When Abraham Lincoln first called for 75,000 troops to stop the rebellion, Indiana quickly provided its required 7,500 volunteers. Over the course of the next four years, more than 200,000 Hoosier men served in the military. Just as those on the home front did throughout the rest of the country, Indiana’s women took jobs that had previously been filled by men. In particular, those in rural areas worked hard to keep their farms running. Follow the story of Indiana's role in the Civil War and explore a range of topics, including technology, notable characters and the roles of ordinary citizens during the great conflict.
Life on the Indiana Homefront
Whether they were soldiers on the battlefield, supported the troops from the home front, or defended their state against surprise attacks, Hoosiers played an important part in the Civil War.
In Indianapolis, they worked in the city’s munitions factory, and the Sisters of Providence were given the task of running the City Hospital for sick and wounded soldiers. Women also supported the war effort by contributing to local Aid Societies and later the state and national Sanitary Commissions.The majority of Hoosiers in the Civil War lived in rural areas. This meant that most Indiana families lived on farms where work was shared between men, women, and children. The Civil War was the defining event in many children’s lives. Children in the Civil War often continued going to school, and they still played and did their chores.
Those who had a father or brothers (or both) serving in the Army certainly felt that absence and often had to do more chores to help keep homes and businesses running. Younger sons often took the responsibility of being the “Head of the Household,” and sons and daughters had to help their stressed and worried mothers. These additional responsibilities sometimes made it difficult for children to attend school. This was especially true for families in rural areas.
Hoosier Women Answer the Call to Arms
Almost as soon as the first shots of the Civil War were fired, women throughout the Northern states began to contribute to the Union cause. Aid Societies were first organized in local communities to help provide some of the comforts of home for soldiers from that community out in the field. They raised money, gathered supplies, rolled bandages, sewed or knitted clothing, and provided financial support for soldiers’ families.
It soon became clear that Northern women’s efforts needed to be more unified. In June 1861, the United States Sanitary Commission (USSC) was created to help organize and oversee women’s volunteer work for the war. One of the major ways the USSC supported the war effort was to hold large fundraisers called Sanitary Fairs. Sanitary Fairs were public events that included exhibitions, plays, parades, and concerts. The first Sanitary Fair was held in Chicago, Illinois, from October 27-November 7, 1863, and it raised nearly $100,000.
Indiana Governor Oliver P. Morton called for the creation of a state Sanitary Commission in February 1862. The first state Sanitary Fair was held in Indianapolis in the fall of 1863.
In addition to Sanitary Fairs, Sanitary Commission agents inspected army hospital conditions, organized physicians and nurses for hospitals and hospital ships, and created soldiers’ homes. After the war, the USSC helped Union Army veterans secure their back pay and apply for pensions. The USSC was finally disbanded in the spring of 1866.
While more than two hundred thousand Hoosier men went to war, the men, women and children who stayed behind played a vital role in running farms and households, maintaining the economy, and supporting their loved ones who fought for the Union.