Indiana and the Civil War

Many Hoosiers were glad that the Indiana Constitution of 1816 prohibited slavery within the state. However, most white Hoosiers felt blacks, slave or free, were inferior to whites. Indiana laws prohibited free black women and men from voting, to give testimony in a trial that involved whites, or to marry anyone white.

One problem with race in Indiana prior to the Civil War was deciding who was actually black. In 1840 the Indiana legislature officially defined an African American by the one-eighth rule. This rule stated that if a person had one black great-grandparent and seven white great-grandparents, then that person was officially considered to be black.

One of the most strict rules was placed in the 1851 Indiana Constitution. Article XIII stated that “No negro or mulatto [a person of mixed white and black ancestry, especially a person with one white and one black parent] shall come into or settle in the State.” Most Hoosiers wanted Indiana’s borders to be completely shut except for new white settlers. However, there were some Hoosiers who spoke out against Article XIII. South Bend newspaper editor (and future Vice President) Schuyler Colfax, said that in the future Hoosiers would “burn with shame” at the exclusion of black settlement within Indiana. He argued that there should be “equal and exact justice, regardless of creed, race, or color.”

Schuyler Colfax

Colfax was a South Bend newspaper editor and future Vice President who spoke out against Indiana's Article XIII

Indiana's 1816 Constitution

The Constitution of 1816 prohibited slavery within the borders of Indiana.

Read the 1816 Indiana Constitution
The Civil War Comes to Indiana

19th Indiana Infantry Volunteer Regiment

An image of the 19th Indiana that was a part of the Iron Brigade.

Recruitment Advertisement

This advertisement for German-only enlistment appeared in the Madison, Indiana newspaper. These volunteers formed the all-German 32nd Indiana Infantry.

When the Civil War began, and President Lincoln called for volunteers for military service Indiana responded. Indiana sent a higher percentage of soldiers from the state’s population than any other Union state. Hoosier military regiments fought in all major Civil War battles.

One of the most decorated Indiana regiments during the Civil War was the 19th Indiana Volunteer Infantry Regiment. It was part of a unit that was known as the Iron Brigade [read more].

Most of the volunteers for the Union Army were young and single. Many served alongside neighbors and friends. Some regiments were made up of a specific ethnic group. The 32nd Indiana Infantry Volunteer Regiment was comprised of German Americans. Most soldiers were homesick and grumbled about army life (and the food). Back home in Indiana women replaced men when working the farm and many Hoosier women formed aid societies to help supply the Union Army with needed supplies-like socks. Many women volunteered as nurses to aid and help injured soldiers.

Most Hoosiers, as well as most Americans, thought the conflict would end quickly, they were mistaken. The war turned out to be long and bloody. More than 25,000 Hoosier soldiers died from disease and/or wounds. One Owen County, Indiana, family had six men in uniform…four did not come home.1

An Indiana Threat

Not surprisingly, the Civil War brought the worst out of people involved in politics. Indiana’s wartime governor was Oliver P. Morton who was supportive of President Lincoln’s harsh stand against the Confederacy. Governor Morton saw the secession of southern states as treason to the United States. However, many Hoosiers still had ties to people in the southern states…because many eventual Indiana settlers came from the South. Some Indiana Democrats thought Governor Morton was a tyrannical dictator who had imposed unfair wartime rules and gave away Hoosier money to Union causes.

There were two specific issues Indiana Democrats had against Governor Morton. One was the Indiana draft. As the war dragged on, less and less Hoosier men volunteered, so Governor Morton instituted a draft that forced men into the Union Army. Many Hoosiers saw this as an undemocratic overreach by the governor. In several towns (not only in Indiana) there were draft riots that resulted in destroyed property and brought about several deaths.

