- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 29, 2014

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (AP) - Civil War Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman once said, “War is hell.”

Spencerville author and historical researcher Margaret Hobson says that was perhaps never more true than during that war, now marking its sesquicentennial.

For the past two decades, the 71-year-old retired Fort Wayne Community Schools math teacher has been compiling exhaustive information on one small part of the Civil War - the men of Indiana’s 44th regiment who faced their singular versions of hell after mustering for the Union at Fort Wayne’s Camp Allen in November 1861.

The soldiers, Hobson says, thought they were signing up for a brief adventure, a chance to leave northeast Indiana behind and see the world.

“The men thought it would be a six-week affair, that the Union would win easily, and they thought they would be home to plant crops in the spring. They didn’t realize it would be four years,” she tells The Journal Gazette (http://bit.ly/1rMIfUA ).

Four years of bloody battles, long and underequipped marches across the South, sickness and, of course, death.

Of the 478 men who fought at one of the 44th’s major battles, Shiloh in 1863, 177 were killed or wounded, the highest of any regiment at that battle, one of the bloodiest of the war.

For every soldier of the 44th who died of wounds, two died from disease. About 18 percent of the original 952 enlistees did not make it to war’s end.

Hobson says she learned about the regiment when she began researching her mother’s family history. She found a branch of her mother’s family, the Griffiths of Hamilton in Steuben County, had three brothers who served in the Union Army. One went into the 44th, and when she found a regimental history compiled by its surgeon, she started reading it.

“I was just sucked in,” she says.

Wanting to share the information with her family, she made a copy of the rare book. And, curiosity piqued, she started following trails to learn more about each of the regiment’s soldiers, who eventually numbered 2,012.

She went to the Indiana State Archives in Indianapolis - where she found original muster rolls of eight of the 10 companies - the state library and the Indiana Historical Society. She combed regional newspapers’ archives for soldiers’ obituaries, war coverage and letters to the editor they had written while serving.

She made trips to the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and used online genealogical sources. She created her own computer database to keep track of the soldiers, nearly 100 of whom had signed their enlistment papers with an “X” because they could not read or write.

As her research continued, Hobson was often led to the soldiers’ descendants and their own historical troves - from portraits and photos to letters and diaries, including eight diaries from men from the DeKalb County area alone.

“People were very generous. I don’t think I was ever turned down,” Hobson says of the frequent requests she made for information.

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