First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment

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Winning Nomination

The First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment was the first in the nation to answer President Abraham Lincoln's call for troops in 1861, and they courageously served with great distinction. The 262 men of the First Minnesota played a heroic but tragic role at the Battle of Gettysburg. In his Pulitzer Prize-winning Battle Cry of Freedom: The Civil War Era, James McPherson wrote, "The 20th Maine and the 1st Minnesota achieved lasting fame by throwing back Confederate attacks that came dangerously close to breakthroughs. . . . The Minnesotans did the job, but only 47 of them came back."

The day was July 2, 1863. More than 160,000 Union (North against slavery) and Confederate (South favoring slavery) soldiers converged at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania. Confederate forces had achieved a series of victories and may have advanced to Washington, D.C., if they won this battle.

The men of the First Minnesota were positioned near Union artillery batteries on Cemetery Ridge. "We began to hear musketry which soon became one continuous roar. . . . Then shells fell uncomfortably near us," wrote Sergeant Alfred Carpenter in a letter on file with the Minnesota Historical Society. Then disaster struck.

Confederate Rebels infiltrated the Union line. "The Rebs came in two splendid lines, firing as they advanced, capturing one of our batteries, which they turned against us, and gained the cover of the ravine," Carpenter wrote. "The plain was strewed with dead and dying men."

Union general Winfield Scott Hancock desperately ordered the 262 men of the First Minnesota to charge the 1,600 advancing Alabama Rebels. Carpenter recalled, "We advanced down the slope. . . . Comrade after comrade dropped from the ranks; but the line went. No one took a second look at his fallen companion. We had no time to weep."

The next day, 15,000 Confederates charged Cemetery Ridge--the legendary Pickett's Charge--but were repelled by a devastating artillery barrage. Because the Minnesotans had saved the artillery the day before, the Rebels were repelled--but at a great sacrifice. 82 percent of the First Minnesota men were killed or wounded at Gettysburg--the highest casualty rate of the war.

On July 4, Lieutenant William Lochren wrote a letter to his hometown Winona Republican newspaper. "We are in the midst of a terrible battle," he wrote. "Two thirds of the regiment are killed or wounded. We got the better of the enemy in the fight, and our regiment captured one stand of colors."

The Union and Confederacy suffered 45,000 casualties at Gettysburg. Over 620,000 soldiers died in the Civil War. On November 19, 1863, President Abraham Lincoln honored the great sacrifices made and gave meaning to the war in his Gettysburg Address:

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. . . . From these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion; that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain; that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom. . . ."

And so we did. Some historians call the Civil War "the Second American Revolution." Following the Union victory, the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments were ratified, transforming the Constitution and America.

The importance that Minnesotans attributed to the Civil War can be seen in the numerous great paintings of the Civil War at the Minnesota State Capitol, including Rufus F. Zogbaum's Battle of Gettysburg. The Civil War deeply shaped the new state of Minnesota, and the First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment played a pivotal role.
~Todd Carlsen, Eden Prairie, MN



Runner-up Nominations

Minnesota was the first to respond to President Lincoln's request for volunteer regiments at the start of the American Civil War aka War Between the States. Minnesota was the newest or youngest state at the time.

Although the Army of the Potomac suffered many losses early in the war, the 1st MN regiment conducted itself very well.

Their conduct at Gettysburg on July 2, 1663 was/is particularly notable. When Sickles' corps collapsed under a Confederate charge, Winfield S. Hancock asked the 1st MN Volunteers to stop the Confederate attack, knowing he was sacrificing them to buy himself some time to save the left portion of the Union line.

Although greatly outnumbered, the 1st MN charged the Confederates, drove them back, and actually captured a flag. I believe we finally returned the flag a few years ago to Alabama. The discussion of it was in the news, although I don't recall the exact time.

