Huntington County's Civil War Refuge

By Eric Olson

May 20, 2011 Updated May 20, 2011 at 3:39 PM EDT

HUNTINGTON, Indiana (Indiana's NewsCenter)--The soldiers who fought the Civil War came home as traumatized as any soldier returning from battle today, except in 1865 traumatic stress syndrome was unheard of, and there was no place that offered therapy..with one important exception.

Until the last one died in 1937 this room was home away from home for Huntington County Civil War veterans…the G.A.R. Room, the Grand Army of the Republic room, at the Huntington County courthouse…looking precisely as it did when Civil War veterans packed in once a month to reminisce, hear speeches, plan parades and relive the conflict that made them all brothers.

“Unbreakable bonds,” says Huntington historian Gib Young, “men who had a shared history of danger and deprivation and sacrifice. They did not want to lose a lot of the associations that meant so much to them during the war.”

Every county in the North had a G.A.R. room but few were as grand as this, decorated with corps badges and battle names and portraits of union generals...and old Abe. This was no clubhouse however. The men who met here had survived a living hell. The camaraderie they found in this room was the only therapy they were likely to get. Men like Sam Zent from Roanoke, the first from his town to enlist. Or John Harris of the 34th Indiana Volunteers, here with his wife Mary. Men who grew up on a battlefield, came home to build a community together and, once a month, muster again with their aging band of brothers.

“And so the G.A.R. to them was a time when they would meet,” says Young, “and they wouldn’t be quite so old, the aches and pains in the knees would feel quite as strong or as severe, in their minds at least they were young men again, vital and alive to the world.”

In 1937 the last of the Huntington gar post, Private Edwin Sexton, passed on. Since then county leaders have treasured this place, keeping it as it was when old soldiers filled it with their pipe smoke and their laughter, voices long silent now, with just this room to speak for them. This is Eric Olson reporting.

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