- Tending the Soil: Assessing Research Trends for Indiana’s Civil War Era
- Ohio Valley History
- The Filson Historical Society and Cincinnati Museum Center
- Volume 11, Number 2, Summer 2011
- pp. 41-55
- View Citation
- Additional Information
SUMMER 2011 41 Tending the Soil Assessing Research Trends for Indiana’s Civil War Era Stephen E. Towne I n 1999, the Indiana Historical Society marked the opening of its newly built downtown Indianapolis center with a conference entitled “The State of Indiana History 2000.” Organized by the late Robert M. Taylor, the conference highlighted and reviewed the historiography of Indiana period by period, subject by subject. Dr. Taylor offered the author the privilege of examining the literature on Indiana’s experience in the American Civil War. Entitled “Scorched Earth or Fertile Ground?: Indiana in the Civil War, 1861-1865,” the essay reviewed two main historiographical threads: one focusing on Indiana politics and the other the question of dissent and subversion during the war. More significantly, it also suggested areas of research where scholars of Indiana and the Civil War could profitably explore and write. To date, most historical research relating to Indiana’s participation in the Civil War has focused on the political and social elites such as the powerful figures of Gov. Oliver P. Morton or Sen. Thomas A. Hendricks, respective leaders of the contending Republican and Democratic parties. Although new assessments of these figures and the rarified world of high political intrigue are needed, the essay suggested that researchers also turn their attention to the non-elites of Indiana to study how the war affected their lives. The soldiers and seamen who volunteered or were drafted to serve in the military forces of the United States to suppress the rebellion merit attention. The men, women, and children who remained at home to work in the fields, shops, and factories deserve study. African American men and women who resided in Indiana and experienced both a refuge from southern slavery and the racial hostility of the white majority should be researched. The essay noted that studies of local Indiana communities—cities, towns, townships, counties—were lacking and suggested that scholars could gain much from studying how different people—Democrats and Republicans, men and women, young and old, farm laborers and townspeople , African Americans and whites, Methodists and Presbyterians and Roman Catholics, war supporters and opponents—lived together and interacted amid the conflicts and controversies engendered by slavery and war. In sum, the essay suggested that much more historical research and writing on Indiana topics were both warranted and required to gain a better understanding of the effects of the Civil War on the people of the state.1 TENDING THE SOIL 42 OHIO VALLEY HISTORY Recent Scholarship It is encouraging to see that much research on Indiana and the Civil War has been done in the last decade. Vital and important work on Indiana in the Civil War-era has emerged to help reshape our understanding of the war’s effect on the lives of the citizens of the state. Indeed, the research on Indiana’s war experience has wide resonance and informs historical understanding of the northern experience more generally. This new scholarship goes far to compel historians to rethink many assumptions and prevailing interpretations of the American experience during that period. Owing to the heightened popular interest in the American Civil War in the last twenty years, persons have dug into their closets and attics and recovered many collections of otherwise forgotten personal letters, diaries, and other personal writings penned by family members. The publication of editions of soldiers ’ letters and diaries written during the war is important for understanding the mode of presenting the thoughts, ideas, emotions, and experiences of the combatants. Several volumes of letters and diaries of Indiana volunteer soldiers have appeared in the last decade. The writers served in many of Indiana’s volunteer units that marched long distances, fought many battles, and served in every theater of the military conflict to put down the Confederate rebellion. The varied service of the writers is notable. One served along the Mississippi River in Arkansas and Louisiana. Others served in the Union armies that swept southward 44th Indiana Volunteer Infantry Regiment in camp. COURTESY NATIONAL ARCHIVES AND RECORDS ADMINISTRATION, WASHINGTON, D.C. STEPHEN E. TOWNE SUMMER 2011 43 through Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama, and into Georgia. The letter writers were enlisted men and officers who...