It's that awkward moment when you're traipsing around a Northwest Indiana graveyard with a shovel, and people are staring.

For the record, my partner-in-crime, Crown Point excavator Kenneth Ziese, and I had permission to dig in nine different Lake and Porter county graveyards during the past four years as part of a historical Civil War grave restoration effort.

But I'm sure two men digging like ghouls at 19th century gravesites struck a disconcerting pose to the eyes of unsuspecting passersby.

In reality, Ziese and I were placing or replacing about 90 granite headstones or special markers for region Civil War veterans, mostly whose original markers were either worn, broken or missing.

It was all part of a region push to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Civil War and honor the hundreds of Northwest Indiana men who fought — and in some cases died — in the 1861-65 conflict.

Those four years marked the bloodiest conflict in our nation's history in which more than 200,000 Hoosiers volunteered to fight for the Union's preservation and slavery's end. Hundreds of those men came from the south shore of Lake Michigan.

Beginning April 9, my role in these efforts will come full circle as I portray a 19th century version of myself in Appomattox Court House, Va.

It will be the fourth Civil War battlefield I've visited in the past four years to connect with the hallowed ground upon which Northwest Indiana soldiers of the Union army fought to save our nation from itself.

But unlike the other trips, I'll be in Appomattox on April 9 during the actual 150th anniversary of Confederate commanding Gen. Robert E. Lee's surrender to commanding Union Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.

Northwest Indiana men serving in the 20th Indiana Infantry were present during the real surrender that effectively ended the Civil War. Company B of the regiment originally consisted of 100 men, largely from Crown Point, Lowell and Merrillville.

Eight region re-enactors are set to retrace the steps of those Union soldiers during commemorative activities in Virginia involving an estimated 3,000 re-enactors. I'll be embedded in the local group portraying a journalist of the time period and providing coverage for The Times.

Rather than through telegraph dispatches, you can follow live coverage of the April 10-11 re-enactment by following me on Twitter or viewing my public postings on Facebook. Some of the dispatches will be written from what I observe, as if the final battle and surrender are occurring in real time.

Daily stories will begin running in The Times on April 11, and photos and other reports will post to nwi.com/civilwar, beginning April 10. The website will go live Sunday filled with an interactive timeline, photos and other material telling the region's Civil War story and local efforts to preserve it.

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You'll also find a slideshow of more than 150 before-and-after photos of our headstone preservation work and images of some of the veterans whose graves received new markers.

In Virginia, I'll be capturing the re-enactment with a digital camera disguised as a Civil War-period box camera and a couple of concealed iPhones as my portable "telegraphs." I'll also be wearing authentic period-style clothing.

I'm not a Civil War re-enactor and have never been one. But I couldn't pass up an invitation from the 20th Indiana Infantry re-enactment group to be a part of this living history event.

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I'm not certain exactly how I'll feel as a I stand on the same ground from which Lake, Porter and LaPorte county soldiers witnessed the war's essential end. But it's sure to be emotional.

That's because for the past four years, I've researched many of their individual stories, stood upon the burial grounds from which their loved ones bid them a final farewell more than a century ago, and in very real ways come to know them as people — as friends.

Those who regularly follow my column know of my region Civil War obsession.

I've introduced you to Crown Point Col. John Wheeler, who valiantly led men of the 20th Indiana by horseback at the Battle of Gettysburg in Pennsylvania and fell dead to a Confederate bullet in the Civil War's bloodiest engagement.

You've learned about Merrillville Pvt. James Merrill, who served with Wheeler in the 20th Indiana and died at the 1864 Battle of the Wilderness in Virginia. James was the son of Merrillville's namesake, Dudley Merrill.

And you've heard the real-life superhuman story of Valparaiso Col. Isaac Suman, whose body absorbed two bullets at the 1862 Tennessee Battle of Stones River but who continued commanding the 9th Indiana Infantry through what must have been excruciating pain.

I'll be remembering those men — and dozens of others I've come to know — as I stand on the grounds where it all ended in Virginia 150 years ago.

Please join me in remembering their sacrifices and follow our coverage of this historic anniversary.

May the region folks who saw our nation through its greatest trials not be forgotten.



Marc Chase is a veteran investigative reporter, columnist and editor of more than two decades. He currently leads The Times news staff as local news editor. He can be reached at 219-933-3327.