When the Civil War started, no one could foresee how long it would last. President Lincoln initially called for volunteers to enlist for 90 days, since that was the longest amount of time that state militia could be federalized according to the Militia Act of 1795. Lincoln and many others were thinking that the insurrection would be crushed quickly and easily. Little did they know it was only the beginning.
After experiencing the piercing reality of battle at Rich Mountain during the first week of July, L.K. Harris and the rest of the 8th Indiana Volunteer Infantry spent the next two weeks in camp near Beverly, West Virginia, “guarding prisoners, et cetera.” Then their three-month tour of duty began to draw to a close and they prepared to return home.
On July 21st, they gathered up all their sick and wounded (except for four, who were too bad off to move) and headed for Indianapolis. As they travelled toward home, they must have reflected on the sadness and sorrow of wounded friends. But they also must have felt the flush of victory.
Passing through Richmond, Indiana–L.K.’s hometown–on Friday, July 26th, they were treated to breakfast by the citizens of Richmond to celebrate the return of their boys.
That afternoon, they arrived in Indianapolis. Undoubtedly they were greeted with great fanfare and appreciation. Their hearts probably swelled with pride, even as they grasped the reality that they were boys no more.
August 6th the men were mustered out. L.K. finished his 90 days of service as a corporal. The final paperwork noted carefully that L.K. was a private until June 9th and that his pay was to be stopped for money, clothing and transportation advanced by the state, including:
$2.80 for flannel shirts
$.80 for drawers
$.60 for socks
$1.35 for a hat
$1.15 for shoes
$7.90 for uniforms
and $1.36 for transportation.
The 8th Indiana had 242 men in the fight at Rich Mountain; less than ten of their number died. Perhaps the saddest death in the three-month unit was John Smith, a private from Company K who was crushed between rail cars during their first journey from Indiana to West Virginia.
The horrors of death on the battlefield at Rich Mountain were expressed by a correspondent for the Cincinnati Commercial: “The dead presented a ghastly spectacle. I never conceived anything half so hideous. No power of expression is adequate to describe it. It was a complete concentration of horror’s self.”
Worse than the dead were the wounded: “One poor fellow, an Indianian, shot through the side of his head, who could even yet stand on his feet with assistance, suffered excruciating agony. If he survives it will be almost miraculous.”
The ones who returned to Indiana brought their new memories–the fog of war, the boom of cannons, the fear, the stench of death, the broken spirit of a prisoner under guard. All these experiences came home with them. And they waited for what came next.
L.K. Harris presumably returned to Richmond in the days after August 6th. I don’t know whom he visited or if he shared his recent experiences with anyone who cared. All I know is that by September 14th, he was back in–commissioned in the 36th Indiana Infantry as a Second Lieutenant, ready to head back to war.
To see a copy of L.K.’s commission as a Second Lieutenant in the 36th Indiana, see L.K. Harris Commission papers for the 36th Indiana.