Madison County Historical Society

Bravery Inspired Others in His Company

Received Battlefield Promotions


Madison County had more than 1,300 men serve in the Civil War, according to the adjutant general.  Beyond the names and numbers, there are the stories of hardships suffered and heroism exhibited by our county residents.

One such inspiring recruit was Francis Van Pelt, who rose from private to 1st Lieutenant, commanding his own company.  Van Pelt enlisted at the beginning of the war in April of 1861 in Company G of the 17th Indiana Volunteer Infantry.

The first major conflict his regiment participated in was Shiloh in early 1862.  During this hard fought battle, he was given a double promotion, first to sergeant and then to 2nd Lieutenant for "meritorious service."  Later in the year, he was advanced to 1st Lieutenant.

In May of 1863, Van Pelt became part of Col. John Wilder's famous "Lightning Brigade."  This was a unit of infantry mounted on horses and using the new Spencer repeating rifles.  These could fire off bullets six to seven times faster than the slow muzzleloaders of the Confederates.

Francis Van Pelt


Natural Leadership Achieved Results

In skirmishes and scouting expeditions, Van Pelt's natural leadership achieved results, and in the horrific days of battle at Chickamauga in September, Van Pelt was awarded command of his own company.  In October, Van Pelt's higher officers presented a challenge.  They sent the Lightning Brigade to Farmington, Tennessee to help face off the rebels of Maj. Gen. Joseph Wheeler.

In this engagement, Van Pelt's unit charged the enemy, took command of the field, and forced the Southerners to retreat into the Tennessee River and beyond.  So dominating was the Yankee "lightning" attack that most of one Southern regiment actually fled the fighting -- deserted.  Van Pelt's men received special recognition because they captured three Confederate cannons.

Indiana Governor Oliver Morton then decided to use Van Pelt in an important task -- a recruiting officer.  Van Pelt was ordered back to Indiana to tell his was experiences to young men of fighting age and inspire them to military service.  There is no doubt that Van Pelt made an excellent Union representative to patriotic Hoosiers.  His public appearance stint lasted for about six months, and by mid 1864, Francis had rejoined his regiment.  He was again placed in command of mounted infantry.  He and 60 men were sent to Nelson County, Kentucky, a hotbed of non-military, violent rebel sympathizers.  Van Pelt was ordered to find and capture these guerrillas who were causing so much trouble.

During a mounted skirmish, Van Pelt was chasing down three of the enemy also on horses.  In the pursuit, he became unseated when his mount attempted a difficult jump, and Francis was plummeted forcefully to the ground.  He was momentarily stunned but managed to remount and continue running down the rebels.  He eventually captured the guerrillas by cornering them, holding a gun to their heads, and demanding their immediate surrender.

Back with his men, it became apparent that he had been seriously injured when he was thrown.  Francis was sent to a convalescent camp, took time to heal, and then rejoined his regiment when released.  Van Pelt finished his military service in the campaign to capture Atlanta.  Francis Van Pelt had a very successful life after the war and was involved in many different occupations including justice of the peace in Madison County.  He married and had several children.  Francis is buried at Maplewood Cemetery in Anderson, Indiana.

By Melody Hull, Trustee of the Madison County Historical Society


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