Indianapolis, IN- December 27, 2014.
Yesterday, I visited the Indianapolis home of the 23rd President of the United States, Benjamin Harrison.
The home was built in the 1870’s out of red brick. It has three stories and sixteen rooms. The house is built in an Italianate architectural style, so popular at the end of the 19th Century.
The interior feature has oak trimmed doors, butternut woodwork and a walnut staircase that cuts the house in half. The bottom floor has large, expansive bay windows to allow in plenty of sunshine. The structure of the home reflects the life of its owner- large, intelligent, expressive, and sturdy.
Benjamin Harrison the Man
Harrison was a born into a family of American political involvement. He was the great-grandson of a signer of the Declaration of Independence, his grandfather was the ninth President of the United States and his father was a congressman.
Harrison was born on August 20, 1833 in North Bend, Ohio. He married his college sweetheart at 20, studied law and moved to Indianapolis, Indiana. He practiced law from 1854 to 1860.
His law practice flourished and he entered politics.
He campaigned for an unknown Republican Presidential Candidate named Abraham Lincoln. By 1862, the Civil War was heating up.
The Civil War
The Civil War was dragging on, in 1862, President Abraham Lincoln issued a call for 300,000 more men to serve in the Union Army. In 1862, Harrison joined the 70th Indiana Regiment.
The Civil War soldier’s home away from home was his regiment. Regiments were often composed of men who had lived in the same neighborhoods. Almost of all had known each other before the war. Many groups of friends from the same city would join a regiment.
Regiments were not as organized at the beginning of the war. In the enthusiastic rush to volunteer for service in 1861, individuals would travel through their communities to raise regiments on their own. Once raised, they were presented to the army.
These volunteer regiments would select their own commanders. Sometimes, they provide their own uniforms and weapons.
In some cases, regiments had a distinctive regional or ethnic character—Irish, German, Italian, Jewish, Indian, or black, among others. In some cases, such as the Zouaves, regiments were distinguished by their vivid uniforms.
The 70th Regiment Indiana Infantry
Harrison wanted to enlist, but worried about how to support his young family. While visiting the Governor of Indiana Harrison found him distressed at the shortage of men. Harrison told the governor, “If I can be of any service, I will go”.
Harrison recruited throughout northern Indiana to raise a regiment. The 70th Indiana Infantry was organized in Indianapolis, Indiana July 22 through August 8, 1862,
The newly formed 70th Indiana mustered into Federal service on August 12, 1862. Once mustered, the regiment left Indiana to join the Union Army in Louisville, Kentucky.
For the next two years the regiment begins the ever-necessary railroad guard duty along the line of the Louisville & Nashville Railroad.
The Western Theater
The Western Theater of the Civil War was originally represented by the area east of the Mississippi River and west of the Appalachian Mountains. Defined both geographically and by campaign sequence. Many decisive were fought here including Shiloh, Chickamauga, Vicksburg and Nashville.
It was the theater where Grant, Sherman and Sheridan learned how to fight and win wars. The capture of the Mississippi River was a turning point for the Union. With a few notable exceptions, the Western Theater was a string of almost continuous defeats for the Confederacy.
The area expanded in 1864, when Major General William T. Sherman armies moved southeast from Chattanooga, Tennessee into Georgia and the Carolinas. In May 1864, Harrison and his regiment joined William T. Sherman’s Atlanta Campaign as part of the 20th Corps in the Army of the Cumberland, and moved to the front lines.
Battle of Resaca
On May 14th, 1864, Sherman’s forces attacked General Joseph E. Johnston’s Confederates at Resaca, Georgia. The fighting was intense, but inconclusive. Continuous Union assaults on the entrenched Confederates were beaten back.
The next day, most Federal attacks were again stopped, but one was successful. A four gun Confederate battery was placed in a forward position in one sector of the line. Brigadier General William T. Ward’s brigade, which included the 70th Indiana, was ordered to carry the artillery position.
Harrison led his regiment in the charge against the artillery battery. Many of the Union soldiers were shot down in the assault. Others, including Harrison made it to the earthen parapet surrounding the battery. They went over it and into the battery enclosure.
Fighting was hand-to-hand, but the Federals took the position and captured the artillery position. The success was short lived, as Confederate fire from the flanks and rear drove the Union attackers out and back over the parapet walls on the opposite side.
The Federals stayed on the outside of the parapet, and after dark dug a hole in its walls, retrieved the artillery, and dragged the guns back to Union lines. While the fighting of the 15th was going on, Sherman sent a division around to the Rebel left flank. With the left threatened, Johnston withdrew from Resaca that night.
Harrison and his men had fought well in the 70th’s first large battle. The regiment lost 26 men killed and 130 wounded, and these 156 casualties were the most of any Union regiment at the Battle of Resaca. Ward was wounded in the fighting, and Harrison took over brigade command.
Harrison was promoted to command the 1st Brigade of the 1st Division of the XX Corps. He commanded the brigade at the Battles of Cassville, New Hope Church, Lost Mountain, Kennesaw Mountain, Marietta, Peachtree Creek and Atlanta.
Serving under Major General William T. Sherman in the Atlanta campaign, Harrison was among the first of the Union forces to march into the city upon its surrender. According to Sherman, Harrison served with “foresight, discipline and a fighting spirit. . .”
When Sherman’s main force began its March to the Sea, Harrison’s brigade was transferred to the District of Etowah and participated in the Battle of Nashville.
On January 23, 1865, President Lincoln nominated Harrison to the grade of brevet brigadier general of volunteers, with rank from that date. The U.S. Senate confirmed the nomination on February 14, 1865. He rode in the Grand Review in Washington, D.C. before mustering out on June 8, 1865.
Unlike many veterans, Harrison did not remember his Civil War years with much fondness. He rose quickly from lieutenant to become a brigadier general by the time he retired from service in June 1865.
But even with such achievements and praise, in his mind, war was a dirty business that no decent man would find pleasurable.
By all accounts, Harrison was a popular commander who cared about his men. He led by example, showing much personal bravery both at Resaca and in later battles.
After the war, Harrison served as a U.S. Senator from Indiana in the 1880′s, and was elected, the 23rd President of the United States in 1888, serving one term before being defeated for reelection in 1892.
Harrison is best remembered as a moral man who had a conscientious devotion to duty. He carried out everything he did with the legacy of his family, and the interests of his nation in mind.
In his public persona he was known for being aloof and distant, perhaps due to shyness. But those that knew him personally saw him in an opposite light: unpretentious, generous and kind-hearted.
Under his Presidency six states were added to the Union, the size of the Navy was increased from 20th in the world to 5th, and he set aside more than 13 million acres of land for National Forest Reserve.
Harrison was a “big thinker” who was a risk taker and decision maker. With his keen sense of fairness, he clearly defined ethics guided by honesty. He saw the definition of public service as having high principles.
He had the ability both as a combat commander and President to see things in a larger perspective and for the long haul. He was not afraid to make important, big decisions His strong belief system allowed him to meet tough challenges.
In his time as a public servant, both as a soldier and politician, he had the resolve to make changes during a time of progress. His strong convictions allowed him to endure when others had lost it and have to have faith when others gave up.