Gettysburg’s Forgotten Governor: Conrad Baker

Conrad Baker

Conrad Baker, Col. of the 1st Indiana Cavalry and Governor of Indiana. Image courtesy of http://www.in.gov

The town of Gettysburg abounds with stories of interesting people who fought for both the North and the South during the American Civil War.  Many of these stories have been told by historians and educators since the end of the battle on July 3, 1863.  However, one man who made a major contribution to the war effort, and had detached from his regiment two companies of cavalry who fought at Gettysburg has gone relatively unnoticed.  Conrad Baker not only influenced the people of Indiana and Pennsylvania in his private life, but he also served honorably as Colonel of the 1st Indiana Cavalry, Assistant Provost Marshal General of Indiana, and later as the Governor of Indiana.

Conrad Baker was born near Chambersburg, Pennsylvania on February 12, 1817.[1]  He was the son of Conrad Baker, Sr. and Mary (Winterheimer) Baker, who were influential farmers in the Chambersburg area.[2]  When Conrad was a teen his attention shifted away from his life on the farm, and he became interested in practicing law for a living.  This decision to led Baker to enroll at Pennsylvania College in Gettysburg, PA where he began the study of law.

Penn Hall, image couresty Gburg College

Pennsylvania Hall on the campus of Pennsylvania College (Now known as Gettysburg College). Image courtesy of gettysburg.edu

Thaddeus_Stevens_-_Brady-Handy-crop

Thaddeus Stevens

While a student at Pennsylvania College, Conrad soon caught the attention of the law firm of Stevens & Smyser, who gave the young man the opportunity to learn and study the law profession in their office.  Thaddeus Stevens and Judge Daniel M. Smyser, both prominent citizens of Gettysburg owned this law practice.  Conrad Baker worked hard for his employers, and in 1839, he was admitted to the Bar.[3]  Soon after obtaining his license to practice law, the new lawyer opened a firm in the town of Gettysburg, and served the people of that community for two years.  In 1841, Baker and his family made the decision to pack up their belongings and make the long trek to the Ohio River community of Evansville, Indiana to open a law office in that city.  The state of Indiana was only 25 years old when Baker made it his new home, and this young state allowed Baker’s new law firm to become very successful.  Soon after his arrival to Indiana, he took an interest in politics, and in 1845, he was elected to serve in the Indiana General Assembly representing Vanderburgh County for one term.[4]  In 1856, he was nominated by the Republican Party for lieutenant governor without his knowledge.  His running mate was Oliver P. Morton, but Morton was ultimately defeated by his Democrat challenger, Ashbel P. Willard, during this election.[5]

In 1860, the sounds of rattling sabers were heard throughout the South as the United States began to tumble out of control toward civil war.  During the early morning of April 12, 1861, a Confederate battery in Charleston fired the first shots on Fort Sumter leading the nation into the bloodiest war in its history.  In June of 1861, Indiana issued a call for fighting men throughout the counties bordering the Ohio River, including Vanderburgh County.  Conrad Baker answered his country’s call by organizing eight companies of men for service to the Union, and by the summer of 1861, the regiment consisted of ten companies that were subsequently titled the 28th Indiana Regiment. However, this designation will be changed to the 1st Indiana Cavalry Regiment in August 1861, with Conrad Baker nominated as Colonel.[6]  As Colonel Baker led eight companies of the 1st Indiana Cavalry to Missouri, his two remaining companies were detached for duty in the east.  Companies I and K of the 1st Indiana Cavalry provided escort duty for General Reynolds and General Rosecrans in the Department of Western Virginia. These two cavalry companies ultimately saw action during the Battle of Gettysburg on July 1, 1863, serving with Maj. Gen. Oliver O. Howard’s 11th Corps of the Army of the Potomac. Baker was not present for the fight at Gettysburg, but it is more than likely that he reflected on the safety and well-being of the citizens of his former home.

