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Several dozen Northwest Indiana men huddled in muddy trenches outside of Petersburg, Va., six months into what would become a nine-month siege.

The only likely holiday caroling would have been the wheezing and hacking of Civil War soldiers suffering from camp diseases.

More than 400 miles away in Savannah, Ga., another contingent of the region's fighting Hoosiers celebrated the decisive capture of a marquee enemy city. It was an early Christmas present to the nation, wrapped in the promise our country's bloodiest war could soon be ending.

This holiday season marks the 150th anniversary of the Civil War's final Christmas. Region veterans of this war likely sensed at the time that four years of bloodshed -- which claimed upwards of 700,000 lives -- was indeed beginning to draw to a close.

Being a history geek thoroughly enamored with this pivotal period in our nation's history -- and having studied the Northwest Indiana men who selflessly served in the war to preserve the Union and ultimately end the scourge of slavery -- I can't help but try to imagine what Civil War Region rats were doing 150 years ago today.

Anyone who regularly reads my column knows of my passion for the local men who fought in what I believe to be our nation's most defining conflict.

They were farmers, school teachers, doctors and local merchants. They fell by the dozens to horrific and sometimes fatal bullet wounds, deadly diseases and injuries that claimed arms, legs and the innocence of 19th century life on Lake Michigan's south shores.

Today, thanks to a generous gift from a Crown Point landscaping company, we all have the opportunity to honor the graves of Region Civil War veterans, some who died in the service of our country, at the city's Historic Maplewood Cemetery.

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At 1 p.m. today, I invite anyone who is interested in honoring these heroes to help lay Christmas wreaths on the dozens of Civil War veterans' graves within the confines of Maplewood, 347 Maple Lane, Crown Point.

Hubinger Landscaping Corp. has graciously donated a few dozen Christmas wreaths for this effort.

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For anyone who braves the elements, and it may be raining or even snowing based on the forecasts as I wrote this column, I'll be sharing the stories of Region men buried there who played crucial supporting roles in the Union Army's Civil War efforts.

Nearly all the Northwest Indiana men who served in the war were volunteers -- not draftees. They willingly chose to serve and defend the higher purposes of the war.

So I'm asking anyone who is so moved to volunteer 30 or 40 minutes of your Christmas Eve to honor men who 150 years ago today huddled in muddy trenches, nursed wounds, and dreamed -- often through thick coughs and dysentery -- of being home with their families for the holidays.

These men passed into history long before we could thank them in person. Here's a belated chance to express gratitude.

Bring an umbrella, and I'll bring the stories of the Region folk who risked everything to preserve a nation splitting apart at the seams.

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