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Did Wabash College Really Send 500 Men to the Civil War?

Can that be right? Actually it was 529.  Professor James Barnes created a student lead research project that began in the ’80s and has now resulted in the publication of a new book that ‘spreads the fame of her honored name.’

Henry CampbellYoung Henry Campbell left Wabash at 16 to enroll in the Army even though the official entry age was 18. Campbell’s diary tells his story.  “Enrolled my name in the U.S. Volunteer service, on the 12 day of July 1862.  Age 16…. Enlisted as a private in the 18th Indiana Battery, Eli Lilly Captain.”  Here’s his diary entry for August 21, 1863   “I was  sitting down just in front of Number 5’s gun watching the effects of the shot with the captain’s glass. Number 6 had just fired their gun, and at the same instant exactly that the report of our gun rang out through the air and while everyone’s attention was engrossed in watching the shot strike, the Rebels fired a shot from a 32 lb James Rifle that they had been firing during the time they were silent in the large fort direct in our front. The shell whizzed over my head under the axle of Number 5 striking the ground near the trail just at the spot where Corporal McCorkle was lying asleep, cutting his leg entirely off below the knee, ricocheting, struck the right lead horse of the limber, square in the breast passed entirely through him endways, striking the next horse just above the chest, passing clear through hitting the next horse in the throat, splitting his backbone from one end to the other making its exit just above the tail, the wheel horse in the rear of this horse escaped by having his head down close to the ground eating grass.”

Not all Wabash men had such dramatic encounters during the war, but they all served with distinction and, as the book reveals, lead diverse and fascinating lives afterwards. The Ristine family (Albert, Harley, Henry, Jr., Theodore,) is a fine example beginning with Albert who enlisted in 1861. The Ristine name is ever entwined with the Wabash tradition and Crawfordsville.

500Strong1The students under Professor Barnes searched the then meager College archives, pension applications, archives of the State of Indiana, obituaries near and far since Wabash men even then spread out all over our great nation. Eventually they indeed find over 500 men who served during the Civil War.

Thus the book  500 Strong: Wabash College Students in the Civil War chronicles this incredible chapter in the history  of Wabash College. As Dr. Louis Howland wrote in an editorial for the Indianapolis News in 1902 “So Wabash College may become rich and powerful, but it can have nothing that it will prize more highly than the record of the deeds of its sons …”