Learning to be a Soldier

General George McClellan, who became commander of the Department of the Ohio on May 3, 1861

After arriving at Camp Morton on Thursday, April 18th, 1861, L.K. probably quickly fell into a routine.

Excitement was high in the beginning.  The whole camp shook as thirteen guns were fired with the arrival of each new company of soldiers-to-be.

Bands were playing.  People cheering.  It was hard not to get caught up in it all.

An officer arrived from Washington on Saturday, April 20th to muster the troops that had arrived.  This was the day Lewis Kinsey Harris was officially mustered into service as a private in the 8th Indiana Volunteer Infantry.

On Sunday, April 21, over 10,000 visitors came to see the 5,000 or so soldiers gathered at Camp Morton.  After the chaos and hoopla of that day, visits were curtailed to give the soldiers time and space to learn to be soldiers.

Government regulations prescribed the bugle calls for each day:

6am – Reveille

6:15am – Police call

7am – Breakfast

8am – Guard Mounting

8:30am – Drill

11:00am – Drill

12:30pm – Dinner

2pm – Drill

5pm – Retreat Parade

6pm – Supper

9pm – Tattoo

10pm – Taps

In between meals and drills, there was time for fun.  The boys brought games from home like checkers, chess and card games.  Rumors of war abounded and there was plenty of opportunity to talk about the adventure and glory that lay ahead.  Newspapers brought the latest from Washington, Richmond and the Border States like Kentucky and Maryland.  The boys passed the papers around and whispered excitedly about what it all meant.

General Winfield Scott, Lieutenant General and top-ranking officer at the beginning of the Civil War

On Friday, May 3rd, President Lincoln called for 42,034 volunteers to serve for three years.  The first batch of volunteers had been asked for only three months.  When news of three-year regiments forming reached Camp Morton, responses were surely mixed.  Many of the boys who were hungry for war were undoubtedly disappointed to be in a three-month unit, but at the same time they must have been excited to hear that more volunteers were being called up and a greater war was imminent.

Also on Friday, May 3rd, the Department of the Ohio was formed of regiments from Indiana, Ohio and Illinois.  Command was given to George McClellan, the young major general and commander of the Ohio militia.  McClellan became the second ranking officer in the regular army when he was commissioned major general on May 14th.  He outranked everyone except Lieutenant General Winfield Scott, who was the general in chief at the time.

As McClellan organized the Department of the Ohio for war, he began to make plans that would soon send L.K. and the 8th Indiana into western Virginia for their first taste of battle.

You can read more about the early days at Camp Morton when the first Indiana regiments formed there in chapter one of Camp Morton 1861-1865:  Indianapolis Prison Camp by Hattie Lou Winslow and Joseph R. H. Moore.

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2 Responses to Learning to be a Soldier

  1. Julia says:

    Nicely done! I can almost feel the excitement and tension in the camp. Looking forward to reading what follows.

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