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Thursday, Apr. 28, 2016

Lew Wallace shares Civil War emotions

Monday, October 24, 2011

Dressed as Civil War Union Gen. Lew Wallace, Bernie O'Bryan of Covington, Ky., addresses a group of about two dozen history buffs during the Heritage Preservation Society program Sunday afternoon at Forest Hill Cemetery in Greencastle. [Order this photo]
Exactly what noted Indiana Renaissance man Gen. Lew Wallace might have said in Greencastle 141 years ago has been lost to history.

But Civil War historian Bernie O'Bryan of Covington, Ky., proved to be a great stand-in Sunday afternoon during a Heritage Preservation Society event at Forest Hill Cemetery in Greencastle.

Dressed as the general, O'Bryan spoke in front of the Civil War Soldiers Monument that bears the names of 321 Putnam County men who lost their lives in the War Between the States.

Following his speech as Gen. Lew Wallace Sunday afternoon at Forest Hill Cemetery in Greencastle, re-enactor Bernie O'Bryan discusses his .35-caliber Civil War-era pistol with interested visitors near the cemetery's historic Civil War Soldiers Monument.
Recreating what he thought the noted general might have said in dedicating the monument, O'Bryan explained that he "used a little bit of a license" to create a speech "almost exactly like" those in attendance would have heard that day.

Gen. Wallace, a longtime Crawfordsville resident who authored "Ben-Hur," spoke July 2, 1870 to a crowd estimated at 8,000 even though fewer than 3,300 people resided in Greencastle at the time.

"It is simply delightful to me," he began, "to know that the men who fell in battle and disease -- our own sons, brothers and friends -- are to be remembered with appropriate honors.

"Our men who are buried here in Forest Hill, are like Indiana's corn," Wallace/O'Bryan continued. "They were planted here. We of Putnam County watered them. We fertilized their minds, and they grew tall and strong in the Indiana sun.

"They came back to us, not as a harvest, but in ones and twos, some from a bullet or a cannon blast, but many more from infection, from disease or from accidents on the march."

Coming home to Forest Hill was "their last transfer," the speaker said.

"This monument is not a mortuary," he continued, "but a monument to liberty and to civilization, not to create a feeling of sadness, but a thrill of patriotism and love to the soldier who fought for his country."

The speaker said the Battle of Chickamauga -- a skirmish encompassing portions of Georgia and Tennessee included the Hoosier regiment commanded by Col. Eli Lilly -- is forever known as "Indiana's Battle."

Indiana had more regiments on that battlefield than any other state, O'Bryan noted, with 39 Indiana regiments of infantry and nine artillery batteries in the fray. O'Bryan said a typical regiment would have 1,000 soldiers.

The Hoosier units were surrounded, and knew they would have to "cut their way out with the seemingly victorious Rebel army all around them," he said Sunday.

Legend has it that one Indiana soldier who had seen what the horrific battle had done to the homes, farms and countryside al around them, vowed to make the ultimate sacrifice rather then see the fighting rage on and Confederate troops march northward until they crossed the Ohio River into Indiana.

Some of the names on the monument in Forest Hill no doubt perished at Chickamauga.

"The war never came to Putnam County," O'Bryan said in conclusion as Gen. Wallace. "Look to those buried here. Look thankfully. Had they known they would be lying here for all eternity, when our nation asked for help, they still would have fallen in and marched as heroes to the front. They are heroes."

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