An Old Courthouse Houses Civil War Treasures in Shoals, Indiana

by Andrew Vibbert and Pamela Pierce

The Martin County History Museum in Shoals, Indiana is housed within the old court house. Ten years ago the Martin County court house moved to a new location, and no longer needing the building, the county planned to tear the old court house down. It was at this time the Martin County Historical Society stepped in to save the building.

Since being taken over, the building has been transformed into a museum. It is a museum where the visitors can wonder through different rooms filled with intimate historical artifacts, such as dresses, battle uniforms, buttons, eyeglasses, and typewriters. There is also a small collection of antique books with particular emphasis on religious fiction. Names of donors are attached to each object and visitors gain an understanding of the influential families in Shoals and Martin County.

Civil War artifacts include a letter written by Jesse Warren Potts to his daughter, Sarah Elizabeth Potts. There is also a certificate of service signed by Abraham Lincoln and his secretary of war, Edwin Stanton and presented to Corporal Silas Bernard. Civil War uniforms, one a Lieutenant and the other a Chaplin, were discovered in a nearby barn and also brought to the history museum. A small photo album showed a military officer in 1865. Visitors to the Martin County History Museum piece together a story of a small town and its role within a pivotal period of American history.

The county of Martin, Indiana, had two cases of involvement in two ways. The first was an unfortunate accident of a train carrying Union soldiers from Illinois destined for Washington D.C. on September 17, 1861. Just outside of Shoal, as the train crossed over a creek at night, the bridge collapsed causing four of the six train cars to plummet into the creek. It is believed that the bridge was intentionally weakened by Southern sympathizers in order to cause the accident.

The counties second involvement once again dealt with Southern sympathizers. In the spring of 1864 Jackson Ballard, a local, and a few men were sent to Shoals in order to track down some men who were deserting, not coming back from their furloughs, and were rumored to have involvement with the Knights of the Golden Circle, a northern group of Southern sympathizers in support of slavery. After arriving Ballard and the two young men reached a fork in the road. The two young men went one way and Ballard went the opposite. It was not a few minutes after separating that the two young men heard the sound of rifles and went to investigate. It was there that they discovered the body of Ballard. It was believed to be the actions of the Knights of the Golden Circle. While two men were charged no confession was ever obtained.

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Special thanks to Jim Marshall, President of the Martin County Historical Society.

This is the final part in a series of posts celebrating American Archives Month. In recognition of both the Indiana University College of Arts and Sciences Themester “Making War, Making Peace,” and the Civil War Sesquicentennial, the IU Society of American Archivists Student Chapter is visiting repositories in southern Indiana to highlight materials related to the Civil War.

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About SAA-SC IUB

The Society of American Archivists Indiana University Student Chapter seeks to: *provide a forum to address issues in the archival profession in an informal and relaxed atmosphere. *facilitate a meeting place for students with interests in Archives, Special Collections, Manuscripts, or Personal Papers. *raise awareness about archives and their importance in the university and surrounding community.
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