Research leads to book on Ind. Civil War regiment

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AUBURN, Ind. (AP) — When Margaret Hobson began delving into her mother's family history, she discovered a nugget of information that catapulted her into spending the next 20 years researching the Civil War: her relative, Lewis Griffith, served in the 44th Indiana Regiment.

Intrigued by Griffith, she began compiling information about him, and about the other men of the 44th.

In November, Hobson, published her 350-page reference book, "The Iron Men of Indiana's 44th Regiment Part 1," detailing the lives of the more than 2,000 men who served from northeast Indiana.

The 44th was formed from eight northeast Indiana counties: Allen, DeKalb, Steuben, LaGrange, Noble, Whitley, Kosciusko and Elkhart.

They began active service on Nov. 22, 1861, and left Fort Wayne in December.

The regiment fought in major campaigns in Tennessee at Fort Donelson, Shiloh, Stones River and Chickamauga.

At one point during their service, they marched more than 800 miles from Mississippi through Alabama to Tennessee until their reached their destination at Perryville, Ky., where Union troops fought against Confederate Gen. Braxton Bragg.

In her research, Hobson discovered that DeKalb County had no deserters in the Civil War, something she credits to those men being recruited in families.

She also learned that the counties of Steuben and LaGrange sent more men than any other counties, in relation to population.

The book lists brief biographies of the regiment's men: when they were born, when they enlisted, injuries they sustained, their physical description, occupation, and who they married.

As a retired mathematics teacher, Hobson was meticulous in compiling information, providing a micro look at each individual, and a macro look at the organization, with charts and graphs detailing things such as the voting records of the men, and the overall average height of the regiment.

To gather her information, Hobson went to the Indiana State Archives and looked at the original muster rolls, documents that are 150 years old.

Hobson said at first she was not granted access, because of the documents' age, but eventually was given permission.

Hobson, who lives in Spencerville, near the Allen-DeKalb county line, routinely used the Allen County Public Library's genealogy center for information.

She visited the Indiana State Library and the Indiana State Historical Society and traveled to the National Archives in Washington, D.C. six times, staying a week each time.

She also visited every library in the Tenth Congressional district at the time of the war to search through newspapers on microfilm. She collected articles and letters to the editor that made any mention of the 44th.

Hobson realized that men of the Civil War were troubled, as she learned about men who deserted and were court-martialed.

The 44th Regiment went through five commanders, and each had his own battles, Hobson said. Two of them were forced out.

The first commander, Col. Hugh B. Reed of Fort Wayne, ended up a broken man and moved East. Hobson was given letters from his family and called them "heartbreaking."

Hobson said Reed could have been a general if he would not have been "a little bit of hothead."

"The men loved him," she told The Star of Auburn (http://bit.ly/SFpzpp ). "The war made some men and destroyed others."

Griffith, who spurred Hobson's interest in the Civil War, did not have an impeccable record. Griffith was court-martialed three times for talking back to an officer, drunkenness and gambling with the troops.

"My first impulse was to hide it," she said. But she realized that time had passed and it was important to be true to history.

"We forget that the United States is together because of the Civil War that forced the states to be together," Hobson said.

The second commander of the 44th, Col. William C. Williams of Noble County, dealt with allegations of desertion and an upset woman.

Williams, a doctor from Wolf Lake, was named the captain of Company G. He led his company in the battle of Shiloh and the regiment at Stones River until he was captured by the Rebels and sent to Libby Prison in Virginia.

He was eventually freed during a prisoner exchange and rejoined the unit before resigning in July 1863.

After he was released from Libby Prison, he stayed in Philadelphia near his mother. However, it became known that Williams had secretly married the daughter of a former attorney in 1855.

He never lived with her, and left her immediately and even changed his name to hide from her. When he came to Indiana, he divorced her in Adams County without her knowledge.

When his ex-wife found out he was staying in Philadelphia, she tried to have him arrested for desertion. He was jailed for a short time, but the head general sent him back to fight in the war.

After the war, he became the clerk of Noble County, and in 1880 decided to run for office. When his ex-wife discovered this, she began writing to Indianapolis newspapers, calling him a deserter, and threatening to come to Indiana. At this time, Williams was married and had two children.

According to Hobson, Williams wrote in a letter that he had endured a shipwreck, measles and living next door to a guy learning to play the tuba, but as bad those events were, "he could never live with that woman."

Writing the regiment's history has been time-consuming, Hobson said. Midway through the process, Hobson was diagnosed with stage 4 colon cancer and given six months to live. Today, she is completely cancer-free.

"The project allowed me to take my mind off it," Hobson said.

Even though she is finished with the book, Hobson is not satisfied. It could be her meticulous self that does not like missing information, but Hobson could not find the burial location of 212 soldiers, and she wants to index the names of the soldiers' wives, something she did not think of doing before.

In her second book, she wants to take a look at the organization of the regiment, such as the stages of recruitment, and the time leading up to the war.

She has given copies of her reference book to the Butler Public Library, Eckhart Public Library and Allen County Public Library. She plans to give more copies to other area libraries.

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Information from: The (Auburn, Ind.) Star, http://www.dekalbstar.com

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