A Three Month Tour

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.

A drawing of the Union camp at Beverly, West Virginia following the Battle of Rich Mountain

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.

The first Union Station in Indianapolis around 1853. The 8th Indiana likely left from this station in June 1861 and returned to it in July. (Bass Photo Collection, Indiana Historical Society).

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

$5.00 cash

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.

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The Fog of War

When L.K. Harris and the 8th Indiana first went into battle, they almost immediately found themselves in the fog of war.

The Battle of Rich Mountain

In early July 1861, Generals McClellan and Rosencrans had decided to coordinate an attack on Rebels who were camped on Rich Mountain near Beverly, West Virginia.  The western part of Virginia was an important territory for the Union to hold, especially to support the Union sympathizers who lived there.  The specifics of the plan called for McClellan to wait until he heard the sounds of battle from the east side of the mountain before attacking from the west.  The coordinated plan was orchestrated to bring swift and complete victory to the Union troops.

General Rosencrans put his troops in motion at 5am on the morning of Thursday, July 11, 1861.  His brigade included the 8th, 10th and 13th Indiana as well as the 19th Ohio.  As the morning began, they followed a “circuitous route, through a trackless mountain forest.”  The excitement level among these green volunteers from the farms and towns of Indiana and Ohio couldn’t have been higher.  Their minds must have raced as they headed toward battle for the first time.

The advance of Rosencrans' troops through the forest

A local boy named David Hart acted as the guide for the troops, because he knew the terrain–his father’s farm was at the top of the mountain.  The 8th Indiana was initially the lead regiment in the brigade’s march.  Hart, however, gave up his role as guide when the battle got close and the 8th Indiana ended up wandering down into a ravine, so the 10th became the lead element.

The rain had begun at six o’clock in the morning and it continued until a little before noon.  The boys cut their way through the wet forest, seeking the Rebels at the top of the mountain.  By the time they reached the crest at around 2pm, they were wet and tired.  But before they knew it, they were fired upon by Rebel pickets.  A sergeant of the 10th Indiana was killed almost immediately and a captain mortally wounded.

The regiments quickly formed into lines.  The Rebels opened up with six-pounder cannons and rifle fire.  The awesome noise of war began.

The 13th Indiana captures a gun at Rich Mountain

The 8th Indiana were ordered to charge with the 13th, but ended up in line somewhere else by mistake.  Orders flew around as the young volunteers struggled through their first experience in battle.  They stayed in line and fought valiently, and before the day was over the 8th made their charge too.

In the end, Rosencrans fought the battle alone.  McClellan never came in support, in spite of the resounding sounds of battle.  In retrospect it was no surprise that the overly cautious, slow-to-move McClellan didn’t attack.  Nevertheless, for his overall leadership in the West Virginia campaign, President Lincoln put him in charge of the Army of the Potomac–the main Union force in the East.

All the Hoosier boys fought well (the Ohio troops had been held in reserve and had no chance to prove their worth).  The brigade captured 21 prisoners, 2 brass six-pounder guns, 50 stand of arms and some corn and provisions.  In some of the skirmishing that continued over the following days, they killed the first Rebel general.

When the fighting of Thursday, July 11th was over, the 8th and 10th Indiana were assigned burial duty.  They spent the next day digging graves for the fallen as other regiments chased the Rebels.

After a day of slogging through the rain, cutting through the forest, wandering into a ravine, moving from one part of the battlefield to another under heavy fire, charging, capturing, shooting, hollering, and witnessing the worst that battle could bring, burial detail probably didn’t seem too bad.

The boys of the 8th Indiana had been yearning for the experience of battle for weeks, but one wonders what they thought about, prayed for and dreamed of when they finally lay down to sleep after a day like July 11, 1861.

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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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Camp Food

From Harper's Weekly. Click to enlarge.

Everybody complains about food.  Airline food, college food, summer camp food–they all come under fire, but perhaps none more than Army food.

When Indiana mobilized thousands of her sons in the spring of 1861, she had to figure out how to feed them.  The job fell to a friend and former roommate of the governor named Isaiah Mansur–an honest man and a hard worker.

Mr. Mansur and the governor decided to be generous with food allotments since many of the boys had come from farms where food was plentiful.  The food allowances given to Indiana’s soldiers were greater than the Army’s requirements in every instance:

(amounts are per company)

110 pounds of pork, instead of 75 required

150 pounds of beef, instead of 125

150 pounds of flour, instead of 112 and 2/3

130 pounds of beans, instead of 8 quarts

12 pounds of rice, instead of 10

8 pounds of coffee, instead of 6

16 pounds of sugar, instead of 12

100 pounds of potatoes, 1 pound of peppers, 1 and 1/2 pounds of fruit, and 3 bushels of onions, instead of none

Nevertheless, the Indiana boys found reason to complain.  The meat was too salty, the apples too wormy, the coffee adulterated.  The newspapers were filled with complaints and outrage “that the poor boys should be put off with anything less than the fat of the land afforded!”

In response, food poured in from home:  roast fowl, baked ham, fresh butter and eggs, jellies, and all manner of goodies.

