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Meet Carlton Shafer: former LaPorte lawyer, graduate of one of the most prestigious military academies in the country and, to many of his contemporaries, a war hero.

Many people today — especially those living north of the Mason-Dixon Line — may consider one truth about Shafer to be a glaring blemish on his record.

You see, he also fought for an army seeking to preserve a perverse institution of man holding dominion over man.

But his unique story is a reminder to all of us not to throw the historical baby out with the controversial bath water.

One of the things setting Shafer apart from others in Northwest Indiana was the color of his uniform during America's bloodiest war.

Many of you know I led a project during the previous four years to restore the headstones and honor the grave sites of hundreds of Northwest Indiana men who fought, and in some cases died, in the Civil War. It was all part of a special commemoration of the four-year war's 150th anniversary and our Region's rich contribution to the ranks of the Union Army.

All of the men honored through our project wore the blue uniform, most following President Abraham Lincoln's call to preserve the union and ultimately end the scourge of slavery.

But Carlton Shafer — who hailed from Virginia, not Northwest Indiana during the Civil War — wore the gray uniform of a cadet, serving in the Confederate Army.

Today, he's one of the only known Confederate soldiers buried in a Northwest Indiana grave.

Accounts of Shafer's service in military records show a teenage cadet who served bravely — even if many believe his cause was misguided or unjust.

Shafer attended the famed Virginia Military Institute — even today known as the West Point of the south — at a time of incredible historical significance.

In 1861, in the wake of the war's first shots fired, Shafer and his fellow cadets mustered to Richmond, Virginia. Already trained in military tactics and discipline, the cadets helped train raw Confederate volunteers early in the war.

They did so under the command of a man who likely would have taught some of Shafer's classes: then major and eventual Gen. Thomas "Stonewall" Jackson.

Jackson remains one of the Civil War's biggest icons today for his tactical genius and fighting ferocity during the war's early years — before falling to accidental friendly fire of Confederate troops in 1863.

Aside from his wartime participation, Shafer was contemporary at VMI to a host of historically linked classmates.

Shafer commanded B Company of his fellow VMI cadets, among whom were George Lee, the nephew of eventual Confederate commanding Gen. Robert E. Lee; Thomas Jefferson, the great nephew of Founding Father and President Thomas Jefferson; and William Patton, the great uncle of famed World War II Gen. George S. Patton.

But Shafer's biggest historical contribution as an individual came late in his VMI tenure.

On May 15, 1864 — 152 years ago today — Shafer found himself commanding fellow cadets in New Market, Virginia, facing off with Union forces superior in number.

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During the fighting, a gap opened in the depleted Confederate lines, and Shafer and his fellow cadets rushed in to fill it.

The band of gray-clad teenagers took some of the harshest of the Union gunfire. Then suddenly — and by most historical accounts, unexpectedly — the cadets charged toward the uphill Union position. The muddy ground pulled the shoes off many of the cadets' feet, leading to its nickname, "The Field of Lost Shoes."

The act inspired the older Confederate troops around them to rally and charge as well, and ultimately southern troops won the day.

In the end, however, we all know the Confederates lost the war, with the surrender of all southern troops in spring 1865.

Shafer would go on to become a respected citizen of the Union he once fought against, working first as a mathematics professor and then a lawyer and representative in the Maryland Legislature.

He migrated to Northwest Indiana in the late 1800s, marrying Sara Louise Andrew, the daughter of a LaPorte doctor, and settled.

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Today, he's buried at Pine Lake Cemetery in LaPorte, where he died in 1906.

We know much of Shafer's story thanks to Region native David Sutherland, now a Brownsburg, Indiana, attorney and 1969 graduate of Hobart High School.

Sutherland also graduated from Virginia Military Institute, has served as president of the Indianapolis Civil War Round Table and became fascinated over the years with researching Shafer, largely because the two men had so many factors in common.

Sutherland told me something last week that rings true — not with the Civil War period, but with all recorded history.

"There were heroes and rogues on both sides of the war," Sutherland said.

It's an important message to remember in today's political and social landscape.

In the past year, we've seen pushes throughout the south to remove Confederate monuments — some even suggesting the relocation or removal of Confederate soldiers' graves.

We've also seen an uptick in vandalism of such monuments and graves. Much of it followed the horrific shooting deaths of nine black parishioners in a Charleston, South Carolina, church by a deranged 21-year-old, twisted by hate into acts of domestic terror.

But pushing to blot out all monuments of remembrance to the Confederacy goes too far.

We can't scour the hideous stain of slavery from our nation's past by removing or desecrating monuments.

And as Sutherland pointed out, there truly were "heroes and rogues" on both sides.

Shafer reminds us some of the people on the other side were young cadets or soldiers — not wealthy slave owners — who merely believed they were defending their homelands.

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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