Arriving at Camp

Lew Wallace, adjutant general of Indiana in the early days of the Civil War, became a brigadier general in September of 1861. After the war, he became territorial governor of New Mexico and wrote "Ben Hur."

When L.K. and the other young men from Richmond stepped off the train cars in Indianapolis, they found a city in the throes of martial excitement.  The Indianapolis Journal of April 16, 1861 reported:

“Our streets are blazing with national flags.  Huge banners wave from the tops of houses and hundreds of flags flutter in windows and along the walks.  The drum and fife are sounding the whole day long at Military Hall, where volunteers are pouring in to record their names and enter the service of their country; and crowds are gathered constantly around the doors of Colonel Dumont’s station, where he is enlisting volunteers for a regiment of picked men.”

The train that brought L.K. and the rest of William Benton’s company from Richmond on April 18th stopped to pick up soldiers-to-be in Centerville and Cambridge City before arriving in Indianapolis.  They were still the first to reach Indianapolis in response to Governor Morton’s call.

Two days earlier, the Indianapolis Journal had reported: “Though the news of the fight has as yet only reached towns along the lines of the railroads, and no official or other notice has been published that the service of volunteers would be needed, two thousand men, regularly organized and ready to start at the word, have already been tendered to Governor Morton, and more than twenty thousand are forming with eager haste to be in time for acceptance.  By the time the news can be thoroughly circulated through the State that men are needed, there will be more than fifty thousand officered and ready.”

Indiana’s quota of six regiments filled quickly.  Benton and his boys were lucky to become Company D of the 8th Indiana Volunteer Infantry (the numbering began with sixth, because Indiana had sent five regiments to serve in the Mexican-American War).

Governor Morton appointed Lew Wallace as adjutant general of Indiana and set aside the state fairgrounds as a gathering ground for the forming regiments.  The fairgrounds was renamed Camp Morton.  Lew Wallace described those first days in his memoir:  “A program of reception for the incoming soldiers was left to me. It was possible, I thought , to manage the ceremony in such manner that the public looking on from the sidewalks might communicate a great deal of patriotism to each arrival in its march along the street, and, at the same time, take back from it even more of the precious virtue.”

He engaged some of the Indianapolis volunteers to greet the incoming soldiers, along with “a brass band, with the complement of a fife and drum corps.”

When the volunteers arrived in Indianapolis on trains, they were formed into columns. “Then up Meridian to Washington Street [the column] marched, the frantic cheers of the new soldiers answered by the thousands of men, women, and children lining the sidewalks. Down Washington Street westward the melody of music, men, and flags swept, ending at the statehouse. There the governor appeared, and, standing on the great stone at the southeast corner, made a speech which no volunteer heard without a yet greater assurance of the holiness of his cause. At the end of the glorification, the arrived, officers and men, were conducted by one of my assistants to Camp Morton, where they were provided with bread, coffee, meat, and some kind of a roof under which to sleep in comfort.”

A drawing of Camp Morton from Harper's Weekly in September 1862.

As the first volunteers gathered at Camp Morton, they were housed in animal barns and stables.  They bathed in Fall Creek, a half mile to the north.  The camp filled with volunteers, visitors and excitement.  Music filled the air, but it wouldn’t be long before the shouts of drill sergeants and the blast of trumpet calls would become more familiar.

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