MARC CHASE: Come meet your history, Regionites

2014-02-27T00:00:00Z MARC CHASE: Come meet your history, RegionitesMarc Chase marc.chase@nwi.com, (219) 662-5330 nwitimes.com
February 27, 2014 12:00 am  • 

Get the chip off your shoulder, Region Rats. Many of you sorely underestimate the meaningful roles your forefathers played in one of our nation's most pivotal eras.

The scripts of some of those region players of history will be on display in a special exhibit at Hammond's Indiana Welcome Center through April 30, and I hope you give them an audience.

I've nearly always had a thirst for knowledge about key historical players and events — particularly our nation's history, and even more specifically our nation's bloodiest and perhaps most defining period.

So when The Times Executive Editor William Nangle approached me more than three years ago — on the eve of the Civil War's 150th anniversary — about researching and telling the stories of Northwest Indiana's role in the war, two things immediately came to mind.

In a sense, it was a dream assignment, getting paid to research a time in history always captivating to my heart and mind. But I also struggled to conceive of links between this region — where no actual battles occurred — and the 1861-1865 conflict still measured as our nation's bloodiest war.

How could Northwest Indiana — seemingly no one's favorite stepchild — have much of a tie to the bloody but proud era of blue and gray? Surely, not much at all, I originally thought. I couldn't have been more wrong.

Three colonels from Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties each commanded regiments of 1,000 Hoosiers — hundreds of them local boys — in some of the hardest fighting of the Civil War. Each of those three colonels took bullets — and two of them died — on the front lines of fighting in far away places with names such as Gettysburg, Murfreesboro and Chickamauga.

Two sons of Merrillville namesake Dudley Merrill marched off to war in separate regiments. One distinguished himself in major engagements. The other came home in a pine box.

Hundreds of men from the south shores of Lake Michigan answered President Abraham Lincoln's call to arms in 1861, volunteering to fill the fighting ranks of a Union Army that ultimately would ensure the United States would remain so. Local men helped put Indiana on history's map as the state with the second-highest percentage of its male population to serve in the war.

So many region men died in battle, or of horrific wartime camp diseases, or returned home minus limbs. Many more survived and continued to define the state and region.

If any of this has your attention, stop by the Welcome Center between now and April 30 for the Region United, Nation Divided: Following Lincoln historical exhibit. Let hundreds of photos, artifacts, battle flags and narrative text be your guide to the significant role our region ancestors played in this most pivotal of eras.

To know places in history of Civil War-era men and women is to be filled with an insatiable urge to know them as people.

Come meet them.

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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