MARC CHASE: A date with history and the 'Bloody 9th'

2014-06-11T00:00:00Z MARC CHASE: A date with history and the 'Bloody 9th'Marc Chase marc.chase@nwi.com, (219) 662-5330 nwitimes.com
June 11, 2014 12:00 am  • 

Perhaps it will be like the summer day described in one of Hoosier author Ambrose Bierce's late 19th century short stories when I visit Stones River National Battlefield later this week in Murfreesboro, Tenn.

Bierce, who spent his boyhood in Warsaw, Ind., served in the 9th Indiana Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War, giving new meaning to the realism genre for which he is famous in American literature. Bierce's "realism" was based on his actual experiences fighting for the Union in our nation's bloodiest war.

Don't glaze over when I mention the history that Bierce's fictional story, "A Resumed Identity," my upcoming visit to Murfreesboro and local fighting men from Porter, LaPorte and Lake counties all have in common.

It's anything but boring. It centers around one of the most action-packed moments in our nation's military history involving hundreds of our local men.

Bierce's short story speaks to a specific location at Stones River — a place now marked by Hazen's Monument, the oldest standing Civil War monument in the country. Two springs ago, I stood at this spot, which is near where Bierce and hundreds of Northwest Indiana men stood their ground in what would become the eighth bloodiest battle of America's bloodiest war.

For three days in late 1862 and early 1863, the area now marked by Hazen's Monument became a virtual hell on Earth.

I will revisit this place later this week and can't help but feel parallels with Bierce's "A Resumed Identity" fictional work, in which his character revisits the same spot of the Stones River battlefield on a summer morning years after the Civil War's 1865 end.

But Bierce's unnamed character — an aged veteran — is suffering amnesia of his post-war experiences. In his mind, the old vet believes he's still in the war and is trying to make sense of a battlefield now marked with unfamiliar monuments to the fallen dead.

During my visit to the battlefield this week, I will try to wrap my mind around what happened at the actual battle that began New Year's Eve 1862.

Knowing the links of our local men to this Tennessee killing field promises to make the visit emotionally palpable.

More than 3,000 men from the Union and Confederate armies died in the battle, in which the 9th Indiana staved four brutal Confederate attacks in an area of the battlefield later dubbed "Hell's Half Acre."

Confederates drew first blood Dec. 31, attacking the Union Army as many of its men warmed themselves by campfires or made morning coffee.

The "Bloody 9th" Indiana reinforced a nickname at Stones River that was first bestowed following the Battle of Shiloh earlier that year.

Men of the "Bloody 9th" withstood wave after brutal wave of Confederate charges, rifle and cannon fire, never retreating.

In short, they acted like the tough, unyielding region folks I've come to know in my 11 years here.

I'll write more about the mettle and valor of local men at Stones River in a couple of columns starting June 22 — a week from Sunday. Until then, I'm off to the battlefield.

Investigative Editor Marc Chase can be reached at (219) 662-5330 or marc.chase@nwi.com. The opinions are the writer's.

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