News and Tribune

March 6, 2013

New Albany Bicentennial: The Civil War, part 1

By AMANDA BEAM
newsroom@newsandtribune.com

NEW ALBANY — Between 1861 and 1864, bitter battles raged across America that turned brother against brother and friend against friend. Indiana was not immune to the horrors of the Civil War. 

At the end of the bloody conflict, 24,416 Hoosiers had died while serving the Union cause and more than 50,000 others had been wounded. 

As the second-largest city in Indiana during this time, New Albany helped support the war effort in a variety of ways. Soldiers trained for combat on its land. Doctors and nurses treated those injured in battle at its hospitals. Local workers built gunships on its shores. And the bodies of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice were buried in its sacred ground. 

Having studied this time period for more than 45 years, local Civil War historian Bob Zipp has taken his love of history to area classrooms. Wearing the uniform of a Union soldier, he gives children the ability to experience the war firsthand. 

Zipp is currently performing extensive research on Southern Indiana during the Civil War that he plans to include in several books. As of present, he has found evidence of 1,500 enlisted men in the Union forces from Floyd County. 

“It’s reasonable to say by the time I’m done, there’s going to probably be between 1,700 and 1,800 names of Floyd County residents that fought during the Civil War,” Zipp said. 

As soon as news about the attack on Fort Sumter reached Indiana in April 1861, most Hoosiers immediately sided with the North against the Confederate states. That said, Zipp believes that given the documented anti-black sentiment in the area and financial ties to the South, some residents may have joined the Rebel troops. 

“Do I have any records of New Albany or Floyd County residents going with the South? No. But I have little doubt that there was probably a few,” Zipp said. 

In addition, it’s not unreasonable to suspect that some local merchants continued trading with the South during the war. History has shown this area already had strong economic ties to those states before hostilities commenced. An article on researchonline.net suggested other cities along the Ohio were aware that smuggling continued to occur from New Albanian shores. 

“The towns of New Albany and Jeffersonville were pressured by the Cincinnati Daily Gazette to stop trading with the South, especially with Louisville, as Kentucky’s proclaimed neutrality was perceived as Southern-leaning,” the article stated. “A fraudulent steamboat company was set up to go between Madison and Louisville, with its boat, the Masonic Gem, making regular trips to Confederate ports for trade.”

While Southern Indiana had varied opinions about the justifications for the split with the South, no fighting ever took place in New Albany. 

However, at the beginning of the conflict, the border cities were still alarmed at the prospect that Kentucky might join the Confederacy. Zipp found a Louisville newspaper clipping that went as far to say, despite which side the Bluegrass State decided to choose in the war, Louisville hoped to continue friendly relations with the towns in Southern Indiana. 

“One of the biggest concerns with New Albany was being right across the river from Louisville. Initially in the Civil War, Kentucky was neutral,” he said. “The fear was that if Kentucky went with the Confederacy, then the war would be right on our doorstep.” 

After Southern General Leonidas Polk occupied Columbus, Ky., in September 1861, Kentucky considered its neutrality under attack and voted to join the Union. Old Glory was raised over the Commonwealth only days later. 

Despite Kentucky’s allegiance to the North, New Albany wasn’t necessarily safe from enemy attacks. As in times before, the Ohio River provided some natural defense to the town. Patrolling gunships and other battlements also offered reinforcement. Zipp has read about purported monstrous cannons lining the river town’s shores, their cones aimed at Louisville, but he continues to question the news article’s validity. 

One particular event gave credence to Indiana’s fears of a Confederate attack. Around July 9, 1863, Southern Brig. Gen. John Hunt Morgan led approximately 2,000 cavalry men across the Ohio River and raided neighboring Corydon. Evidence suggests more than 15 people from both sides were killed in the only battle to take place on Indiana soil. 

A boat from New Albany actually attempted to stop Morgan’s initial crossing. In a research paper on the website battleofcorydon.org, author Aric Miller stated that a ship tried to prevent these enemy regiments from entering Indiana. Even though armed with six 24-pound cannons, the federal guns could not repel the advancement. 

“After an hour-long duel, the gunboat retreated back up river to New Albany,” Miller said. 

Questions remain as to why New Albany failed to send troops to help defend Corydon. Zipp suggested the town had heard rumors that Morgan’s force was much larger than they actually were. 

Perhaps military leaders assumed the raiders would attempt to attack New Albany next, with the city being a vital supply depot and training grounds for the North. Whatever the reasons, the local guard opted to stand its ground and remain within the town’s fortifications. 

Speaking to older generations of residents, Zipp also had received information in interviews that Corydon resented New Albany for not coming to its defense. 

“There was a lot of animosity from Harrison County toward New Albany, at least that is what I was told, and it was because New Albany did not send anybody to help,” he said. 

Morgan and his men forged a road of destruction across Indiana. While attempting to stop an incursion near Pekin, the 73rd Indiana Infantry captured several enemy soldiers, including Confederate Capt. William J. Davis, and brought them to New Albany where they were held in the county jail. He was later transferred to a federal prison where he served 15 months. When released, Davis promptly re-enlisted with the Southern troops. 

Morgan’s Raid is only one of many events New Albany was involved in during the Civil War era. A plethora of other stories exist regarding the contributions New Albany made to the Northern cause. 

Over the next few articles in this series, we will explore the different facets of life during the war for our residents and our enlisted soldiers during this trying time.