Commemorations and historical exhibits are often full of ironies and coincidences, both real and imagined. "The Civil War" exhibit opened Friday by the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority is just such a case.
Coming at a time of year when we begin to come out of our winter hibernation to enjoy the sights and sounds around us, traveling in some cases great distances to experience the world, a new attraction can be found in our own backyard, so to speak.
This was the case with the Civil War, with much of the fighting occurring from April to November, a sort of festival season of blood and carnage. The Indiana Historical Society will make its first appearance of the year in Northwest Indiana for this important exhibit on the role Indiana played in the Civil War.
When President Abraham Lincoln called on the states loyal to the union to organize regiments to put an end to the rebellion, it was Indiana and the rest of the Midwest that answered and provided soldiers to fight from Bull Run to Shiloh, and from Gettysburg to Vicksburg.
Along the way, through many of the hottest to coldest months, soldiers marched into battle. Their stories will be told in many of the artifacts in this exhibit and through the wonderful work of the many re-enactors.
As in all wars, soldiers fought and struggled with long spells of boredom, loneliness and homesickness, and their thoughts would turn to the families and lovers left behind.
They would long for letters from home or a hometown newspaper clipping, much like U.S. soldiers in Afghanistan and other foreign outposts long for reminders of home today.
Among the exhibits you will find the stories of the soldiers and those who cared for them. Each story will tell a tale not just of valor, but of soldiers who felt an abiding sense of duty to their comrades and their families.
You will find families afraid for their young men and soldiers trying to reassure their mothers and wives that they were all right and would be home soon, safe and sound.
We are richer for the work that historical preservation has done to locate these letters and artifacts so that we can better appreciate the sacrifice that was made in the name of the Union, to preserve it as that last best hope of mankind, as Lincoln would have said.
Look at the faces of the families in portraits of Civil War time; they were faces with eyes fixed to the future. They knew that this war would test them and that, ultimately, we would prevail.
Now, 148 years later, we look back and wonder how any soldier could throw himself into battle and not be petrified, scared stiff. They did it for each other, because honor was about more than whether you won the battle, but in whether you stood by your comrades.
Come check out the exhibit, open through May 3, at the Indiana Welcome Center, 7770 Corinne Drive, Hammond. Admission is free and open from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. daily.
Today, there will be a live demonstration by Civil War re-enactors. Take some time to ask questions, since the men and women who stage these shows waited all winter to tell their compelling stories.