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Reader adds Hoosier note to this week's Civil War Flashback

Saturday, March 2, 2013 - 12:01 am

The News-Sentinel continues to recognize the 150th anniversary of the Civil War with a weekly Civil War Flashback on Thursdays on our Headlines page. A reader pointed out that this week’s installment had an Indiana connection.

The recollection of Week 99 of the Civil War was about the USS Indianola, an ironclad built in Cincinnati that joined the Union’s Mississippi River squadron in early 1863. The Associated Press recounted how the boat “had run the gauntlet of Confederate artillery at Vicksburg, Miss., on Feb. 13, 1863. But the recently built gunboat with armored plating and 11-inch Dahlgren guns would soon meet an early demise. While patrolling the Mississippi near the mouth of the Red River, the Indianola came under attack Feb. 24, 1863, by two enemy rams. Pursued and rammed several times, the Union ironclad lost power and ran aground. Its crew had no choice but to surrender. The loss of the Indianola struck a major blow to the Union Navy in its struggle to gain supremacy over the lower Mississippi.” Badly damaged, the Indianola was never restored to service and ultimately ended up as scrap.

Reader Bob Dispenza sent an email about the flashback, saying, “Something that was missing and could help Hoosiers connect to these events: The gunboat was commanded by Rushville native Lt. Cmdr. George Brown. He was captured and sent to Richmond’s notorious Libby Prison (among other prisons) before he was exchanged in May of 1863. Brown helped in the defense of Madison, Ind., during Morgan’s Raid. He eventually rose to the rank of rear admiral during the Spanish-American War and is buried in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis.

“As for the Indianola, she was actually attacked by four Confederate boats, two of which were so damaged in the battle that they never saw significant action again. The Indianola was in the process of being salvaged by the Confederates when a fake unarmed ‘gunboat’ launched by the Union Navy upstream caused them to panic. They then blew the Indianola up and it sank.

“Thank you for the glimpse of history we get in our News-Sentinel.”

Morgan’s Raid, by the way, was a part of the Civil War that actually crossed into Indiana territory as the “Raiders” of Confederate Brig. Gen. John Hunt Morgan invaded a region from Tennessee to northern Ohio from June 11-July 26, 1863.

My personal encounter with that bit of history was visiting the Stream Cliff Herb Farm in West Comiskey, Ind. That pastoral setting, which features a tea room and winery, was the site of an encampment by Morgan’s Raiders on July 11, 1863. The road that runs in front of the farm crosses Graham Creek and was used by Gen. Morgan and his men on their famous raid as they came north from Old Paris. The farm is on the original route of The General John Hunt Morgan Heritage Trail.

Kerry Hubartt is editor of The News-Sentinel.