The story of the Harman brothers: Five go to war, only two return


Jun 27, 2020
The Civil War was hard on the Harman Family. They had lost sons in the war, and the father, Michael Harman, is said to have died of a broken heart.

Michael and his wife Nancy Harman's owned a farm near Cross Plains, Indiana, in Ripley County. This was on the southeastern corner of Indiana, near the Kentucky and Ohio borders. When the war began five of Michael's sons answered the call of duty to serve in the Union Army: John, David, Thomas, George and Joseph. Only David and Thomas lived through it.

David, Joseph and John Harman served in the 6th Reg. Indiana Infantry, Company K.

Their commanding officer was Captain Charles C. Briant. He would later report that company K was made up of men who had left Madison, Indiana, on Oct 9, under the charge of Lieutenant-Colonel Hiram Prather. They probably went down the river to Louisville by boat and then by train into Kentucky. They met up with the 6th Regiment just north of Elizabethtown. It was there that Company K was formed and attached to the 6th Reg. The Regiment quickly moved to just south of Elizabethtown near the Nolin river. This area would become Camp Nevin.

Camp Nevin, occupied six miles along the Nolin River near Glendale, Kentucky It was home to more than 13,000 Union soldiers in the fall and winter of 1861. It was there that the new recruits of the 6th Reg. were put to their paces to learn how to be soldiers.

The timeline gets a little sketchy here. The men served on duty around the Nolin river and on nearby Bacon Creek sometime from October until mid December. They may have come and gone from Camp Nevin several times. Captain Briant implies they went to Bacon Creek and place nearby that the boys called “Camp Groundhog” after Thanksgiving, but the timeline isn’t clear.

The conditions were dreadful. About Camp Groundhog, Captain Briant wrote,

“While at this camp many contracted sickness, and were sent to the rear, some never to return. … Who can tell how many poor fellows contracted their death in these ‘dirty mud holes.’”

Of Bacon Creek he recalled,

“It’s safe to say that there was not one man in ten who had not contracted chronic diarrhea … A very considerable number of the regiment had measles at this camp, from which furloughs were granted, and eventually discharges given. In fact, measles had broken out back at Camp Nevin, and at one time there were so many men down with that disease that drills had to be discontinued.”

More than 900 soldiers of various regiments died of diseases while stationed at Camp Nevin. Among those to sicken there it seems was John Harman.An account of John’s final days, has survived in the widow pension papers of John's wife, Mildred “Milly” D. Blackwell Harman. John was the only one of the brothers who was married. The papers report that John enlisted Sept. 15, 1861, in Ripley County and he then joined the 6th Reg on Oct. 10. His son, John Jr., was born a month later on Nov. 13.

Included in the records are several affidavits testifying as to what happened. Captain Briant’s states that John took ill with Typhoid Fever, around Nov. 29, 1861, while the regiment was at Camp Nevin. Typhoid Fever is spread through contaminated food and water, which given Captain Briant’s report of living conditions around Camp Nevin and Bacon Creek, the fact that water and food might have been poor is not surprising.

John was sent home on furlough back to Ripley County. The attending physician in John's last days, a John M. Sweenzy, testified that John died "on or about the 28th day of December" in Ripley County. Although, some of the papers included in the pension files put his death on the 29th or as late as Jan. 4, 1862.

David Harman’s affidavit says specifically that the illness was “contracted at Camp Nevin” and that it had been brought about from “cold and exposure.”

The immediate aftermath of John's death, as hard as it may have been on the Harman family, John's death may not have been the first.


In mid July, 1861, the 22nd Reg. Indiana Volunteer Infantry was organized at Camp Nobel outside Madison, Indiana, 24 miles southwest of Cross Plains. After receiving their marching orders around Aug. 15 they moved to Indianapolis where they were supplied and formally mustered in under the leadership of, the unfortunately named, Col. Jefferson C. Davis who was later promoted to Brigadier General. Among those present were likely two of Michael's sons.