The second issue that many Indiana Democrats had issue with was the Emancipation Proclamation. Governor Morton argued that emancipation was necessary to cripple the Confederacy and bring a quick peace. Democrats argued that the emancipation of southern slaves was unconstitutional and a direct threat to white supremacy. What made them even angrier was that Morton and Lincoln were putting black men into Union uniforms.

Deep divisions developed among Hoosiers. On July 4th there were communities that celebrated American independence in separate groups-one for pro-war Republicans and another for anti-war Democrats. The most hostile opposition came from Copperheads, the Republican nickname for an outspoken group of anti-war Democrats. Republicans likened them to snakes in the grass, who, in opposing the war effort, would aid the Confederacy.2

Copperhead Political Cartoon

Political cartoon showing Lady Liberty fighting off snakes (copperheads) of southern sympathizers.

Oliver P. Morton

Indiana's Civil War Governor and close friend of President Lincoln

General John Hunt Morgan

John Hunt Morgan – known as the ‘Thunderbolt of the Confederacy’ and remembered as the ideal of the romantic Southern cavalryman -- was born June 1, 1825 in Huntsville, Alabama, but is thoroughly identified with his mother’s home state of Kentucky. Morgan moved to the Bluegrass State as a boy and briefly attended Transylvania College in Lexington before he was expelled for bad behavior.

During the secession crisis, Morgan did not share the hesitation of his state and immediately threw in his lot with the new Southern Confederacy and led his ‘Lexington Rifles’ to Bowling Green to join forces with Gen. Buckner. Morgan was made colonel in April 1862 and took part in the Battle of Shiloh before being attached to Joseph Wheeler’s division in Gen. Braxton Bragg’s Army of Tennessee. Morgan was far from ‘attached,’ however. That summer, Morgan began to lead the kind of swift, daring raids that characterized Confederate cavalry leaders during the war.

On July 4, 1862, Morgan set out on a thousand-mile ride through Kentucky – destroying railroad and telegraph lines, seizing supplies, taking prisoners and generally wreaking havoc in the Union rear. His raid made national headlines and helped cement the fearsome reputation of the Southern cavalryman. Morgan led equally successful endeavors in October and December, which eventually forced some 20,000 Union troops to be detached from the front to guard communication and supply lines.

The following year, in July 1863, as the Confederacy was reeling from the dual losses of Vicksburg and Gettysburg, Morgan began his most ambitious raid of the war. Against Bragg’s explicit orders, Morgan and 2,400 men crossed the Ohio and rode over one thousand miles along the north bank of the Ohio River. For three weeks Morgan terrorized the local defenses of southern Indiana and Ohio before he was captured at Salineville by Union cavalry under Gen. Edward H. Hobson and sent to the Ohio State Penitentiary in Columbus. Incredibly, on November 26, 1863, Morgan escaped from prison and made his way back into Confederate lines.

While bivouacked in Greeneville, Tennessee on September 3, 1864, Morgan was caught in a surprise attack and shot and killed by a Union private who had once served under him.

Morgan is often included amongst John S. Mosby, Jeb Stuart and Nathan Bedford Forrest in ‘Lost Cause’ memory as an example of the superior fighting qualities of the Southern cavalryman. He is buried in Lexington.3

The role Indiana had in the Civil War was complex and sometimes troubling. Many Union states considered Indiana as the most southern of northern states. Hoosiers supported the United States but were deeply divided over the war policies of Governor Morton and President Lincoln. Even though most Indiana citizens regarded blacks as inferior, many still supported the ending of slavery.

Resource Used:

1Madison, J. H., Sandweiss, L. A., & Hedeen, J. (2014). Hoosiers and the American story. Indianapolis, IN: Indiana Historical Society Press.

2Madison, J. H., Sandweiss, L. A., & Hedeen, J. (2014). Hoosiers and the American story. Indianapolis, IN: Indiana Historical Society Press.

3John Hunt Morgan. (2018, October 16). Retrieved March 25, 2021, from https://www.battlefields.org/learn/biographies/john-hunt-morgan