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 Morton's Rifles at Stilwell Farm

 
 

 Memorial Day has its roots as a national holiday in the Civil War - a war that touched our country significantly.  Approximately 1,500 men from Madison County served in a number of Civil War regiments, all of which won laurels for their battlefield accomplishments.

One regiment in particular gained several unusual distinctions.  Officially, it was designated the 34th Indiana Volunteer Infantry, but it proudly carried the nickname "Morton Rifles."  The name "Morton" was derived from the Indiana's Gov. Oliver P. Morton, a staunch supporter of President Lincoln.  The Morton rifles was the only regiment that was totally organized in our county.  In response to President Lincoln's call for 300,000 troops to put down the rebellion, recruits from north central Indiana began arriving here in the latter part of August, 1861.  Indiana's quota of the total was 38,832.

The regiment was raised and Anderson secured as the place of organization largely through the influence of Colonel Thomas N. Stilwell, who was commissioned by Governor Morton as its first quartermaster.  Stilwell was a warm personal friend of the governor and could have had the colonelcy, but for personal reasons preferred not to accept the position at that time.  However, he later was commissioned Colonel of the 130th Indiana.

 Recruits Came Rapidly

The rendezvous of the 11th district was established at the site of the old Stilwell farm.  It was located on what is today Madison Avenue on land now occupied in part by the Anderson Country Club.  There was no bridge over White River so the river crossing was negotiated by what was known as the Fairgrounds Road Ford.

The first to arrive on the 28th of August was a full company from Huntington and Wells counties, which became Company C.  On the same day, a squad of about 30 from Alexandria, under Captain Jonathan Jones arrived - the nucleus of what was to become Company D.

Madison County had heavy representation in companies C & D with men from Summitville, Pendleton, Alexandria, Anderson, Ovid, Prosperity, Huntsville, Forestville, Frankton, Perkinsville, Fishersburg and Alfont.  Other county men were scattered among the remaining eight companies. 

On the 4th of September, a company from Howard County and vicinity arrived and was designated Company H.  On the 12th, a company from Grant County arrived and became Company F. 

Formal organization occurred on September 16, as volunteers continued to come in rapidly, and by the 21st, the regiment was fully manned with 1,000 officers and men. 

Immediately after the selection of the camp, barracks were commenced and completed about as fast as the companies arrived.  These quarters consisted of two-story sheds that formed a three-sided rectangle, which opened to the inside of the rectangle.  The closed end of the quarters was to the north. 

Beginning with the first arrivals, company drills were instituted, although without arms.  A few flint lock muskets were found in Anderson and were used for standing guard.  Military regulations were immediately established under the direction of Colonel Asbury Steel of Marion. 

The commissary department was well administered by the quartermaster and his sergeants, and the provisions furnished were abundant and good, consisting largely of a plentiful supply of fresh beef, baker's bread, coffee, sugar, potatoes and other vegetables, supplemented by families and friends.  One occasion fondly remembered was the presentation by the ladies of Pendleton of a beautiful silk flag to Company D - that flag was later adopted by and became the battle flag of the regiment.

 Battle Action

During their stay here no arms, clothing, camp or garrison equipage was issued until October 8th, when clothing, consisting of uniform jackets and pants, was issued.  There was no grumbling as the men understood the gravity of the situation.  On the 10th of October, marching orders came and the regiment left camp about 2 p.m. and went by rail to Indianapolis.

The regiment first served in Kentucky and then fought at Island Number Ten near New Madrid, Missouri, in March, 1862.  It played a role in the capture of Fort Pillow, Tennessee and served in Arkansas, fighting at Grand Prairie before joining General Grant's forces in the Vicksburg Campaign.  They fought with distinction at Port Gibson.  Then, two weeks later, the 34th fought well during the most decisive battle of the Vicksburg Campaign, Champion Hill, Mississippi.


After Vicksburg fell, the regiment was assigned to the swampy bayou country of Louisiana and then was stationed in New Orleans for nearly a year.  With the end of the war in sight, the 34th was moved to near Brownsville, Texas, in May, 1865.  It was near there on May 13 at a place known to history as Palmito Ranch that the last battle of the American Civil War was fought.

Union forces lost that battle, not that it made any difference as the war was over everywhere but in isolated pockets west of the Mississippi River.  The surrender of those forces did not occur until May 26 in New Orleans. 

 Round Table Active

The Morton Rifles had distinguished themselves throughout the war having not seen defeat in service on either side of the Mississippi until the last battle.  Also, the last Union soldier killed during the Civil War was Private John Jefferson Williams, Company B, 34th Indiana Infantry.

After the war, the regiment was assigned duty at Brownsville until being mustered out February 3, 1866.  During its service, the regiment lost two officers and 32 enlisted men who were killed and mortally wounded, and five officers and 204 enlisted men by disease.  Like many returning veterans, members of the 34th met in annual reunions beginning in 1882 and continued to do so well into the 20th century.  The last one I am aware of occurred in Marion, September 10, 1925.  Anderson and Lapel hosted several of these reunions.

The 1904 and 1911 reunions were held in Anderson at the old camp site on Madison Avenue.  Here they could reminisce about days spent there in the fall of 1861, and of battles fought and departed comrades.  Their business meetings were held downtown in the Grand Army Hall on East Ninth Street.

This year as in the past, members of the Madison County Civil War Round Table will again decorate all the veteran's graves in West Maplewood Cemetery over Memorial Day by the placing of flags.  Several members of the 34th regiment are buried there.  Their graves are marked with the traditional military headstone, a simple but elegant reminder of their service and sacrifice.

By Stephen T. Jackson, Madison County Historian  

 For more information on the MCHS Civil War Roundtable, to join or come to the meetings, please call (765) 683-0052.

 The Madison County Historical Society received the wonderful photograph above which was donated to us by Mr. Stephen Bohrer and Carole Gardner who are cousins and co-authors of a book about the life of Dr. Godfrey Bohrer.  The picture was taken on September 21, 1911 at the Anderson Country Club, during the 50th Anniversary Reunion of the members of the 34th Indiana Infantry Regiment.  The regiment received their training at Camp Stilwell which later became the Anderson Country Club grounds.  Dr. Bohrer is seated at the far right of those in the seated front row.  Read more about the life and times of Dr. Bohrer here.

Madison County Historical Society|15 West 11th Street, P. O. Box 696, Anderson, Indiana 46015-0696|(765)683-0052|madisonchs@sbcglobal.net