Hancock stated it was one of the bravest things he ever saw. The small regiment suffered over 80% casualties in the charge, but was successful. This was one of the more notable incidents at Gettysburg, a crucial Union victory.
~James Schreiber, Richfield, MN

You need not be a Civil War buff to appreciate what these men did. Anyone who has ever been to the Gettysburg battlefield, seen the monument and heard the story of their heroic sacrifice will never forget it. It is fitting that a painting recounting their sacrifice is on display in the Governor's office as a reminder of what a legacy Minnesota has received from men such as these.
~Jeffrey Olofson, Woodbury, MN

This regiment really showed that Minnesota was important along with being the first to guarantee Lincoln a regiment. This regiment saved the Battle of Gettysburg and possibly the war.
~William Havelin, St. Paul, MN

At a time Minnesota was barely recognized by the rest of the nation, these men stepped forward to preserve the Union. Their heroic action at the Battle of Gettysburg was one of the most significant acts in saving this nation as the United States of America. Even more recently the Historical Society and the state have defended the right to possesion of a Confederate battle flag returned home with the survivors. Minnesota has made many contributions to this nation, but their heroism is perhaps the most significant. It is a unique event in our history.
~James L. Krum, Saint Paul, MN

I think by far the biggest event in Minnesota history was the Battle of Gettysburg. If not for those volunteers and their standing their ground the outcome of the United States may have been dramatically different.
~Darrell Grefrath, McGregor, MN

Some historians believe the First MN turned the tide of battle at Gettysburg, PA. Also they show the willingness of Minnesota's citizens to sacrifice for the good of our great nation. Also, they were the first to volunteer for service once President Lincoln asked for volunteers. Our whole state should know of their great service.
~Dan Walsh, Stillwater, MN

The First MN volunteer regiment was so named because it was the first regiment to be volunteered to serve during the Civil War. The regiment was involved in the first major battles of the Civil War and also came back with the most casualties for a good portion of those battles. They fought at Gettysburg where the current MN National Guard takes their motto from: 'To the Last Man'. They were told to hold a line that was breaking until reinforcements could arrive, they all knew they were likely going to their deaths but they held the line and lost most of the regiment at the battle. The First Minnesota set a high standard for the Minnesota military to follow, they sacrificed a great deal to serve their country, and did their state proud.
~Sarah Braulik, Mahtowa, MN

I would nominate the MInnesota Regiment that held the line on July 2, 1863. Our state was only 5 years old, and the brave men from Minnesota held that line during Pickett's charge. Our state was only 5 years old, yet it probably preserved the Union. I felt tremendous pride in being from Minnesota when I stood by the statue honoring the men from Minnesota. They set a standard of excellence for our state which has carried on for 150 years.
~Warren Bolin, Maple Grove, MN

Col William Colville Col. Colville led the charge of the First Minnesota Regiment on July 2, 1863 that turned the tide of the battle of Gettysburg, which turned the tide of the Civil War. The outcome defines the very core of our country.
~Jay Sadowski

The 1st Minnestota saves the Union Army center on July 2, 1863 at the 2nd day of Gettysburg. Maj Gen Dan Sickles Union 3rd Corps is pounded by Confederate Lt Gen Longstreet's Corps. They fall back making a huge hole in the line. Union Maj Gen Handcock sends the depleted 1st Minnesota Regiment into the gap to slow down the attack so that other troop may be moved into position. It was a suicide mission. The 1st Minnesota charged and slowed down the Confederate attack buying the needed time. The 1st Minnesota lost over 80% of the regiment, but saved the army from defeat.
~Eric W. Staedicke, Tempe, AZ

The 1st Minnesota suffered 70% casualities on the second day of Gettysburg by charging directly into a rebel force 5 times its size. It is arguable that this act of bravery saved the Union line on Seminary Ridge and thus helped perserve victory and possibly the Union.
~Ken Konjura, Marshall, MN

Against great odds and almost certain death or wounds the men of the 1st MN charged against a force almost 6 times their size and sustained 82% casualties, while very possibly saving the day for the Union Army. A loss that day could very well have changed the outcome of the Civil War.
~Larry J. Scherber, Watertown, MN

The individuals comprising the Minnesota 1st Volunteer Regiment of the Civil War exemplify the patriotism, determination, and courageousness of our state's earliest citizens. By their willingness to volunteer so quickly for a national cause, they showed their patriotism. By their stalwartness in notable battles such as Bull Run, Antietam, and Chancellorsville they showed their gritty determination. And by their defense of their position at Gettysburg on the second day of fighting there, they held the Confederate forces back long enough for Union reinforcements to arrive. Even as this cost our Minnesota regiment to the tune of 80 percent dead and wounded, this courageousness was an extraordinary example of the kind of citizens that formed our young state, willing to give their last full measure of devotion for the country.
~Brent Lane, Bovey, MN

