Hoosier History Live! features host Nelson Price, Saturdays noon to 1 p.m. on WICR 88.7 FM in Indianapolis.

Saturdays, noon to 1 p.m. ET on WICR 88.7 FM.
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Our call-in number during the show: (317) 788-3314

Jan. 14, 2017 show

How did Copperheads and Union supporters co-exist?

During the Civil War, Indiana sent a higher percentage of young men and teenage boys to fight for the Union cause than nearly all of the other Northern states.

But there also were pockets of Southern sympathizers across the Hoosier state. They became known as Copperheads (alluding to the poisonous snake found in most of the South), Butternuts (because some Confederates wore uniforms of that color) and other names.

Hoosier History Live will explore how the two sides co-existed (or not) and various related aspects, including the motivations of Hoosiers who went to battle in the bloodiest conflict in American history. Nelson will be joined in studio by two guests:

  • Mike Murphy, a former state legislator who is the author of a new book, The Kimberlins at War: A Union Family in Copperhead Country (Indiana Historical Society Press, 2016). The book explores an extended family that sent "33 fathers and sons, brothers and cousins" to fight for the Union despite hailing from Scott County in southeastern Indiana, a region described as "rife with sympathy and support for the South." Mike, who now is senior vice president of Hirons and Company, an Indianapolis-based advertising and public relations firm, draws on a stash of 40 letters to and from the battlefield that survived in the Kimberlin family.

  • And Steve Towne, an archivist at IUPUI who is the author of Surveillance and Spies in the Civil War (Ohio University Press, 2015) and other books and award-winning articles about the Civil War. Steve has researched regions of the state in which Southern supporters, including spies, were concentrated. Some of the towns and counties may surprise listeners.

In The Kimberlins at War, Mike notes that in 1850 one-half of all Hoosiers were not native to the state - and 39 percent came from slave-owning states.

"Most of the people of southern Indiana had 'connections' in Kentucky and Virginia going back several generations," writes Mike, who is a board member of the Indiana Historical Society.

Although he notes that "the initial reaction to the fall of Fort Sumter was a burst of patriotism" across Indiana, as news spread about the subsequent Battle of Bull Run, a Confederate victory in Virginia, many families endured intense debates. "Even entire towns debated the wisdom of taking up arms against the South."

Yet the young men in the extended Kimberlin family decided to fight for the Union cause. The result was a casualty rate of family members who were killed, wounded or died of battlefield disease that was "unmatched in recorded Scott County history." This unfolded despite the fact that, as the new book describes, much of the pre-Civil War economy in southern Indiana was agriculturally based (like the South) and dependent on shipping goods down the Ohio River for eventual sale in southern states.

Drawing on the rediscovered letters, Mike shares insights in the book - and will during our show as well - about whether the Kimberlins were fighting to save the Union, free the slaves or for other reasons. He also will discuss the family's interactions, including on the home front, with Copperhead neighbors.

In Surveillance and Spies in the Civil War, our guest Steve Towne explores the threat posed by Copperheads and secret societies determined to subvert the Union effort. Detectives were hired to track down spies for the Confederates living in Indiana and other states in the North.

An 1863 cartoon portrays members of the Copperhead Party as snakes advancing on Columbia, a woman who represents the Union. Image courtesy Library of Congress.During a Hoosier History Live show in May 2015 that asked "What's in our State Archives?", Steve noted that more of the Civil War records of Oliver P. Morton, Indiana's powerful governor (and a staunch Union supporter), survive than those of almost any other Northern governor.

Historians have debated whether Morton exaggerated Copperhead numbers - including membership in pro-Confederate, subversive societies like the Knights of the Golden Circle - as a way to rev up Union support across Indiana. A letter from a Civil War-era doctor quoted in Kimberlins at War, though, describes a Copperhead meeting in one Scott County town alone as being attended by 54 men.

Several of the Kimberlins enrolled in the Indiana 23rd Infantry Regiment, which was praised for valor. Leading up to the Siege of Vicksburg, Isaac Kimberlin volunteered for a risky mission that involved boarding a gunboat; he demonstrated heroics when he came under fire. His cousin, Benjamin Kimberlin, was killed in Mississippi by Confederate soldiers.

After Northern victories in Vicksburg and Gettysburg, support in Indiana for Gov. Morton - and for the Union cause - increased, Kimberlins at War notes.

By the middle of the war, resistance also decreased among Hoosiers to the idea of recruiting African-American troops. (Some whites had feared giving weapons to blacks. Others worried that African-American veterans would be given preferential treatment for jobs after the war.)

Eventually, Mike writes, "Hoosiers realized that for every African American soldier at the front, that meant one less white man had to go and fight."

History Mystery

An author born in Indiana wrote a national bestseller based on her Quaker ancestors during the Civil War. The book, published in 1945 to critical acclaim and popular success, is a collection of short stories and vignettes about a Quaker family in southern Indiana. Some of the stories focus on the family's son, who struggles with his conscience as a pacifist Quaker about whether to take up arms against the Confederacy.

