Wednesday, October 13, 2004

HANOVER, Ind. — Dick Skidmore meanders the back roads now and then. Retirees can do that.

This retiree checks on what he already has done.

Like a proud papa, Skidmore traces and retraces the route taken 141 years earlier by Confederate Gen. John Hunt Morgan. Southern Indiana’s brush with the Civil War is a Skidmore fascination.

Skidmore knows most everything about Morgan’s spectacular six-day raid in Indiana, and he challenges us to know more. Surely we too can find the time to go where Morgan did, to learn about the face-to-face terror instilled by Morgan and his 2,000 cavalrymen

Now it’s connect-the-dots easy, because of Skidmore and a committee he coordinated. "I just thought it was such a good idea, it couldn’t fail," Skidmore said. The idea was to pinpoint Morgan’s mindless plunder and pillage through seven counties. The trail marks his chaotic Indiana route from Kentucky to Ohio and promotes interpretation.

>Formerly an IBM manager, Skidmore devoted much of a decade to becoming an expert and winning financial support for such things as signs and brochures and maps and follow-along CDs and tapes. Simply a citizen, Skidmore had to prove himself over and over again, and he did.

The John Hunt Morgan Heritage Trail was dedicated last year.

"Things have to be done in a certain order," said Skidmore, 69, his business acumen an obvious plus. "I never gave up on it."

Interest seems pretty solid, based on requests for materials. Skidmore guesses maybe 15 or 20 cars per weekend pursue this piece of the past. Morgan’s is clearly a worthy story.

"A lot of us get ideas," Gary Conant, the now-retired coordinator of Historic Hoosier Hills, a not-for-profit resource conservation and development agency that Skidmore approached early on for help. "He (Skidmore) felt passionate enough to see something happen."

Indiana’s fourth-graders study state history. That can incorporate Morgan trail guides like the ones teacher Marilyn King uses in Madison. King points out to her students that Morgan’s raid ran through nearby Dupont.

And some children, in turn, relate passed-down personal recollections. "It’s their connection to the Civil War," King said.

King’s students, who come from several elementary schools, cannot devote enough time to follow the 185-mile trail, of course. They do tour Corydon, site of the only Civil War battle in Indiana. Morgan’s side dominated that half-hour skirmish, yet King’s kids cheer when told of the valor of the overwhelmed locals.

If Skidmore is at all disappointed it is by lukewarm demand for the student guides. Again, he is resigned to be patient and hopeful. "There will be fourth-graders next year and the year after that," he said.

The Skidmores retired to Hanover 11 years ago, from Greencastle, for a spectacular river view. Dick and wife Wilda had lived elsewhere, too, near sites of other Civil War battles that had sparked his interest.

"I bought one magazine, then two, then one book, then two," he said.

Dick Skidmore is now as at home in Civil War roundtable groups — he has presided over four of them, including Washington, D.C.’s — as others are in Kiwanis. He was familiar with Morgan’s marauding well before he concluded that the raid should be better highlighted. A smattering of markers existed, but nothing effectively connected them.

Conant said, "It was a phenomenal project, one that needed to be done."

Skidmore enjoys relating how his good-sport wife blames Morgan for abuse to the couple’s van. The vehicle got a workout, for sure, because Dick Skidmore forded a creek or two with it and explored many gravel roads in pursuit of Morgan’s northeasterly path.

When asked, he agrees that the trail is something of a monument he can claim, one that should last.

But he adds: "That isn’t what drove me. It’s just something people need to know. People need at least a casual understanding of things that happened and can relate to it somehow."

Copyright 2004 The Courier-Journal

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