Although Northwest Indiana is hundreds of miles from any major battlefield of the Civil War, the area is rich with history from the era.
Indiana was second per capita in the number of soldiers sent to fight for the Union, and thousands came home to live productive lives.
Artifacts from the time can be found around Northwest Indiana, and hundreds of Civil War soldiers are buried in area cemeteries.
“We drive by the cemeteries, but don’t realize they are historical vaults,” said Marc Chase, an organizer of the South Shore Civil War Memorial Trail and an investigative editor at The Times. “People don’t realize how involved we were in the war.”
Two years ago, The Times began a project to investigate the Region’s participation in the Civil War to mark the anniversary of the war’s onset.
Chase said he was surprised to learn how many soldiers were buried in area cemeteries, and the project spawned the start of the Civil War trail and an effort to restore headstones of local soldiers.
Now, people visiting more than a half dozen local cemeteries can pull up the Civil War Trail website and find biographies of soldiers buried there. There are tales of soldiers who ranged from teenaged drummers to army surgeons. More than 200,000 Indiana men served in the Civil War.
“It’s like a treasure hunt, trying to find the next soldier buried from the Civil War,” Chase said. “You can stop at the gravesite and use your phone or your iPad to read the story of the solider. You can find out what he did and what battles they fought in. These are the kinds of things that make kids’ eyes pop.”
In addition to the grave sites, people can visit sites including the Porter County Museum of History to see pieces of Civil War history as well as sites including the Memorial Opera House in Valparaiso, which was built by Civil War veterans as a place to meet.
This spring, the Indiana Welcome Center will host an expo on the Civil War and the Region’s involvement in it.
Speros A. Batistatos, president and CEO of the South Shore Convention and Visitors Authority, said the expo helps bring region history to life.
“It’s a chance to experience history outside of the textbook,” he said. “Battlefields on the East Coast might be well known, but we have the story of the commitment of the troops, and that resonates. Kids need to see the history and touch it.”
The Northwest Indiana story in the Civil War is one of pride, he said.
“It’s a great story, a source of honor and pride to make sure all the citizens were free,” he said.
After the war, the soldiers came back to Northwest Indiana and led productive lives, Chase said.
“These are human stories, and they help the children understand the war,” he said. “The graveyards aren’t spooky places, but they are places that are the last known record of human lives.”