The complaints led the legislature to investigate Mansur, but it found that even though there had been some minor cases of mismanagement or questionable provision, he had been more than upright and even generous.  Mansur took the opportunity to resign.  He was replaced by Asahel Stone.  Mr. Stone continued the tradition of generosity and plentitude.  But the tradition of complaints continued.

In the fall of 1861, the US Government finally took over the feeding of Indiana’s troops-in-training.  Then it became evident how good Indiana’s boys had it under Mansur and Stone.

Even as Isaiah Mansur resigned his position as Commissary General for the state of Indiana on May 29, 1861, the time that L.K. Harris and the rest of the 8th Indiana would spend in Indiana was drawing to a close.  In late May, events were already in motion that would ultimately bring the 8th Indiana to western Virginia.

On Friday, May 24, 1861, Union troops entered Virginia.  That same day, Colonel Elmer Ellsworth of a New York regiment of soldiers known as the First Fire Zouaves (because they were New York firemen) was killed.  He was a friend of Abraham Lincoln and his death shocked the North.

General George McClellan

Two days later, on Sunday, May 26, General George McClellan ordered three Federal columns into western Virginia to protect the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad and to support pro-Unionists in the area.

L.K.’s 8th Indiana would soon be sent to aid the effort in western Virginia.  But for now, they watched some of their fellow Hoosiers leave for war.

As they watched others leave, they must have felt disappointment at being left behind and an envy of those who would get to see new places and experience exciting adventures.

No matter what the food tasted like at Camp Morton, the dreams of the glory and adventure that lay ahead must have been much sweeter.

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Dressing Like a Soldier

Jacket from the 17th Indiana

As the volunteers flooded into Indianapolis, Governor Morton had to begin thinking about equipping these young men for war.

During the month of May 1861, events were continuing to push everyone toward war.  More states were seceding each day.  On May 6, the ninth and tenth states left the union–Alabama and Tennessee.  On May 20, the eleventh and final full state to leave the union officially voted for secession–North Carolina.  That same day the governor of Kentucky declared neutrality and insisted there should be “no movement upon Kentucky soil” by either army.

The very next day, May 21, the Quartermaster General of Indiana entered into the following contracts for clothing for the Indiana boys:

To Glazer & Brothers of Indianapolis for 740 suits, jackets and pants, gray sattinets, $7.

(sattinet/satinet/satinette = a satin weave fabric made with cotton warp and wool filling, fulled and finished to resemble wool or a thin, light satin.)

To Gelzendorf & Company of Indianapolis for one regiment, 740 suits, blue jeans, jacket and pants at $6.75.

To Stadley, Brother & Company and Dessar & Brothers of Indianapolis for one regiment, 740 suits gray sattinet, jacket and pants at $7.50.

To Lewis Froshman of Cincinnati for one regiment, gray sattinet, jacket and pants at $6.95.

To Simonds, Brother & Company of Indianapolis for one regiment, blue sattinet, jacket and pants at $6.50.

To Simon & Son for one regiment, blue sattinet, jacket and pants at $7.50.

To Glazer & Brothers of Indianapolis for 2,000 pairs blankets, six pounds at $3.10

To P.H. Lewis & Brother of New York for 9,000 flannel shirts at $1.08 and 1/3.

To Benedict, Hall & Company of New York for 3,740 pairs shoes at $1.25.

To James J. Irwin of Columbus, Indiana for 740 pairs shoes at $1.25.

Civil War shoes

To Glazer & Brother of Indianapolis for 9,200 pairs drill drawers at 31 cents.

To Cole & Hopkins of Cincinnati for 750 dozen home-made wool socks at $3.40.

To W.C. Whitcher & Company of Cinicnnati for 3 regiments hats, 2,229 at $1.

W. B. Dodd & Company for 3 regiments hats, 2,229 at $1.

With these clothes, shoes and blankets, the boys from Indiana were one step closer to war.

These supplies brought the total number of Indiana regiments uniformed and prepared for war to twelve.  The first six were three-months units.  These were already formed, uniformed and armed.  Within weeks, they would be on their way.

The next six units were to be clothed and supplied by the above-listed contracts.  These units were positioned at the borders of the state–one at Richmond, one at Terre Haute, one at Lafayette and then two in Indianapolis–to protect Indiana.  More units–particularly cavalry–were to be raised for the other border counties.

In Indiana, more volunteers came forward than were needed to meet the quota set by President Lincoln.  Governor Oliver P. Morton was quick to raise the troops, to equip them and to offer them to Lincoln.

The boys who put on these clothes may have felt a little more like warriors.  I know when I wear a suit, I feel more like a preacher.  It doesn’t change what I know or how eloquent I am, but somehow it changes my perception of myself and gives me some confidence.

When I was a high school student and put on my soccer uniform, I felt a little more the athlete.  It didn’t change my skill level or degree of physical fitness, but somehow it changed how I thought about myself and reminded me I was part of a team.

When my great-great grandfather L.K. Harris put on his new government-issue jacket, drawers, socks and all the rest, he probably began to feel like a soldier.

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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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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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