More than 600 miles from his Crown Point home, Col. John Wheeler maneuvered his horse along the battle lines of the 20th Indiana Infantry, imploring his men to hold their ground against a wicked barrage of Confederate gunfire.
Wheeler's good friend and assistant, Lt. John Luther, stayed close to his commander as bullets whizzed by and men fell dead or wounded by the dozens.
A century and a half ago today, these two friends feverishly commanded hundreds of men from Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties in what would become the bloodiest battle of America's bloodiest war.
Their actions on this day -- though not widely known -- should be celebrated as a beacon of pride for a region often down on itself.
The events read like a sensational fiction novel, but this was real. July 2, 1863, was the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg in the Civil War, and Wheeler and Luther, both of Crown Point, were sealing their immortality -- even though one of them had only a short time to live.
Eyewitness accounts of the 20th Indiana reveal Wheeler led by example. He sat fully exposed atop his horse, subjecting his body to even greater peril than his men faced.
It was a final and defining moment in Wheeler's life, filled with bravery, meaning and loss. A Confederate bullet pierced Wheeler's neck and exited his head. He died instantly.
Through tears, Luther dragged the body of his good friend to the rear of the regiment. With no time to mourn, Luther then ran back into the fighting so fast he almost forgot to pick up a firearm.
In April, I had a chance to stand in the very spot where Wheeler fell in what is now the Gettysburg National Battlefield Park in Pennsylvania. I don't often tear up, but it was hard not to well with emotion, knowing what I know of Wheeler and Luther.
Wheeler already was a legend among his men at the point of his death. In 1861, he used his influence as a Crown Point newspaper publisher to raise 99 of the 20th Indiana's original 1,000 volunteers. He pledged himself as the 100th volunteer of Company B.
When his good friend, Sgt. Edwin Sprague, died of typhoid fever in the war's second year, Wheeler paid to ship Sprague's body back to Crown Point for burial.
About a year after Sprague's death, Wheeler himself was on his way back to Crown Point, one of countless soldiers who made their return home in coffins during the Civil War.
Today, a group to which I'm proudly a part will be honoring the colonel on the 150th anniversary of his greatest sacrifice. At 11 a.m., the South Shore Civil War Memorial Trail will place a special granite marker at Wheeler's Historic Maplewood Cemetery grave in Crown Point.
Anyone can attend.
In a region proud of the chip on its shoulder, men like Wheeler and Luther offer a true measure of pride. They are legends.