Life in the Big City

An ad for Union Machine Works in the April 20, 1861 edition of the Richmond Broad Axe of Freedom newspaper.

Sometime around 1857 or 1858, twenty-year-old L.K. Harris moved fifteen miles from his father’s home in Hagerstown, Indiana to the big city of Richmond (population six or seven thousand).  I’ve found no evidence why he moved, whether as an escape from the dysfunctions of his father’s home (see my previous post, Leaving Home) or as the natural transition of young man in search of work.  But by 1859, the city directories unmistakably report that L.K. was in Richmond.

In 1860, L.K. registered as living with Peter Bargion, a wealthy thirty-year-old from New York who worked as a “boss foundryman” according to the census. In addition to his three young children, Bargion’s household included an eighteen-year-old girl named Catherine Tinman who was a servant, as well as a twenty-four-year-old boy named George Quay and twenty-one-year-old L.K., both of whom were listed as blacksmiths.

Peter Bargion ran the Union Machine Works, a company established by him and a partner in 1860 “for the manufacture of portable and stationary engines and castings, generally.”  L.K. likely worked as a blacksmith in Bargion’s company, even though according to the 1859 and 1860 city directories L.K. had also been at S. Horney & Co., a company that focused mainly on the production of plows.

1860 Federal Census for Wayne County, Indiana (click to enlarge).

S. Horney & Co. had won several awards for their plows at the Indiana State Fair and in other competitions.  By the 1870s, they were making over 5,000 plows a year in addition to cultivators and other important farming tools.  Agricultural implements were the big business and cutting edge technology for the 19th century Midwest.  Wayne County alone boasted multiple manufacturies of these important tools for the work of farming.

It’s possible that by 1860, L.K. had switched to the Union Machine Works (after the information was compiled for the 1860 directory, but before the census data for 1860 was collected).  But it really didn’t matter anyway, because when war fever hit Richmond all the shops closed down and the young men signed up to go to war.  L.K. and co-boarder George Quay both joined the first company of volunteer militia raised in Wayne County.


I don’t know how close L.K. had remained with his father after moving to Richmond.  Henry remarried just ten months after the death of L.K.’s mother in 1857.  Henry and his new wife, Elizabeth, had two more children together–their son Lemon was born in 1859, their daughter Alpha in 1870. They lived in Hagerstown until Henry’s death in 1876.  I’ve found no letters or any other indications of connection between L.K. and his father either during the war or after.

Governor Oliver P. Morton of Indiana. He had prepared his state for war even before Lincoln called for troops. Governor Morton telegraphed Lincoln three days after Lincoln's request for troops to report that 10,000 Hoosiers were ready to go. Indiana became one of the first states to meet (and beat) its quota for volunteers.

It’s hard to say what impact the political events leading up to the war had on L.K.  The Richmond newspapers were filled with reports of events in Washington and announcements of meetings for people who were interested in defending liberty and protecting the Union.  Men and women of all ages were meeting together to talk about the issues that were tearing the country apart, and volunteer groups of young men were already gathering to prepare for armed conflict.

I’m not sure what compelled L.K. to sign up to join the war effort.  It could have been a deep-seated opposition to slavery or a spirit of adventure or any number of factors that led him to war.  Whatever the reason, in April of 1861 when President Lincoln asked the states for volunteers and Governor Oliver Morton of Indiana put out a call for young men to join the militia, L.K. signed up and went off to war.

For further reading on the reasons men fought in the Civil War, see two short books by award-winning Civil War historian James M. McPherson: For Cause and Comrades: Why Men Fought in the Civil War and What They Fought For 1861-1865.

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4 Responses to Life in the Big City

  1. Lisa Ellam says:

    Looking forward to the next installment! Great writing!

  2. Julia says:

    Lemon. Alpha. Wow.

    • Sounds like the 1960s all over again. And I still think it’s amusing that they named their last child (born when Henry was in his 50s) Alpha instead of Omega. Bold stuff.

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