On the Way to War

They left Camp Morton on June 19, 1861.  After two months of training and learning how to be part of a unit of soldiers, these young men were on their way to war.

Getting on the cars in Indianapolis, the excitement was palpable.  The 8th Indiana Volunteer Infantry had finally been ordered to West Virginia to support McClellan’s invasion of the Confederate heartland.

Adjutant Irwin Harrison of the 8th Indiana

Halfway along its journey, the train paused in North Bend, Ohio–the city along the Ohio River that had been the home of President William Henry Harrison.  The late President’s widow, Anna Symmes Harrison, came forward to bless her grandson Irwin, who was riding on the train as the Adjutant of the 8th Indiana.

Irwin Harrison had enlisted as a First Lieutenant under Captain M.M. Lacey on April 27, 1861–in the same company that L.K. Harris began his service.  Within days, Irwin was promoted to Adjutant, the post at which he served out his three-month commitment in the 8th Indiana.

But on June 19th when the train pulled into North Bend, it didn’t matter what position Irwin held.  All that mattered was that Irwin was President William Henry Harrison’s grandson.  As the young man knelt and received his grandmother’s blessing, it surely boosted the already soaring spirits of all the young men.  Her frail body and trembling voice were reminders that she acted as the representative of a prior generation when she pronounced her blessing on all her beloved country’s defenders.

The cars were crowded and uncomfortable as the train resumed its course toward West Virginia, but how could anyone care as they watched beautiful scenery flash by and dreamed of the glory of battle that lay ahead.

General George McClellan

At six in the evening, they pulled into Clarksburg and encamped near the town.  The boys of the 8th Indiana spent the next day building defenses against the possible approach of Virginian troops.  Within eight hours they had prepared a breastwork four to six feet high, but the Virginians never came.

The following day word came from General McClellan that the 8th was to march the thirty miles to Buckhannon where Union troops were gathering for battle.  The young men spent the next two nights in the drenching rain without any shelter–their tents had not yet arrived.

It was a fitting introduction into the soldier’s life:  a day spent building breastworks that would almost immediately be abandoned followed by two days of marching and two nights sleeping in the rain with no tents.  These types of experiences were common to soldiers throughout the Civil War.  But within a matter of days, the boys of the 8th would also be introduced to the rare but intense experience of battle.

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