Thomas Harman was a member of the 22nd Reg. Indiana Infantry, Company K. The roster reported his residence, as well as a George Harman's, as Cross Plains. This George was almost certainly his brother. The two men joined the regiment on Aug. 15, 1861 along with the rest of the regiment.

Their assignment was to go to Missouri. The 22nd Reg. left Indianapolis by rail Aug. 17 and arrived at St. Louis the following day.

They were moved throughout Missouri chasing the forces of Confederate general Sterling Price. The 22nd saw a little action near Glasgow, but they were primarily stationed near Ottersville. This area was significant because it represented the end of the Pacific railroad line, the Union’s vital supply line back to St. Louis. It had to be protected if the Union was to hold onto Missouri.

After a brief trip to Springfield, the 22nd returned to their positions along the Pacific railroad before Nov. 20, 1861.

It’s not entirely clear what happened to Thomas and George Harman at this point, but the published regimental roster states that George “died at Syracuse, Mo.” The rosters don’t give much information, not even a date, but it is notable that the verb “died” is used and not the word “killed.” But in this case "died" probably means died of disease. While other published regimental rosters noted explicitly if the person died of disease, the 22nd's rosters didn’t.

Syracuse was about 10 mile east of Ottersville on the Pacific railroad line. There were skirmishes and gorilla-warfare in the area, so such a death cannot as yet be entirely ruled out, but it seems unlikely.

Although the roster does not give a date of death for George, a family chart likely created by my great-grandfather around 1950 put George's death on Dec. 11, 1861. While this date has not been verified by any other documents, it does seem likely. The regiment roster lists at least nine other members of the 22nd who died at Syracuse, from Nov 30, 1861 to Jan. 18, 1862. Two of these soldiers died on the same day, but the other seven deaths were spread out over this period. The family record of George dying Dec. 11, 1861, fits perfectly with this data, confirming that members of the 22nd were stationed in Syracuse on that date.

Was it guerrilla warfare that killed George Harman, or more likely disease like his brother John? The answer is yet unknown.

In 2017, the town of Syracuse placed a marker at the cemetery by the Baptist church. More than 100 unknown soldiers from both sides are buried in an unmarked section of the cemetery. George Harman is probably among them.

"We don't know any names of the 100 buried here, but they're not forgotten," Rev. Harold Nicks, pastor of First Baptist Church, said in 2017. "One hundred fifty years later, we remember those young, brave heroes."


Joseph Harman, the youngest of the Harman brothers who served in the Union army, was also a member of the 6th Reg. Indiana Infantry with his brothers John and David. After the 6th Reg. Left the Nolin River area they moved south to serve on the Green River and then in mid February they marched on Nashville arriving there around March 3. But all was not well. The poor conditions finally caught up with Joseph Harman. The exact nature of the malady is unknown but the regimental roster states he "died March 14, '62, [of] disease.” As he was likely buried in Ripley County, Indiana, it seems likely he too had been furloughed home. He was probably only 18 years old.

Little is known about Joseph’s final days. When did he fall ill? When did he arrive home? But what can be guessed at is the sorrow his condition likely brought to the extended family. Because there was another tragedy in the family that March. Their father Michael Harman died March 9, a couple of days before Joseph’s ultimate death. It seems likely Joseph returned home sick and the shock was too much for Michael to handle. The family story about Michael dying of a broken heart, might not be that far from the truth. In less than four months the family appears to have lost four members.

John, Joseph and Michael Harman are likely buried at Overturf Family-Glaze Cemetery a couple miles southwest of Cross Plains, but this has not been confirmed. The location of George's grave is unknown, but is likely in that unmarked section by the Syracuse Baptist Church.

A probate was filed that March of Michael’s estate that reported that he owned “one wheat field” worth $40, another worth $20, one-third of eight acres of wheat worth $7 and a “small lot” of wheat worth $2. But no other land appears to have been listed in the inventory.

