Certain moments stand out in my memory: the radio in the lunchroom of my elementary school announcing that President Reagan had been shot, the TV in my middle school showing pictures of the space shuttle Challenger exploding in the sky, the TVs at my office broadcasting live footage as the second airplane crashed into the twin towers.
Surely I am not alone in remembering these moments. At certain times, people all over America focus their attention on one shocking event. Radio, TV and the internet pull us together as a nation instantaneously and provide a shared experience that shapes us and changes us.
Last week, I listened to news reports of the 25th anniversary of the Challenger tragedy, accompanied by President Reagan’s enduring words: “The crew of the space shuttle Challenger honored us by the manner in which they lived their lives. We will never forget them, nor the last time we saw them, this morning, as they prepared for their journey and waved goodbye and ‘slipped the surly bonds of earth’ to ‘touch the face of God.'” Reflecting on where I was 25 years ago when I heard that news caused me to wonder about what shared moments my ancestors may have had.
Shared experiences in the past must have typically been local or regional. Although newspapers could provide news of intense moments from all over the country and even the world, the intensity would be dulled by the passing of time. Newspapers were limited by the communication technology of the time, and for most of our nation’s history it took days and weeks for news to travel.
But local events could be shared. If something intense happened in a certain town, the citizens would surely remember how they were changed by it.
My three-times-great grandfather, Way J. Bennett, and two of my four-times-great uncles, Enos and Lyman Diltz, played a part in such a shared experience.
On July 8, 1863 word reached Indianapolis that Morgan’s Raiders–a force of several thousand cavalry under Confederate General John Hunt Morgan–had crossed the Ohio River and were heading toward Corydon. A call went out for citizens to organize a defense and thousands of young men volunteered. Among them were Way Bennett and Enos and Lyman Diltz.
Company F of the 105th Indiana Volunteer Infantry was organized from July 10 to July 12, 1863. This company contained scores of young men from Wayne County, Indiana who came forward to defend their state–including Way and Enos and Lyman.
Upon organizing, the 105th left immediately for Lawrenceburg. They marched from Morris station to Sunman’s station to Van Wedden’s station, chasing Morgan and his raiders all the way. They pursued Morgan’s forces across the state line to near Harrison, Ohio.
A report that Morgan was on his way back to Lawrenceburg brought the regiment out to check him on July 15th. As they were getting into position on that night, some indiscriminate firing occurred and in the confusion of the moment six men were killed and eighteen wounded.
Lester Horowitz writes about this tragic incident in his book The Longest Raid of the Civil War:
Col. Kline G. Shryock, commanding the 105th IN Volunteers was ordered to take a position half a mile in the rear. About nine o’clock at night, while marching to the assigned position, the 105th came around a short curve in the road. In the darkness, the 104th saw the advance of the 105th and mistook it for Morgan’s men, who were actually thirty miles away on the outskirts of Cincinnati. They began shooting, and the 105th returned the fire. Col. Shryock immediately sensed what was happening. Impervious to the fusillade of bullets, he rode along the road, yelling at his men to stop shooting and killing one another. Although he was promptly obeyed, it was too late to prevent a serious catastrophe. Before the firing subsided, six men were killed…Eighteen were wounded…The next day, the Cincinnati Daily Enquirer reported, “They had been lively and jubilant during the evening, but the termination was a sad one.”
Within days, the regiment returned to Indianapolis and was mustered out.
The Civil War years (1861-1865) were probably filled with memorable events for many Americans. Nothing shapes a person like finding out someone you know and love has been killed. Or learning that your town is under threat.
For the residents of eastern Indiana, that one week in July 1863 may have been most memorable of all.