Indianapolis in the American Civil War

Indianapolis in the American Civil War

Indianapolis in the American Civil War was a major base of pro-Union activity. The governor of Indiana, Oliver P. Morton, was a major supporter of Abraham Lincoln and quickly made Indianapolis a rallying point for Northern forces eager to invade the Southern states. This was due to Indianapolis being the transportation hub of Indiana, as well as a major railroad center. Indianapolis would be the site of an important prison camp, Camp Morton, and would fear being attacked by Confederate forces once, although the nearest any Confederate came to the city was sixty miles away, in Seymour, Indiana. However, there was one incident sarcastically called the Battle of Pogue's Run. [Bodenhamer, pp. 441-443.]


Throughout the winter of 1860-1861, there was talk throughout the region about a possible war. On January 7, 1861, a local militia group, the Zouave Guards, volunteered to fight if Governor Morton so wished. Their services were not immediately needed.

On February 12, on his way to his inauguration, Abraham Lincoln visited the town, becoming the first U.S. President-elect to visit the city. [Holliday, p. 24.]

On April 12, news arrived in Indianapolis via telegraph that Fort Sumter in Charleston, South Carolina, had surrendered to local forces that wanted northern troops off their land. Lincoln responded by calling for volunteers to join the armed forces to restore order. Governor Morton quickly made Indianapolis a mustering point for those who wanted to enlist, and more than 12,000 recruits assembled in Indianapolis in a span of two weeks. By April 22, the 9th Indiana Infantry Regiment was organized, the first of 104 Hoosier regiments to be trained in Indianapolis, 61.5% of all regiments formed in Indiana. Six were ready for President Lincoln's initial call for troops. Indianapolis itself would send 4,000 of its own residents into the service. Camp Morton was quickly built on the grounds of the Indiana State Fair. In total, 24 various installations for the war would be built in Indianapolis or its vicinity. [Bodenhamer, p. 441.]

The first resident of Indianapolis to die in the war was Private John C. Hollenbeck, who died around Romney, Virginia on June 27, 1861. [Bodenhamer, p. 441.]

Before the war, four militia groups met in Indianapolis. All became part of the 11th Indiana Volunteer Regiment. One militia lieutenant was Frederick Knefler, who would eventually become the highest ranking Jewish individual for the North. Another militia leader, Francis A. Shoup, decided to go south and become a brigadier general in the Confederate army. [Bodenhamer, p. 441.]


Events in Kentucky and Tennessee would cause the major difference in Indianapolis during the war. After the battles of Fort Henry and Fort Donelson, there were many Confederate prisoners of war. Governor Morton volunteered to hold some in Indianapolis, and more than 3,700 Confederate prisoners of war soon arrived at Camp Morton. As the Confederates had hardly eaten, and were unused to Northern winters, citizens of Indianapolis rallied to provide humanitarian aid for the prisoners. A hospital to treat them was made from the Athenaeum at the corner of Meridian and Maryland streets. [Bodenhamer, pp. 382, 441.]

Union soldiers would continue to gather at Indianapolis, sometimes as many as 12,000. Popular spots for the soldiers to reside would be Monument Circle and University Park. Some soldiers would turn to street crime, causing major law enforcement troubles. Prohibition of alcohol sales has to be established in the city. City police never bothered to discovered who murdered an officer from Pennsylvania. Many deceased soldiers would be at Indianapolis's Union Station, awaiting transportation to their eventual burial spots. [Bodenhamer, p. 442.]


The first military execution in the Western Theater of the American Civil War occurred on March 27, 1863. A 27-year-old school teacher from Clay County, Indiana, Robert Gay, was killed by a 20-man firing squad. This happened just south of Camp Morton at Burnside Barracks. Gay had simply declared allegiance to the Confederacy after being captured by the Southern army at Richmond, Kentucky, in order to escape further service in the army. He was convicted of treason, and thus executed, but not before saying he was sorrying for doing what he did to escape further service. [Holliday, pp. 57-58; Bodenhamer, p. 442.]

In May, Democrats decided that there was no way a fair election would be held, so they withdrew their ticket; between the nine wards only 14 Democrat votes were cast. [Holliday, p. 57.] On May 20, 1863, an incident later called the Battle of Pogue's Run occurred. A state Democrat convention was interrupted by Union soldiers sent by Governor Morton (a Republican), and after the convention soldiers would search trains departing with various Democrat delegates to convention, causing many of the personal weapons held by the Democrats to land in Pogue's Run as the train passed by the creek. [Bodenhamer, p. 1121.]

When John Hunt Morgan crossed the Ohio River into Indiana, the state went into a state of emergency. On July 7 the citizens of Indianapolis were rejoicing over the Union victories at Vicksburg, Mississippi, and Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. But on July 8, it became a panic as many feared Morgan would attack Indianapolis in order to free the prisoners at Camp Morton. This was increased due to Morgan's telegrapher, "Lightning" Ellsworth, posing as various Union telegraphers and saying Morgan had far more men than he actually had (Just over 2,000), and sent false information saying Morgan would attack Indianapolis, among other locations. Five regiments were sent to Indianapolis to defend the Indiana State House, and 65,000 answered the call for all able bodies to defend the capital city. The panic in the city would last until July 14, when it was confirmed that Morgan had entered Ohio. In the chaos, the accidental explosion of a caisson killed a boy, three soldiers, and two horses. [Holliday, p. 58-59; Bodenhamer, p. 442.]


The 28th Colored Infantry was formed on March 31, 1864, near what is now Fountain Square at Camp Fremont. It would be the only black regiment formed in Indiana during the war, losing 212 men total during the war. They were signed on for 36 months, but the war was effectively over in eleven months time. [Bodenhamer 442]

"The City Regiment", officially known as the 132nd Regiment, was formed in May 1864 to be sent to guard railroads in Tennessee and Alabama, which were firmly in control by Union forces. It was formed mostly of young boys and older men seeking adventure, making it the favorite regiment among Indianapolis citizens; more citizens attended the departure of the City regiment than at any other regiment. Twelve members of this regiment would die of disease before returning back home after the predetermined stay of hundred days. [Bodenhamer, p. 442.]

Three bounty jumpers were executed at Burnside Barracks. [Bodenhamer, p. 442.]


News of Robert E. Lee's surrender reached Indianapolis at 11pm on April 9, 1865. "The Indianapolis Journal" called the following celebrations within the city "demented". The celebrations ceased after news of the assassination of Lincoln arrived on April 15th. The funeral train for Lincoln went through the city on April 30, with 100,000 attending the bier at the Indiana State House. [Bodenhamer, p. 443.]

Indianapolis would soon see much activity in the drawing down of military forces afterwards. June saw many formal receptions honoring soldiers returning from the War. On June 12, the last prisoner of war was paroled at Camp Morton. The military wagon train through the city, convert|28|mi|km in length, went though the city on July 25. By autumn all the soldiers would be gone. [Bodenhamer, p. 443.]


Statewide data concluded that Indianapolis lost 700 men during the War. [Bodenhamer, p. 443.]

ee also

*Indiana in the American Civil War


*Bodenhamer, David, "The Encyclopedia of Indianapolis" (Indiana University Press, 1994).
* Holliday, Hampden, "Indianapolis and the Civil War"


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