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Indiana in the Civil War

During the Civil War, citizens of Indiana found themselves starkly divided. Although Indiana was one of the first states to join the Union cause, many residents were sympathetic to the Confederates, and became increasingly critical and hostile to the Indiana war effort, especially after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation reframed the war as being more explicitly about the eradication of slavery. Neither Democrats nor Republicans in Indiana at that time were supportive of changing the status quo for black Americans–in fact, both parties voted to bar blacks from entering the state in the 1851 constitution.

Towards the middle of the war, divisions between Indiana’s Union forces and the “peace” Democrats grew increasingly violent. In response to reports of treasonous plots against the Indiana government by secret societies such as the Knights of the Golden Order and the Sons of Liberty, Indiana Governor Oliver P. Morton arrested and detained members and suspected Confederate sympathizers without the writ of habeas corpus. These societies supported the servitude of blacks, decentralized government, and most also pledged the right to take up arms against an unjust government. Many had active militia wings.

From 1863 through the end of the war, there were signs of violent resistance against the government, including frequent riots and arson. In May of 63′ a squadron of soldiers was sent to arrest the editors of the Huntington Sentinel for their criticism of Lincoln and the war effort. They were prevented from doing so by a force of several hundred armed men.


In 1860, the year before the war began…

  • Indiana’s population was 1,350,000 (compared to over  6,500,000 today).
  • Indiana had more residents of southern ancestry than any other northern state.
  • More than half the population still lived in log cabins.
  •  Union Township’s votes were split between Lincoln (R) and Douglas (D). (118 votes for Lincoln and 120 for Douglas)

 Indiana’s military forces

  • Approximately 200,000 Indiana residents fought in the Civil War
  • Indiana had 3 drafts–one in 1862 and two in 1864. The total draft required from Marshall County was 539.
  • Over 27,000 soldiers lost their lives through injury and disease.
  • Nearly 11,000 soldiers, or about 5 percent, deserted.
  • Towards the middle of the war, burnout and resistance to the Emancipation Proclamation contributed to a desertion rate three times higher than it had been at the initial draft.
  • Although verifiable numbers are unknown, reports from government officials at the time estimated secret society membership in Indiana at between 50,000 and 125,000.

Indiana’s War Governor, Oliver P. Morton

  • Governor Morton was a close ally of Lincoln’s and a strong supporter of the union cause.
  • Morton faced strong obstructionism within the legislature towards the middle of the war from Democrats who objected to the changing focus of the war on ending slavery and the length and costs of the struggle.
  • In order to bypass deadlock within the legislature, Morton raised the majority of funds for the war effort through extra-legal means– appealing to individuals, businesses, and even the federal government.
  • In a letter to Secretary of War Edwin Stanton, Morton said that he was confronting a secret society 10,000 strong in Indiana, and that it was intent upon manufacturing rebellion against the government, especially through newspapers including the Indiana State Sentinel and the Chicago Times.
  • In 1864 Morton arrested a number of members of secret societies involved in a planned raid upon a Confederate prison, organized in conjunction with the Confederate generals.
  • Morton has been criticized for suspending habeas corpus in his struggle against dissenters and members of secret societies, as well as repressing anti-Union newspapers, and repressing the votes of Democratic candidates in city and state elections of 1864.


Black Soldiers in the Indiana regiments

  • At the outset of the war, African Americans made up under 1 percent of the population, and were largely in the south.
  • Before and during the Civil War, the constitution of Indiana officially disbarred blacks from entering. They were also barred from intermarrying with whites, voting, testifying against whites in court, and fighting in the militia.
  • Following President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 (which declared all blacks residing in Confederate states free and opened the Union Army to black men) restrictions were unofficially loosened, and free blacks began to enter the state and to be recruited for the Union Army.
  • Initially, resistance to the idea of blacks fighting alongside whites was such that official recruiters from Massachusetts were permitted to poach free blacks and send them to Boston to fill their quotas (a practice that was illegal for white recruitment). In 1863, the Indianapolis Daily Sentinel offered the following explanation: “This arrangement for the superlatively patriotic Andrew (Governor of Massachusetts) — not the Merry Andrew — is a pretty cute Yankee trick. Each of these darkies counts as a white man in making up the quota of Massachusetts, while it relieves us of a class of population that we are not at all anxious to retain.”
  • At the close of the war, it was still illegal for blacks to enter the state, including those returning from military service.


“Indiana’s Recruitment of African-American Soldiers,” Civil War Trust: Saving America’s Civil War Battlefields. Launch PDF file.

McDonald, Daniel. History of Marshall County, Indiana: 1836 to 1880. Chicago: Kingman Brothers, 1881.

Morrison, Olin Dee. Indiana at Civil War Time. Ohio: E. M. Morrison, 1961.

Towne, Stephen E. Dissent and Treason, Lambdin P. Milligan, Indiana, and the Civil War. Indiana Judicial Conference, Fort Wayne, IN, 2007. Unpublished conference paper. Launch PDF file.



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