of dead and wounded, seems only a fretful dream.”

On August 5, 1861, L.K. was discharged as a 4th Corporal in Lacey’s Company D of the 8th Indiana Infantry.  L.K. immediately went on to serve nine months in the 36th Indiana Infantry, while Lacey recovered from sickness at home.  Then in the fall of 1862, they both joined the 69th Indiana Infantry.  They served together through many of the war’s greatest battles until the war ended in 1865.

A 1903 letter from Mayberry M. Lacey to a family member in which he recounts his life, including his Civil War service, is in an Earlham College Archival Collection.

Mayberry M. Lacey’s dress sword was recently donated to the Wayne County (Indiana) Historical Museum.  You can see a picture of the sword and read more about Lacey’s life in an Indianapolis Star article from June 7, 2011.

For more details on William P. Benton and the first Wayne County company, see my previous post, William P. Benton and the Wayne County Boys.

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Back Home Again in Indiana

On July 27, 1861, the Indianapolis Journal reported the following about the return of the Eighth Indiana Volunteer Infantry to their home state following their three-month tour of duty.  In those ninety days, my great-great grandfather L.K. Harris had experienced battle for the first time and received his first promotion–from private to corporal.  He must have been very proud that day.

Return of the Eighth Regiment

General William P. Benton, who first served as Colonel of the Eighth Indiana (three months)

About one o’clock yesterday afternoon the Eighth Regiment, Colonel Benton, returned to this city to be mustered out of service and paid off.  Like all the regiments before it, the men were formed immediately after their arrival and marched to the West Market House to get their dinner.  They dispatched their part of the ceremony of reception with a rapidity and earnestness strikingly suggestive of hard biscuits and rusty bacon during the past two months.  Dinner over, the regiment was marched down to the State House square, where they were welcomed home by William Wallace, of this city, in a felicitous and finely delivered speech, in which he spoke of the achievements of the Eighth Regiment and their share in wiping out the unjust blot put upon the state by Beuna Vista.  Mr. Wallace was frequently cheered by the troops.

Colonel Benton responded, expressing the thanks of the regiment for their welcome and reviewing rapidly the career of the regiment since it had left the state.  He alluded proudly to their flag presented by the ladies of this city and Terre Haute and said it was, by accident, the only flag at the battle of Rich Mountain, and to it all eyes were turned as the symbol of the cause for which they were perilling their lives.  He declared that their flag should never leave the field till that of the nation was respected and obeyed all over the country (loud cheers) and that he and his regiment would re-enlist for the war and stand by the flag until it was over.  Here he turned to the men and said, “Do I speak for you, men?”  A universal cry of “Yes,” and tremendous cheering was the answer, and a very satisfactory answer, too.

Colonel Silas Cogrove, who began his service as Lieutenant Colonel of the Eighth Indiana (three months)

After Colonel Benton had finished his remarks, Lieutenant Colonel Colgrove was called on but he laughingly replied that his only speech was “shoulder arms,” which the regiment obeyed and was proceeding to form, preparatory to marching out, when Mr. Wallace got the ear of Colonel Benton and the movement was stopped.  Mr. Wallace then announced that Governor Morton had earnestly desired to be present and welcome this regiment, as he had done all the others, but business of the army had absolutely compelled him to leave the city.  Cheers were given for the “gallant Eighth,” for “Governor Morton” and “Mrs. Morton;” and the regiment marched out of the square up Washington street to Meridian, and up that to the Circle, where they remained some time, waiting, we presume, for orders about their encampment.  The band, while they were in the Circle, played several patriotic airs very finely, better, we thought, than any band we have heard yet.

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