A live weekly radio adventure through Indiana history with host Nelson Price. Airs live on Saturdays from noon to 1 pm ET at WICR 88.7 fm in Indianapolis.
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April 01, 2023
Civil War generals from Indiana
Nearly 120 generals during the Civil War had connections to the Hoosier state. They include some who were courageous, others who were colorful, and some who were controversial.
One of the generals, Solomon Meredith, was a Quaker who commanded the legendary Iron Brigade during the bloody Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. Another general, Jefferson Columbus Davis from Clark County in southern Indiana, murdered his commanding officer at a hotel.
Those generals and the others with connections to the Hoosier state are profiled in a new book, The Civil War Generals of Indiana. The author, Carl Kramer, a Civil War historian based in Jeffersonville, Ind., will be Nelson's guest. He is the retired director of the Institute for Local and Oral History, an adjunct assistant professor of history at Indiana University Southeast and the founder of Kramer Associates Inc., a public history consulting firm.
In addition to spotlighting several of the generals with connections to Indiana during our show, Dr. Kramer will describe patterns about them that are insightful regarding the Civil War. Even the ages of the general offer insights, he notes.
"The Civil War was a young man's war, and the same was true for its generals" Dr. Kramer writes. He stated that out of 44 full-ranked generals with connections to Indiana, five of them were under 30 when the war began. More than 20 others were only in their 30s.
During our show, Dr. Kramer also will discuss the occupational diversity of the generals from Indiana. "Since the war was fought by huge volunteer armies, both the Union and Confederate governments recruited officers from all walks of life, most without military training or experience", Dr. Kramer writes.
One of the generals, William Anderson Pile, who was born near Indianapolis, had an unusual distinction: he was the only general in the Union Army who also was an ordained minister. When the war began, he enlisted as a chaplain but transitioned to be a combat officer.
After the war, the Quaker general, Sol Meredith, became a farmer near Cambridge City in far-eastern Indiana. Another general, James Ekin, had established a steamboat construction business before the war. During the war, Ekin oversaw the construction of some of the barracks at Camp Morton in Indianapolis. The camp was a Union Army training ground and a prisoner-of-war camp for Confederates located in what is now the Herron-Morton neighborhood. After the war, Ekin served on the military tribunal that tried the conspirators in the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.
During our show, we will not be focusing on two generals who achieved spectacular success after the Civil War. That's because Benjamin Harrison, who was elected president of the U.S. in 1888, and Lew Wallace, who wrote the blockbuster bestseller Ben-Hur, have been the focus of several previous Hoosier History Live shows.
Instead, our show with Dr. Kramer will spotlight generals who aren't as well-remembered. They will include Jefferson Columbus Davis (no relation to Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederacy), who murdered his commanding officer during a feud at a hotel in Louisville, Ky. According to The Civil War Generals of Indiana, only the intervention of some well-connected figures, including Oliver P. Morton, Indiana's governor, spared Jefferson Columbus Davis from being court-martialed for the murder. He died in 1879 and is buried at Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis.
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Roadtrip: Franklin College in Johnson County, home of the “Franklin Wonder Five” basketball champs
Guest Roadtripper Casey Elizabeth Pfeiffer, Director of Historical Marker Program at the Indiana Historical Bureau (and yes, new historical markers seem to be everywhere!) tells us to have a look at the historic gym on the campus of Franklin College in Franklin, Indiana. The "Franklin Wonder Five" were the basketball players who dominated Indiana basketball during the 1920s. Franklin High School won three consecutive state high school basketball championships between 1920 and 1922, the first Hoosier school ever to do so. After graduating, many players followed their coach, Ernest "Griz" Wagner to Franklin College, where they won state collegiate championships in 1923 and 1924.
During their high school career, the team played many of its bigger games at the Franklin College gymnasium to accommodate larger crowds. Built in 1907 and 1908, the Franklin College gym still stands today across from the school's football field and is now used as a fitness center. In addition to Franklin high school games, the gym also hosted several sectional tournaments.
The "Wonder Five" attracted crowds from across the state to Franklin. Local fans who couldn't attend away games often flocked to the Opera House or Artcraft Theatre (the latter, which was built in 1922 still stands today), where they could follow along thanks to telegraph or telephone reports. The Opera House even featured an electronic scoreboard.
After bigger wins, specifically following championship games, thousands of fans would flock to the Franklin courthouse square and celebrate together with bonfires.
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