INside Story

Historian reflects on Civil War siege of southern Indiana town

We’re taking a look back at Indiana history. All this week, News 8’s Adam Pinsker is taking a look at Indiana’s role in the Civil War. This is the second of five entries in our latest INside Story series.

Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5

CORYDON, Ind. (WISH) — During the Civil War there were only two battles fought north of the Mason-Dixon Line: Gettysburg, and a smaller, lesser-known invasion of the southern Indiana town of Corydon. 

On July 7, 1863, Confederate General John Hunt Morgan crossed the Ohio River from Kentucky into Harrison County, Indiana. 

“You’ve got 2,400 troops, you got that many horses. You got to have a way to get them across the river,” Karen Schwartz, President of the Harrison County Historical Society said.

To make it across the river,  Morgan hijacked a steamship.

“They used it as a decoy, then they ran up a distress flag over toward the Kentucky bank, to signal that they were in distress,” Schwartz said.  

The ploy worked and once on land, the troops, their horses and artillery fanned out and headed 15 miles inland for Corydon. Just short of town, Morgan’s troops engaged, not soldiers from the union, but members of the Indiana Legion led by Lewis Jordan. 

“So you’ve got these 450 volunteer recruit-type people lined up all the way across and here he comes with artillery, he’s got cannons and horses,” Schwartz said.

With Jordan’s outfit severely outnumbered, he surrendered to Morgan’s forces. Most of them were captured, although some escaped.

“Morgan and his men didn’t have very many resources, it’s not like today where you have all these supply wagons and things like that,” Schwartz said.

As a result, Morgan’s troops captured Red’s Mill near downtown, which is now a general store. They held it until its owner paid a ransom. 

“This guy paid the ransom, and they paid $800 so the mill was spared,” Schwartz said.

When the dust settled, eight home guard and civilians were killed, five Confederate soldiers were killed, one of which is buried in a cemetery in Corydon. 

The whole engagement lasted about an hour as word got out that Union reinforcements were on the way, Morgan’s troops headed north where they ransacked the town of Salem in Washington County. 

 “Most accounts say that Salem was the hardest hit of any of the towns,” Schwartz said.

Morgan eventually led his forces into Ohio, where they were defeated by Union forces, he was capture but eventually escaped from prison.

While most know Corydon more as Indiana’s first state capital, locals are well aware of their town’s role in a brief but scary event in the Civil War. 

“On a national level, I always feel like well how is this not recognized, but then again, sometimes you’ll see it called the skirmish,” Schwartz said.