INdiana State Monument Courtesy of Gburg Daily

Indiana State Monument. The 1st Indiana Cavalry is one of the few Union units that have no marker or monument on the Gettysburg battlefield. The two companies that served at Gettysburg are however, listed on the Indiana State Monument. Image courtesy of gettysburgdaily.com

Conrad Baker served for over three years as the Colonel of the 1st Indiana Cavalry, seeing action in Missouri, Arkansas, and Mississippi.  On April 29, 1863, Baker received an order from Secretary of War Edwin Stanton to proceed from Helena, Arkansas back to Indianapolis, Indiana, and report to the Provost Marshal General.  Once Baker returned to Indianapolis, he was assigned as the Assistant Provost Marshall.  Baker was tasked with the organization of the Provost Marshal’s Bureau for the state of Indiana.[7]   Indiana’s Adjutant General W.H.H. Terrell wrote in Indiana In the War of the Rebellion that Baker’s, “fine ability as a lawyer, superior qualifications as a thorough and methodical business man, with his incorruptible integrity and the experience of eighteen months’ active service in the field, made his appointment eminently fit and proper, and entirely acceptable to the people of the State.”[8]

Baker remained the Assistant Provost Marshal until he was honorably discharged from the army on October 10, 1864.  Once Baker’s military career came to an end, he began to take a keen interest in public service.  Although Conrad Baker was not a candidate or applicant for the position of Lieutenant Governor during the1864 election year, he was unanimously added to the Republican ticket after General Nathan Kimball declined the nomination.[9]  The Republican ticket of Morton and Baker will win the election, but in October 1865, Governor Morton will suffer a paralytic stroke that will incapacitate him.  Morton will temporarily leave office and make a trip to Europe looking for a cure for his paralysis, to no avail.  This placed Conrad Baker in the office of Governor for a short period of time as the Civil War drew to a close.  In 1867, Oliver Morton was elected to the U.S. Senate to represent the state of Indiana.  This placed Baker in the position of Governor until the election of 1868.  Baker was nominated and elected to serve his first full term as the Governor of Indiana.[10] After Baker had served his term as governor, he returned to his law practice for the remaining years of his life.  On April 28, 1885, the man who grew up on a farm, and practiced law in Gettysburg passed away.  He is buried in Evansville, Indiana.

Park Ranger Brian D. Henry

[1] Robert Sobel and John Raimo, Biographical Directory of the Governors of the United States, 1789-1978, Vol. 1 (Westport, Conn.; Meckler Books, 1978).

[2] George Derby and James Terry White, National Cyclopedia of American Biography, Volume 13 (New York: James T. White & Company, 1906), 272.

[3] William Edward Chute, A Genealogy and History of the Chute Family in America (Salem, MA: s.n., 1894), 75.

[4]  John H. B. Nowland, Sketches of Prominent Citizens of 1876: With a Few of the Pioneers of the City and County who Have Passed Away (Indianapolis: Tilford & Carlon, 1877), 229.

[5] Indiana State Library, “Conrad Baker Papers,” Updated by Barbara Hilderbrand, February 2007. http://www.in.gov/library/4695.htm  Accessed: July 20, 2014.

[6] W.H.H. Terrell, Adjutant General, Indiana, Report of the Adjutant General of the State of Indiana, Volume 2 (Indianapolis: Samuel M. Douglass, State Printer, 1866).

[7] Nowland, Sketches, 229.

[8] W.H.H. Terrell, Indiana in the War of the Rebellion, Volume 1 (Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Bureau, 1869), 67.

[9] Nowland, Sketches, 230.

[10] Ibid.

About The Staff

Staff of Gettysburg National Military Park
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2 Responses to Gettysburg’s Forgotten Governor: Conrad Baker

  1. wildninja says:

    Another fantastic post. And I have a question– is there a listing somewhere of all the monuments at Gettysburg, or even better, a listing of all the monuments to units that served in the Civil War? Thanks.

  2. Brian Henry says:

    Wildninja, here is a link to the monuments on the Gettysburg National Battlefield. http://www.gettysburg.stonesentinels.com/
    If you have any further questions feel free to contact the GNMP.

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