Monday, January 8, 2007

Etter: "The Indiana Legion: A Civil War Militia"

The Indiana Legion: A Civil War Militia by John P. Etter (Hawthorne Publishing, 2006. Softcover, illustrations, photos, notes. ISBN 0-9787167-1-X $18.95

The Indiana Legion was a multipurpose militia organization. It provided internal security, intelligence gathering, guards for POW camps, and a ready force for repelling Confederate raids into the state. Based largely on the Indiana Legion Collection of the state's archives, author John Etter provides us with a fine introduction to the legion.

Etter begins by outlining the legislative debates over how the Indiana Legion was to be organized and how it was to be used. There were justifiable fears that it would largely be used as a tool to suppress legitimate political dissent. Indeed, it did have a role in quelling internal unrest in response to the draft. Copperheads and suspected members of groups such as the Sons of Liberty were also arrested by legion members. The author then moves on to recount the myriad of problems in organizing, training, funding, and officering such a large statewide organization. Numerous letters to and from the local militia leaders to the central authority detailing these concerns are provided.

Intelligence gathering and combat operations were performed on both sides of the Ohio River. Contrary to most militias, which generally avoided crossing state borders, the Legion frequently crossed over into Kentucky to assist Union forces in that state. They figured prominently in the fights at Panther Creek, Owensboro, and Henderson. At home, the Legion also opposed Confederate raiders under John Hunt Morgan and Adam R. Johnson. Etter credits the militiamen with largely containing Morgan in 1863. [Aside: For a great history of Johnson's Newburgh raid see Ray Mulesky's Thunder from a Clear Sky: Stovepipe Johnson's Confederate Raid on Newburgh, Indiana]. Several battle reports from the Legion records collection are included in the text in their entirety. The book concludes with an interesting chapter dealing with how the Legion was perceived by both friends and enemies.

The Indiana Legion is author John Etter's 2003 Master's thesis from Butler University. The manuscript has few editorial flaws, the most noticeable is the extensive listing of Legion companies by county (they are mistakenly labeled as regiments). Although fully footnoted, the bibliography was omitted. Also, an unfortunate decision was made to include no maps. The book isn't a definitive study, nor is it meant to be. Based on primary source material, it is a brief yet comprehensive overview history of a little studied state militia organization that nevertheless made real contributions to the Union war effort.

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