New Civil War grave marker honors storied stand of Valparaiso colonel

2012-12-31T14:00:00Z 2013-01-01T20:35:39Z New Civil War grave marker honors storied stand of Valparaiso colonelBy Marc Chase marc.chase@nwi.com, (219) 662-5330 nwitimes.com
December 31, 2012 2:00 pm  • 

VALPARAISO | A century and a half ago this New Year's Day, Valparaiso's Col. Isaac Suman was recovering from Confederate bullet wounds after participating in one of the most storied stands of the Union Army during the Civil War.

About 40 preservation volunteers and other members of the public drank a non-alcoholic graveside toast and placed a commemorative granite marker at Suman's Valparaiso grave site Monday in a special New Year's Eve ceremony, honoring the colonel 150 years to the day of his battle wounds.

The gathering was part of a regionwide movement to place new headstones and special markers at the grave sites of Northwest Indiana Civil War veterans.

Suman's new marker, placed at the base of his existing Maplewood Cemetery headstone, documents the battle wounds he suffered on Dec. 31, 1862, while helping command the 9th Indiana Infantry at the Battle of Stones River in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

A cannon of the 4th Indiana Light Artillery re-enactment group boomed with three shots fired in honor of Suman on Monday. The actual artillery unit also was present at the Battle of Stones River and consisted of men from the region.

The special marker is among several — purchased through historical preservation and tourism grants by the South Shore Civil War Memorial Trail — to honor the graves of region veterans who died in service or were wounded during the war.

The Dec. 31, 1862, and Jan. 1, 1863 battle is ranked among the Civil War's bloodiest engagements.

Monday's toast and placement of the special marker was not the type of recognition the colonel would have sought in life.

One of the best known accounts of Suman came as the war was ending in 1865 and the Army offered him a promotion to the rank of brigadier general, according to news and historical accounts of the era. Suman declined the promotion, saying he did not serve his country for personal glory.

One of Suman's defining moments of the war came on that New Year's Eve day in 1862 as he helped command a regiment of fellow Hoosiers near Stones River in Murfreesboro.

A Confederate mine ball — a cone-shaped, lead bullet known for its destructive properties — hit Suman in the arm while he fought in an area of the battlefield dubbed "Hell's Half Acre" because of all the men who fell there.

Another bullet reportedly hit Suman in the rib cage, but eyewitness accounts of the day indicate that, after receiving brief medical care for his wounds, he remounted his horse and continued with the fight.

The lines Suman helped command were at the only Union Army position that didn't break and retreat that day, despite waves of heavy Confederate attacks.

War accounts indicate that after Suman was shot, a Westville Army chaplain, John Whitehead, put himself in the line of fire to help move Suman to the rear of the lines for medical treatment.

Whitehead, who is enshrined on the Northwest Indiana Wall of Legends in Hammond, eventually was awarded the Medal of Honor for aiding several wounded soldiers that day.

A few months after the battle, Suman was promoted to full colonel and given command of the 9th Indiana Infantry. And while stationed in Murfreesboro in 1863, he helped lead the construction of what would become Hazen's Monument, a stone structure at Hell's Half Acre that commemorates the sacrifices of Union soldiers at several battles of the war's western theater.

After the war, Suman served for a time as mayor of Valparaiso. Hazen's monument remains the oldest standing Civil War memorial in the country.

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