The beginning of the Civil War came quickly. The nation had been slowly moving toward open conflict for years, but no one knew when it would erupt. Then, on April 12, 1861, events at Fort Sumter shifted everything into high speed. A plodding toward war became a vertiginous plunging into chaos.
On Monday, April 15th, Abraham Lincoln called forth the militia of the United States. He asked the states to raise a force of 75,000 men. Here’s how events unfolded in Richmond, Indiana:
Monday, April 15, 1861
“There is tremendous excitement here. A mass meeting of citizens, irrespective of party, is being held. Volunteer companies are parading in the streets. A prominent Democrat made a speech, in which he promised to wade through seas of blood to support the Administration and the stars and stripes.”
Wednesday, April 17, 1861
“The excitement is increasing here. Companies were drilling all day. All the manufacturing establishments are closed on account of men volunteering. Two organized companies leave for Indianapolis tomorrow.”
Thursday, April 18, 1861
“On Thursday morning, the time set for our gallant volunteers to leave for Indianapolis, the place of rendezvous, a large crowd of people, of all ages, and both sexes–indeed, all Richmond was out–repaired to the Depot to witness the departure. A National salute was fired in honor of them, and when about starting, Wm. A. Bickle, Esq., announced that John Brandt, Superintendent of the C. & C. Air Line Railroad, had generously offered to convey the troops to Indianapolis, free of charge, and proposed three cheers for him, which were given with a will. Three times three were then given by the crowd for the gallant volunteers–after which Jesse P. Siddall, Esq., made a few well-timed remarks in reference to the duty of our citizens who stay at home to see that the families of volunteers were provided for. He proposed that a subscription be taken up for that purpose, and offered to commense it by putting down $100 himself. Lewis Burk, J.W.T. McMullen and John A. Bridgland were appointed a committee to carry out the proposition.
The cars moved off under the soul-inspiring music of Mitchell’s Cornet Band, which accompanied the crowd, the cheers of the populace, and the waving of hats by the men, and handkerchiefs by the ladies. But seldom in our lives have we witnessed a scene so exciting and so replete with the out-gushing of patriotic emotion.”
Lewis K. Harris was one of the men who left his job in the blacksmith shop of the Union Machine Works to listen to speeches given by impassioned community leaders and to parade and drill through the streets of Richmond. Then on April 18th, amid all the outpouring of patriotic emotion, he boarded a railroad car and went to Indianapolis joining young men from all over Indiana in answering the President’s call.
For another look at the events surrounding the beginning of the war, see Cry Havoc! The Crooked Road to Civil War, 1861 by Nelson D. Lankford.