A public sale of Michael’s personal property was held June 6. This was likely to pay off debts on the estate, although many of the items were purchased by Thomas F. Spencer, Nancy Harman’s brother, often on behalf of his sister. For example, 20 acres of wheat was sold for $53.50 and one-third of seven acres of wheat for $12.50. Both were purchased by Nancy using credit from her brother. It seems Thomas was trying to help the family pay off whatever debt they had. The items sold encompassed more than half of Michael’s personal property. The combined inventory of Michael’s estate was reported as $1,035.65. The whole amount of items sold was $581.85, leaving a difference of $454.80.

Three years earlier the census had reported that Michael owned $7,500 in real estate and $1,500 in personal property. Had something happened in that time to change the family fortunes?

Although Nancy Harman theoretically owned the farm land. Working the farm may have been a challenge. The only male member of the family not dead and still at home was 10-year-old Winfield Scott Harman. Did Nancy and her three teenage daughters run the farm themselves? Did neighbors help?


Beyond the personal tragedy, probably the most dramatic event of the Civil War to affect Ripley County, happened in the summer of 1863.

Confederate general John Hunt Morgan took a raiding party of 2,460 confederate cavalrymen into the north. The group departed Sparta, Tennessee, on June 11 and reached the Indiana border near Brandenburg, Kentucky, on July 8, where they seized two steamboats and crossed the Ohio River into Indiana.

Sixty miles away from Sparta, Tennessee, Thomas Harman was likely stationed with the 22nd at Murfressburo. Days before Morgan departed Sparta, Thomas was discharged from the army on May 31, 1863. The reason he was discharged is unknown. The rest of the 22nd would serve another two years.

Most likely it was because of some debilitating injury. Soldiers were often discharged for disability, but the roster usually noted that fact. It’s also possible the death of his father and brothers put him inline for an early release. And with Confederate troops heading north, perhaps there were early warnings that Thomas would be needed at home?

Whatever Thomas’ reason for early discharge. As June progressed into July the threat that Morgan and his raiders posed to Ripley County, intensified. The radiers entered Ripley County on Sunday, July 13, 1863. The Ripley County Historical Society reported that they looted a general store in Rexville, about 4 miles from the Harman's likely home.

Gen. Morgan and his troops continued their trek northwest to the county seat of Versailles, 10 miles north of Cross Plains. Local citizens met the raiders with their weapons but the confederate troops prevailed and disarmed them. The raiders looted the treasurer’s offices. Some reports say several thousands of dollars was taken. However, the deputy county treasurer, Benjamin F. Spencer, who was probably Nancy Harman's first cousin, is said to have buried at least some county funds to keep them safe from the invaders.

Morgan and his troops continued east, and crossed into Ohio. They were eventually forced to surrender in northeastern Ohio.

It isn’t known if any of the Harman family interacted directly with the raiders, or if they had attempted to flee the area before their arrival.

David Harman was eventually mustered out with the rest of the 6th Regiment on Sept 22, 1864, right after the Battle of Chickamauga. He did not continue with veterans of his regiment into the 68th. It seems likely he returned home to Indiana.

Nancy Harman struggled in the years after the war. She took her four youngest children, including my 2nd great-grandmother to homestead in Kansas. But after several misfortunes there, including the death of another son in an accident on the farm, the homestead was relinquished. It looks like Nancy may have ended up in the poor house for a time. She eventually came to live with my 2nd great-grandmother's family. In 1890 she applied for an army pension citing the death of her son Joseph. It seems to have been granted, but I'm not certain. Nancy died in 1897.

Thomas and David stayed in Indiana. David died in 1901 and Thomas in 1917.


Why was Thomas discharged? Did George die of disease? I really hope I can eventually get the CMSR records for the five brothers and that I can get some answers there. Fold3 has pension cards for Thomas, Joseph and David. And the full widows application with documents for John.

Can I confirm if Michael, John and Joseph are buried at Overturf family cemetery? There's an issue at Find a Grave vs a transcription of the graves there from the 1930s – The names on the two lists don't match at all. Is it even the same cemetery? Or have the Harman tombstones been lost or deteriorated? My requests for photos at Find a Grave have been ignored. I'm looking to see if I can hire someone through the historical society there.

