The Ex-Capital Birthday Weekend, Part 8 of 10: The Battle Cabin in the Woods

A log cabin in the woods with some (unseen) history to it.

No, this isn’t one of the 600 different Midwest historical sites with ties to Abraham Lincoln.

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…

The official" "Battle of Corydon Historic Site" sign at the entrance, with trees behind it.

Thick trees hid the sign, forcing me to brake at the entrance really hard, which Anne never appreciates.

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.

The open space where the cabin and mementos are kept, amid the forest, which is all autumn colors.

The battlefield grounds today, comprising cabin, mementos, and wooded paths.

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.

A big cannon pointed at the camera. The heads of myself and our docent are visible in the distance behind it.

Artifacts on open display included this 6-pound field gun of the same sort used by both the Blue and the Grey in that battle.

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…”

Anne standing next to a monument listing the names of eight Home Guard fatalities and mentioning "four wounded".

Anne next to a marker naming eight of the Home Guard brothers who died fighting for Indiana.

The other side of the same monument names three Confederate privates who died and references eight more anonymously, plus "forty wounded".

Also listed on the “both sides” tribute are three Confederate privates killed, plus eight more anonymous.

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.

A mooring post and anchor chain standing upright in the middle of a bunch of dead leaves on the ground.

A mooring post and anchor chain from the Alice Dean, a passenger steamer that Morgan’s men commandeered and used to cross the Ohio River. Once done with it, they set it afire and watched it burn and sink. Some of its wood was later salvaged and used to reinforce the cabin and make other items.

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.

Logs in the cabin wall with Roman numerals etched into the ends in random sequence.

The cabin’s original logs had Roman numerals etched into them before disassembly, only to be reassembled out of order.

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.

A bunch of deciduous trees in autumn colors.

A sample of the autumn colors surrounding us.

Dead leaves and the dirty ground.

A trail leads off one side of the Site, around the back of the cabin, and to the other side of said Site.

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.

A fireplace in the cabin, lots of tools lying around it.

Ye olde fireplace inside the cabin, plus period accessories.

Wood rafters overhead.

Some rafter woodwork details for you craftspeople out there.

A spinning wheel sitting high up in the rafters for some reason.

A spinning wheel stored high above our heads, to prevent visitors from stealing its wheel or inadvertently summoning Rumpelstiltskin.

A cardboard standee of General John Hunt Morgan.

A cardboard standee of that darn Morgan.

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

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