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Chickamauga

This monument near tall Georgia pines marks the location of the 4th Indiana Light Artillery during the Civil War Battle of Chickamauga. This unit of cannon operators included Northwest Indiana men. Capt. David Flansburgh, of Michigan City, commanded the unit at Chickamauga, where he was wounded and captured by Confederates. His name is memorialized on the back of the monument.

His journey into adulthood began clad in a blue-collar life familiar to so many in Northwest Indiana.

It ended nearly 800 miles from home when he died in a Columbia, S.C., prison, though he was never charged with or convicted of any crime.

The story of Michigan City's David Flansburgh highlights the perilous risks lurking along pathways to great causes. But his sacrifice also reminds us such endeavors require bold champions.

At the age of 26, Flansburgh transformed from a region blue-collar machinist into a champion of one of the greatest civil rights causes in our nation's history.

It happened in a time marked by racial inequality and social unrest.

In September of that year, Flansburgh journeyed South with a group of region friends. During the next three years, they would be on the front lines of vehement demonstrations in Kentucky, Tennessee, Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia.

Some in Flansburgh's crew no doubt went for sheer adventure. Others were driven by belief in the equality of all men and disgust at the horrific treatment of blacks in the South at that time.

But whatever their individual motives, Flansburgh would become the leader of this local contingent of civil rights warriors.

Nearly three years to the day after Flansburgh joined in this cause, he was wounded by gunfire when his group was overrun by southern natives who didn't appreciate the demonstration on Georgia soil.

It happened just across the Chattanooga, Tenn., border, though long before the recent, senseless slayings of five military recruiters in that town.

In Flansburgh's case, the attack on his group was so feverish and confused that his friends ended up leaving him behind.

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He would resurface a short time later in the Columbia, S.C., prison, where he would die in confinement two months later.

But what were his crimes, and how did he end up in South Carolina when he was last seen near the Georgia-Tennessee border?

In a national park clearing I visited this month, sun rays illuminated the answer on a stone monument marking where Flansburgh's comrades last saw him alive.

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You see, Flansburgh wasn't just a civil rights warrior. He was a Civil War warrior, fighting for the Union Army and commanding a volunteer artillery division of fellow regionites.

He was Capt. David Flansburgh of the 4th Indiana Light Artillery, a unit of volunteer cannon operators and soldiers largely from Lake, Porter and LaPorte counties. In September 1861, he turned in his machinist's blue collar for a blue Union Army officer's coat.

Flansburgh's wounding and disappearance — capture, really, by Confederate troops — occurred Sept. 19, 1863, during the Battle of Chickamauga, the war's second bloodiest engagement. His unit, and Flansburgh's name, are memorialized today on a monument located on the preserved battlefield.

Flansburgh died a wounded prisoner of war in South Carolina's capital, a place where a number of Union soldiers perished from disease, exposure and starvation.

But it's perhaps more important to remember how he and about 200,000 other Hoosier Civil War soldiers lived, fighting in our nation's bloodiest war.

Ultimately, the greater cause of Flansburgh, and the entire Union Army, freed millions of black slaves in the south and reunited what had been a dramatically divided nation.

But an important question remains 150 years later. Who among us will risk everything for today's great causes, carrying a champion's banner against contemporary divisive forces?

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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