Did Nancy Harman get a pension from her son Joseph? Does the existence of a pension card imply the pension was granted? And does this mean that the pension application still exists someplace even if it isn't digitized?

And I'm always looking for information about the 22nd and the 6th Indiana. I have a lot more about the regiments, but this was already too long. (special note to the story of the 22nd Indiana at Perryville which sadly didn't make the cut). I'll put the rest of my sources in comment later.

Picture: Center: John Harman; Top left going clockwise: David, George, Joseph and Thomas Harman.

Harman group.jpg


2nd Lieutenant
Forum Host
Apr 18, 2019
Wow - you've got a great amount of information. I can see why those few holes are so frustrating. I believe if there is a pension card there was an application - the National Archives is where to check

JPK Huson 1863

Brev. Brig. Gen'l
Feb 14, 2012
Central Pennsylvania
Yes, you've done an amazing job! What a dreadful family story though, goodness. The war really did make a shambles of a lot of families.

You know, if you know what church they attended you may find help there? it probably depends on who gets your email ( or phone call ) but church records are incredibly good sources and I've found pastors, secretaries etc. terribly helpful with this stuff. May even find personal notes " died of disease ", even if George perished elsewhere. Sometimes it'll be a church that no longer exists in which case their records will be folded in with another church.

Bet it's safe assuming George died of disease. 1861. There was quite a big scandal when it was ascertained how filthy camps had become, or had been allowed to become hence " The Sanitary Commission ". They literally cleaned things up, appalled at how many men were being killed by the diseases rampaging through dirty camps.

We have several members who are awfully good at connecting dots, finding information and linking helpful sources- guessing one or more of them will be along soon!


Jun 27, 2020
Thank you so much for you kind words and tips!

I promised to share my sources, so here they are. These aren't formatted right, but here's a brief bibliography of my main sources. Of these, I would definitely recommend Briant's history of the 6th Reg (#1 on this list). He's a much better writer than average, and his account is full of colorful details of army life. Marshall's shorter piece on the 22nd Reg. just looks poor in comparison.

I'll also note that John's widow Milly appears to have had quite an interesting life after the war (see #2). She went on to be married four more times! Of the four, two ended in the death of her husband and two ended in divorce. The widow's pension application shows how she had to provide proof of her continued identity every time a marriage ended and she was again in need of support.

1 — History of the Sixth Regiment Indiana Volunteer Infantry: of both the three months' and three years' services
by Briant, C. C. (Charles C.)
Publication date 1891
Publisher Indianapolis : W.B. Burford, printer and binder
Contributor: University of California Libraries
Accessed June 14, 2020
(most of the material I used is from chapter 4)

2 — Case Files of Approved Pension Applications of Widows and Other Dependents of Civil War Veterans, ca. 1861 - ca. 1910
The National Archives, Indiana
Accessed April 5, 2019
Page 50 and 51

3 — Indiana, Wills and Probate Records, 1798-1999
Complete Probate Book, Vol 2-4, 1861-1867 Indiana, Wills and Probate Records, 1798-1999 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Operations, Inc., 2015.
Original data:Indiana County, District and Probate Courts.
Accessed July 9, 2020
Images 227-236

4 — Marker honors town's sacrifices, role in Civil War
Jefferson City News Tribune
July 12, 2017
Accessed June 29, 2020

5 — Report of the Adjutant General of the state of Indiana
by Indiana. Adjutant General's Office. cn; Terrell, William H. H
Indianapolis, A.H. Connor [etc.] State Printer, 1865
Accessed June 30, 2020
Page 517

6 — An historical sketch of the Twenty-Second Regiment Indiana Volunteers, from its organization to the close of the war, its battles, its marches, and its hardships, its brave officers and its honored dead
By Marshall, Randolph V.
Madison, Ind., Courier Co., Printers [1884]
Accessed June 29, 2020

7 — Camp Nevin, soon not to be forgotten
By Friedlein, John
Feb 7, 2011
The News-Enterprise
Elizabethtown, Kentucky
Accessed June 29, 2020