The 73rd Indiana Volunteer Infantry Regiment was created after disastrous loss at the Battles of 1st Manassas and Shiloh, when President Lincoln realized he was facing not a brief Union Army seizure of the seceded Confederate States, but a major, protracted, war. He called for an additional 300,000 Union volunteers on July 1, 1862.
Governor Morton of Indiana almost immediately asked that each congressional district raise at least one regiment. South Bend, in the 9th Congressional District, was represented by Schuyler Colfax. Three regiments were actually recruited from the area. The 73rd had men from Lake, LaPorte, Porter, St. Joe, Marshall and Cass counties. Within three weeks over 1,010 men were formed into companies and mustered in to the Union Army on August 16, 1862.
Company A was raised from the Crown Point and Lowell areas, B from LaPorte, C from South Bend, Companies D and F were from Plymouth, E was from Chesterton which was known as Calumet at that time, G and H from Logansport, I from Valparaiso and K from Michigan City.
During this time the 87th and the 99th Indiana Volunteer Infantry Regiments were also being formed and mustered in to the Union Army at Camp Rose, which during the 1860's was the St. Joe County fairgrounds. A historical plaque currently marks this site in South Bend at the corner of Portage and Leland Streets
Gilbert Hathaway, a lawyer from LaPorte, was assigned as Colonel, the 73rd Regiment's Commander. Alfred B. Wade, from South Bend, was assigned as Adjutant. A silk Regimental flag was presented to the 73rd by Mr. and Mrs. Schuyler Colfax.
The new soldiers of the 73rd left South Bend, after just two weeks training, to reinforce Union troops opposed by Southern forces under General Braxton Bragg during the Confederate invasion of Kentucky.
Upon their arrival in Kentucky the 73rd was assigned to the Army of the Ohio, led by General Don Carlos Buell, and ordered to pursue Southern troops commanded by General Braxton Bragg, which evolved into the Battle of Perryville, KY on October 8, 1862. The 73rd Indiana Regiment did not fight in the Perryville battle, but was held in reserve on an overlooking hill. As Confederate forces retreated, the 73rd was ordered to march over the battlefield pursuing the retreating Southern forces. Records do not describe it, but it was here these new soldiers got their first look at the horrors of war.
After Southern forces escaped, the men of the new 73rd Indiana Regiment participated in a long, exhausting march to Nashville, Tennessee. During this time Colonel Wade's diary reflects unrest in the Army of the Ohio in regard to Buell's failure to pressure Bragg after the Union victory at Perryville. A few of the soldiers even questioned Buell's loyalty to the Washington government and felt he was intentionally letting the Confederate army escape. This unease was also felt by others in the War Department and Buell was replaced by General William Rosecrans. These Union troops were reorganized as the Army of the Cumberland.
General Rosecrans attacked Confederate General Bragg at the Battle Stones River, Murfreesboro, Tennessee on December 31st, 1862. The 73rd and the 51st Indiana Volunteer Regiments played a key role early in the battle. In fact, the 73rd was one of the first Regiments to cross Stone’s River, attempting to engage Confederate forces at night. The Battle of Stones River was a terrible slaughter with the Army of the Cumberland estimated to have lost around 13,000 casualties while Confederate General Bragg's army had nearly 10,000. However the Southern advance had been stopped.
After Stones River the 73rd and 51st Indiana along with the 3rd Ohio and 80th Illinois were organized into a "Provisional Brigade," better recalled as the Raid of Streight’s Brigade, under the command of Colonel Abel David Streight (from the 51st Indiana Regiment) for a raid deep into Southern territory aimed at small manufacturing centers, and the railroad from Rome, Georgia to Chattanooga, Tennessee, in preparation for the Battle of Atlanta.
To accomplish their goal, Colonel Streight proposed mounting his infantry regiments for a fast moving strike at Southern strategic sites. However a shortage of good horses forced the Union troops to utilize, what turned out to be, very young, unbroken mules. Combined with an uncoordinated and tardy initial advance Streight’s Raiders were soon fighting for their very lives in enemy territory.
At the Battle of Blount's Farm, a night’s march short of the target of Rome, Georgia, the Brigade was surrounded by a smaller, more mobile force of Confederate Cavalry under the leadership of General Nathan Bedford Forrest, and seemingly tricked to surrender. A greater truth, though, is that they had no more ammunition or food and were physically exhausted by marching four days and nights without sleep.
It was at the fierce Battle of Blount's Farm, near Gadsden, Alabama, in the late afternoon of May 2, 1863 that Colonel Gilbert Hathaway, the Commanding Officer of the 73rd Regiment, was killed. A number of others of the Brigade, incloudig Pvt. Samuel White of the 73rd Indiana’s Company A, died with him.
After surrender, the brigade was sent as prisoners to Richmond, Virginia where the officers, including Colonel Streight and Major Wade, were held at the infamous Libby Prison. However, the enlisted men were soon exchanged and the 73rd was reformed at Indianapolis in December of 1863.
Colonel Streight was involved in a daring escape from Libby Prison, the largest Prison breakout of the Civil War, and returned to lead the 51st.
Colonel Wade was released in exchange for a Confederate officer brought about by the intervention of Schuyler Colfax, Speaker of the House of Representatives, and a fellow member of Wade's church. After rejoining the 73rd in 1864, Colonel Wade assumed command and the unit was assigned to duty as an occupying force along the Tennessee River in North Alabama until the end of the war.
The 73rd was mustered out of the Union Army at Nashville, Tennessee on July 1,1865 having lost 3 officers and 41 enlisted men due to mortal wounds. Another 191 died from various diseases. After the war Colonel Wade became a prominent lawyer and the postmaster of South Bend (the position his good friend Schuyler Colfax once held) until his accidental drowning in the Kankakee River near Crum's Point, (now Crum's Town) in early 1877.
By Michael P. Downs