One of the regiments seeing its first action at Fort Donelson was the 44th Indiana. Part of Lew Wallace’s division, the 44th was recruited from northeast Indiana and coalesced at Fort Wayne. Under Colonel Hugh Reed, the 44th left Fort Wayne on November 23, 1861 for the front. (Among the enlisted in Company H was one of my ancestors, Samuel Eiman.)
Before Reed took his regiment out of camp to catch a train to Indianapolis, F.P. Randall, mayor of Fort Wayne, gave a fiery speech to the assembled men, congratulating them on their appearance and devotion to country. He also presented the regiment its national colors, saying: “To it patriotism now looks with ardent hopes, and upon it hang the destines of this nation.”
At the end of his speech, Randall indulged in a ritual with the men of the 44th, one perhaps unique to any unit in the war:
And now, before placing it in your hands, I desire to ask a few questions, to which you will please give audible answers.
Do you solemnly promise to love this flag? [Yes.]
Do you promise to honor it? [Yes.]
Do you promise to obey it? [Yes.]
Do you promise to sustain and defend it, even unto death? [Yes.]
I then, in this presence and before these witnesses, solemnly join you to the American Flag; and what we have now joined together let not Jeff Davis or his minions put asunder.
The memory of this moment lingered among the Hoosiers of the 44th. Surgeon John H. Rerick recorded Randall’s entire speech and exchange in his 1880 regimental history.
And with that, the 44th Indiana went to war – to Fort Donelson, Shiloh, First Corinth, Kentucky, Stones River, Tullahoma, Chickamauga, and Chattanooga. In the fall of 1862 the colors were exchanged for new ones, which were used until war’s end. Today the unit’s flags are preserved in Indianapolis.