Civil War Profiles — A Civil War trip of a lifetime: Part 2

Date Published: 
Jan. 19, 2018

Continuing the story of a month-long odyssey to Civil War sites around the country (Coastal Point, Jan. 8, 2018)…


My wife and I left our home in Silver Spring, Md., on the first leg of the journey. After driving 580 miles, with an overnight stop in West Virginia, we arrived in Indianapolis, Ind.

We were there to visit the neoclassical state capitol building, constructed of Indiana limestone and white oak, and completed in 1888. Directly in front of the capitol stands a statue of Oliver P. Morton, Indiana governor during the Civil War — with statues of two Civil War soldiers flanking the governor.

Elaborate friezes of Civil War-era scenes line the exterior of the entrance to the capitol. Once inside, plaques dedicated to native son Gen. Lew Wallace and 45 Hoosier Civil War Medal of Honor recipients greet visitors. Wallace was born in Brookville and died in Crawfordsville, location of the General Lew Wallace Study & Museum.

Camp Morton, a Civil War prison for Confederate POWs located at the Indiana State Fairgrounds, was originally a recruitment and instruction camp for state volunteers that Morton established in 1861. Col. Richard D. Owen served as prison commandant.

As a result of compassionate treatment of those captured Rebels early in the war, a plaque at the state capitol dated 1862 and dedicated to Col. Owen reads: “Tribute by Confederate prisoners of war and their friends for his courtesy and kindness.”

As Lonnie R. Speer explained in “Portals to Hell: Military Prisons of the Civil War,” conditions would change as overcrowding at the prison camp generated unsanitary conditions as the war progressed, causing illness and death for many inmates.

Leaving Indianapolis, we traveled 50 miles northwest, to the town of Crawfordsville, to visit the Lew Wallace Study & Museum. Wallace, considered to be a “Renaissance man,” authored the historical novel “Ben Hur: The Tale of the Christ,” the most famous among his many writings. “Ben Hur” was made into a film on four occasions, and became a Broadway play, as well as a TV mini-series.

Wallace designed and supervised construction of the building, located on 5 acres. He worked there for several years before his death in 1905, and it now displays his Civil War and “Ben Hur” artifacts. [For information, call (765) 362-5769 or go to the website at https://www.ben-hur.com/.]

A historical marker commemorates Wallace’s life. It reads: “Major General Lew Wallace, 1827-1905. As Indiana’s adjutant general he organized the state for war. He saw action at Ft. Donelson [Tenn.], Shiloh [Tenn.] and Monocacy [Md.]. Later served as governor of New Mexico Territory and minister to Turkey. Author of Ben Hur.”

Besides his exploits as a general, Wallace was also second-in-command of the court martial of the Lincoln assassination conspirators in 1865. He also presided over the court that tried and convicted Henry Wirz, the commander of the notorious prison at Andersonville, Ga.

Most visitors come to the Lew Wallace Study & Museum to view “Ben Hur” memorabilia. The building’s architectural style is unusual, and the extensive grounds around the building provide a tranquil atmosphere appropriate for its original purpose.

Curators who are students of Lew Wallace’s life provide a briefing and tour of the facility. There are items available for sale; and, at the time of our visit, I purchased a miniature original painting depicting a winter scene of the building.

Also open to the public in Crawfordsville is the restored Lane Antebellum Mansion, the majestic home of Henry S. Lane, who was chairman of the first Republican National Convention, in 1856. Lane was a U.S. senator during the Civil War and a strong supporter of Abraham Lincoln who helped to secure his nomination for the presidency.

Relocated to the Lane mansion grounds is the John Allen Speed log cabin that served as a stop on the Underground Railroad. Speed was an abolitionist and served as mayor of Crawfordsville.

Downtown, in front of the courthouse, is a large memorial commemorating Civil War veterans. Crawfordsville is an example of prosperous, historical small-town America, with a surprising number of interesting places to visit.

In Part 3, this Civil War tour will move on to Lincoln country. We will visit the Lincoln family farm in Decatur, Ill., and spend time in Springfield, where Abe met Mary and built a home — now restored and open to the public.

Tom Ryan is the author of the multiple award-winning “Spies, Scouts & Secrets in the Gettysburg Campaign” and “Essays on Delaware during the Civil War.” Signed copies are available at Bethany Beach Books, and at Browseabout Books in Rehoboth Beach. Contact him at pennmardel@mchsi.com or visit his website at www.tomryan-civilwar.com.