In 1956, the bestselling book became a Hollywood movie, which also was a popular and critical hit. The film had the same title as the book.

Question: What is the title?

Hint: In 2003, the book was chosen by the Indianapolis Public Library to inaugurate the "One Book, One City" program.

The call-in number is (317) 788-3314. Please do not call in to the show until you hear Nelson pose the question on the air, and please do not try to win the prize if you have won any other prize on WICR during the last two months. You must be willing to give your name and address to our engineer and be willing to be placed on the air.

The prize is a gift certificate to Story Inn, a bed and breakfast in Brown County, courtesy of Story Inn.

Roadtrip: Salamonie River State Forest near Lagro


Guest Roadtripper and public historian Glory-June Greiff suggests a Roadtrip up to Wabash County to Salamonie River State Forest near Lagro.

Says Glory: "Seek out the Hominy Ridge shelter house, built by the Civilian Conservation Corps in the 1930s and listed in the National Register of Historic Places."

She continues: "It sits amidst an oak grove surrounded by stone-and-timber picnic tables, high above the Salamonie River, adjacent to a dam built by the CCC that impounds an 11-acre lake. Arsonists burned the shelterhouse in the early 2000s, but the Indiana Department of Natural Resources opted to restore it, and they did a fine job. It's a wonderful place to watch for the bald eagles that cruise the river in search of supper."

There are plenty of trails and fine views in the Forest. The property lies next to the larger and "overall less wild" Salamonie Lake State Recreation Area that surrounds a large reservoir built by the Army Corps of Engineers in the 1960s.

If you go in summer, the very old town of Lagro has an ice cream shop located in a former interurban station. Lagro also boasts the Kerr Lock, a remnant of its days as a port along the Wabash and Erie Canal.

Head back to the county seat of Wabash, though, and there are plenty of places to eat and a great downtown to explore. Glory likes the Modoc Market, a coffee shop with "tasty sandwiches and salads."

Want some dessert? Cross the street to the Charley Creek Inn, which houses a candy shop that also sells ice cream. "They have a fine restaurant, too!"

Your Hoosier History Live team,

Nelson Price, host and creative director
Molly Head, producer, (317) 927-9101
Richard Sullivan, webmaster and tech director
Pam Fraizer, graphic designer
Garry Chilluffo, media+development director
Michael Armbruster, editing and tech associate


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Jan. 21, 2017 show - upcoming

Ask Nelson - and President B. Harrison Site CEO, too

A few times every year, Hoosier History Live opens the phone lines so listeners can inquire about any aspect of our state's heritage.

On these shows, our host Nelson Price is joined by a historian or media colleague who serves as a co-host. This time, with the spotlight on the U.S. presidential inauguration Jan.20, the CEO of the historic site about the only president elected from Indiana will join Nelson to share insights and answer listeners' phone calls.

The co-host will be Charlie Hyde, CEO of the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site in the Old Northside neighborhood of Indianapolis. Harrison, a Republican, was elected in November 1888 and inaugurated during a ceremony after a rain-drenched parade in 1889. Before Harrison headed off to Washington D.C., a parade in Indianapolis was held honor of the Civil War general who served as a U.S. senator from Indiana before his stint in the White House.

Charlie and Nelson also will discuss an unfortunate historic distinction related to the inauguration in 1841 of William Henry Harrison, Benjamin's grandfather. After refusing to don an overcoat, William Henry Harrison, 68, delivered the longest inaugural address in American history.

He died in office about one month later (serving in the White House for the shortest time of any U.S. president), his death blamed on pneumonia resulting from the inauguration. In recent years, though, another possible cause has been identified by historians, as Charlie and Nelson will discuss. (William Henry Harrison was living in Ohio when he was elected to the presidency, although he had been governor of the Indiana Territory as a young man.)

Primarily, though, this show will be your opportunity to call in and ask questions of the co-hosts. The WICR-FM studio number is (317) 788-3314.

Between phone calls, Nelson and Charlie - who both grew up in Indianapolis - will interview each other. Before becoming CEO of the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site in 2014, Charlie served in various capacities at the Indianapolis Zoo and Conner Prairie Interactive History Park.

At the Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site, the public is invited to the grand opening on Jan. 26 of its newest exhibit, New Women of the Harrison Era. A look at "inspiring, notorious and groundbreaking" women during the era (Harrison lived from 1833 to 1901), the exhibit is the first in a partnership with IUPUI.

The Benjamin Harrison Presidential Site also has the olive green dress that Caroline Scott Harrison wore in the inaugural parade; her inaugural ball gown is at the Smithsonian Institution. Mrs. Harrison, Indiana's only First Lady, died in the White House of tuberculosis in 1892.

During the show, Nelson will share insights about the untimely death of another famous Hoosier woman who, like Mrs. Harrison, is featured in his book Indiana Legends (Hawthorne Publishing, 2005). Movie star Carole Lombard, a Fort Wayne native, was killed 75 years ago this month after setting a record selling World War II war bonds in Indianapolis. The airplane Lombard boarded to return to southern California - where her husband Clark Gable was filming a movie - crashed in Nevada.

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