In our road trips of recent vintage we’ve been adding American battlefields to our itineraries on behalf of Anne the history aficionado. Longtime MCC readers may or may not recall our previous stops at the former war zones of Antietam, Gettysburg, Saratoga Springs, Chickamauga, Tippecanoe, and Stones River. Some battlefields are larger and more important than others, but each one has support from dedicated historians keeping their memories and lessons alive.
As it happens, our own state of Indiana had exactly one (1) Civil War battle fought within our boundaries. As a Hoosier might expect, of course the aggressors came up from Kentucky.
Previously on Midlife Crisis Crossover:
In addition to our annual road trips, my wife Anne and I have a twice-yearly tradition of spending our respective birthdays together traveling to some new place or attraction as a short-term road trip — partly as an excuse to spend time together on those most wondrous days, partly to explore areas we’ve never experienced before. We’re the Goldens. It’s who we are and what we do.
In October 2022 Anne turned 52. Indiana offers no shortage of tourist attractions for history aficionados like her. We’ve visited quite a few of those over the years, but this year we felt it was time to check off one of the Hoosier State’s biggest trivia answers: Corydon, our original state capital before Indianapolis…
A mile south of downtown Corydon is the Battle of Corydon Historic Site, a small spot in the forest commemorating one of the few Civil War battles fought on Union soil. The main event fell on July 9, 1863 — an incursion from the 2nd Kentucky Cavalry Regiment led by one John Hunt Morgan, who rose from Captain to Colonel to General throughout that phase of his military career. Morgan had been ordered to stay put on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River, but decided without authorization from his superiors such as General Braxton Bragg (whose name sounds like a supervillain identity) to lead somewhere between 1000 and 2400 men (online sources vary) into what would be called “Morgan’s Raid”. They cut a 1000-mile, 46-day attempted swath through the North, like a tiny precursor to Sherman’s March, but with far less scorching results.
Leading our side was Colonel Lewis Jordan, who presided over the Indiana Legion but never got the reinforcements he’d requested. He did what he could with the Harrison County Home Guard, roughly 450 men who were almost entirely locals who hadn’t made the cut to join the Union Army proper — i.e., the elderly, the minors, and the disabled according to contemporaneous definitions. They were proud to defend their home state against the Confederate invaders — all heart, but probably more heart than muscle.
Our Heroes tried their best, but more or less fled when Morgan’s heavy artillery arrived. All told, the battle’s fatalities were few — 11 Confederates dead versus 8 Home Guard soldiers. (Online sources again vary on the exact numbers; I’m deferring to what the Site literally has etched in stone.) Morgan’s raiders proceeded to plunder Corydon before moving onward north, then east into Ohio. Theirs would prove the farthest north of any Southern incursion in the entire Civil War, though I would not say “You gotta hand it to them…”
A few weeks later, after some attrition at other towns along the way, Morgan and the rest of his men would surrender and be captured at the Battle of Salineville. He later escaped, but upon returning to Southern safety found himself in the doghouse with Bragg and other officers for the rest of the war. He died in September 1864 in Tennessee, shot in the back while running away from surprise Union soldiers.
As of this writing, the Battle of Corydon was the last military conflict in Indiana. Colonel Jordan’s family would go on to own land in the area (including at one time the Westfall House back in Corydon); to this day his descendants still own land south of town. The Historic Site was later put together as a lasting tribute to Corydon’s defenders that day. Its centerpiece is a cabin that stood within the very vicinity of that battle, though not in this exact spot at the time. Years later it was disassembled, relocated to this forested hill miles away from the original property, and reassembled to serve as a miniature museum ever since. The park naturally hosts annual battle reenactments to mark the occasion.
We arrived at the Site to find only two people around, the docent and an associate, neither of whom had dressed in period costumes, though sometimes they do that. The docent apologized to us for forgetting the keys to the cabin, and the two of them drove off to go fetch and come right back. Anne and I had the entire Historic Site to ourselves for a good 15-20 minutes. We wandered the woods. We read the historical informational cards. We paced back and forth. Admission was free and the weather was lovely for it.
The duo returned, let us into the cabin, and our docent proceeded through the standard tour guide narration, pointing out artifacts and historical order of events, some of which we just covered above.
The site wasn’t huge or fancy or monied or world-famous, but we appreciated the chance to learn more about Indiana history and its place in the scope of the Civil War, whether great or small. The Battle of Corydon wasn’t a long battle, but it was our battle.
To be continued! Other chapters in this very special miniseries:
Part 1: Unrelated Pastry Prologue
Part 2: Welcome to Corydon
Part 3: Halloween and the Hallowed Tree
Part 4: A Capital Pack of Markers
Part 5: Hooked on Butt Drugs
Part 6: Cozy Corydon Cuisine
Part 7: William Henry Harrison Slept Here
Part 9: Indiana Caverns on $0.00 a Day
Part 10: An Epilogue of Film, Fowl, and Facades