James L. Stokesbury writes how westerners who made up Sherman’s army during the Atlanta Campaign “prided themselves on their free and easy manners, their long, loping marching stride, their slouch hats, and the absence of the military punctilio they associated with the eastern armies of the Republic.” A person today could assume the soldiers of the 27th Indiana Regiment, westerners themselves, may have transitioned well to that atmosphere when in late 1863, they were transferred to Tennessee from the Army of the Potomac. Those Hoosiers, however, took great pride in their service and despised their western comrade’s indifference to their fighting record.
One soldier in the 27th stated, “Men who carry the scars of Winchester, Cedar Mountain, Antietam and Gettysburg do not like to be repeatedly asked, ‘What have you ever done?” Barton Mitchell of Lost Orders 191 fame, hobbled westward with a festering calf wound from Antietam’s Bloody Cornfield. He was most likely one of the proud “Potomac men” who carried his wound as a badge of honor to his service out east.
Our school’s annual Civil War Summer Adventure has followed Mitchell’s war journey the past two summers. I could not have imagined all of the exciting places he would take us. We participated in a Memorial Day ceremony at his grave in Hartsville, Indiana, studied with Park Rangers at Monocacy Battlefield where he most likely discovered Lee’s Lost Orders, walked the Cornfield with guide Gordy Dammann, ran across Spengler’s Meadow near Culps Hill and spoke over the phone to a Mitchell family descendant. So it was with excitement that we picked up the 27th Indiana’s trail again this past summer at the Battle of Reseca when we travelled through Atlanta. Same soldier but very different landscape and time of the Civil War.
The last time we stood in Mitchell’s footsteps was near Gettysburg two summers ago. There we learned Mitchell returned to his regiment from months of convalescence just in time for that great battle. His leg was had not heeled and never would for that matter. One account states that he made the July 3rd charge on uneven, rocky terrain near Spengler’s Spring with a cain. It very well could have been that terrible experience that persuaded him to accept a demotion in rank from corporal to a private in order to serve as a stretcher bearer during the 1864 Atlanta Campaign.
A Resaca battlefield stop provided the backdrop for our group to retell Mitchell’s war experience and say goodbye to him. The 27th took an active part in several battles near Atlanta but the fact is few of those battlefields are accessible today so this was our best available place to discuss his time in Georgia, albeit brief. Resaca was fought in May 1864 and Mitchell mustered out of service, most likely due to his injured leg, a few months later September.
Our travels following Mitchell in both of the Civil War’s theaters of war provided excellent context for group discussions. In addition to the comparison of western soldiers to eastern soldiers, we analyzed physical landscape differences between Maryland and Pennsylvania and Georgia. We noticed that Civil War battlefields can be preserved and interpreted differently in the North and South. One student pointed out that these trips illustrated that Mitchell experienced a reversal of roles in the war. For example, Mitchell was the invader of the South in Georgia but the North’s defender at Antietam and Gettysburg. We wondered how that impacted his psyche as a soldier (and the Confederates for that matter as they switched form invaders to defenders). Finally, we discussed Mitchell’s death in 1868 as a wounded veteran who could not find stable employment and the issues veterans faced then and now.
This summer we will travel throughout Virginia and we will locate where the 27th Indiana fought at Chancellorsville (without Mitchell). I also hope our group is able to meet with his family descendent when we are near Washington, DC. These will be exciting parts of this coming adventure. But even though I will repeat these trips every four years and we will know more and be better organized regarding Mitchell on future trips, I will miss the initial excitement we felt as a group these past two years as we stitched the war together thought the experiences of this man and his regiment.
Wilbur D. Jones, Jr. wrote a great book, The 27th Indiana Infantry, Giants in the Cornfield, which I used throughout our Civil War journeys and the writing of this post.