My nomination is for the first Minnesota Infantry volunteers in the Civil War. Without their outstanding duty at the Battle of Gettysburg on July 2nd, 1863 all of us would be whistling Dixie today. My great-grandfather was a member of the Minnesota 1st Battalion, Company F ... but unfortunately he was not at Gettysburg.
~Kingsley Hahm

They suffered tremendous casualties at Gettysburg, preserving the Union, and helped to defeat the Confederacy at its high tide.
~Mike Gooley, Forest Lake, MN

First State to Volunteer Troops for the Civil War This was the first step from the United States 'are' to the United States 'is'. The unity and beginnings of inclusiveness began with the Civil War.
~Jennifer Darling, Shoreview, MN

These were the first troops to answer Abraham Lincoln's call for troops when the Civil War broke out. They fought in every significant battle in the eastern theatre of war and their sacrifice was enormous. They played a particularly significant role in the battle of Gettysburg.
~Bruce A. Swanson, Minnetonka, MN

Virginia Battle Flag Captured by 1st MN. It symbolizes the great sacrifice given by Minnesota volunteers for this Union.
~John Haugen, Princeton, MN

Virginia Battle Flag Captured at Gettysburg by first MN. Key event in national history. MN was a major contributor to the victory at Gettysburg. We captured the battle flag from the Virginians at Gettysburg.
~Alfred Haugen, Princeton, MN

I was a Civil War buff as a kid, and I always thought of the story of the 1st Minnesota at Gettysburg as the model of terrific sacrifice for a greater cause. Now that I've read a lot more about the culture of veneration of war 'heroes,' I suppose it would be easy and/or appropriate to at least problematize the 'glorious' charge of those poor men. But I can't escape the feeling that at least some of them were there because they wanted to, and died doing something that they thought was the right think to do. Somehow, the newness of Minnesota as a state in the Union at that time had something to do with the glory of it all as well.
~Eric Nystrom

The flag that the first Minnesota volunteer regiment took at the battle of Gettysburg.
~Cheryl Haugen, Princeton, MN

The First Minnesota: their flag taken from Virginia at Gettysburg. The First Minnesota played a major role in the Union victory at Gettysburg, and in keeping the Union together. The rebel battle flag taken from Virginia should remain in Minnesota's possession as a reminder of our victory. Gettysburg was a major turning point in the Civil War, and was the northernmost battle fought.
~Alfred Haugen,Mankato, MN


Contents

History

Ordinary men who made an extraordinary sacrifice

They were farmers, loggers, clerks, teachers, students, and lawyers. Many were fairly recent arrivals in Minnesota from eastern states. Some were born abroad. They were young-most were in their late teens to mid-twenties. What united them was their commitment to serving their country during the Civil War.

On April 13, 1861, the day after the fall of Fort Sumter signaled the Civil War's beginning, Minnesota governor Alexander Ramsey volunteered 1,000 men to defend the nation. Thus Minnesota, the Union's newest state, became the first to volunteer troops. When word of Ramsey's pledge reached eligible Minnesotans, they stepped forward. Their motivations were varied, but many most likely felt their service would help preserve the Union. Minnesotans had voted overwhelmingly for Abraham Lincoln in the 1860 election, and although the issue of slavery was certainly on their minds, the possibility of southern states' secession was a more pressing concern. Minnesota sent eleven infantry regiments, four artillery batteries, a company of sharpshooters, and several cavalry companies to the war. It was one of the highest enlistment rates of any state.

The First Minnesota participated in many battles, including Bull Run, the Peninsula Campaign, Antietam, Fredericksburg, and Chancellorsville. But it was for its role at Gettysburg on July 2, 1863, that it is best remembered. On the second day of the battle, members of the First Minnesota were ordered to charge Confederate soldiers who were close to breaking Union lines. They marched down an open slope and plugged a gap to prevent Confederate troops from rushing through and breaking the Union line. Their commander, General Winfield Scott, later wrote: "I knew they must lose heavily and it caused me pain to give order for them to advance. . . . No soldiers, on any field, in this or any other country, ever displayed grander heroism." Nor was the battle over for the First. On the next day, the soldiers were called upon again, this time to stem Pickett's Charge, thus playing a significant part in breaking the momentum of the Confederacy.

The Union forces went on to win at Gettysburg, and the battle changed the course of the Civil War. But for the First Minnesota, the outcome was grim. Out of the 289 soldiers in the First Minnesota at Gettysburg, 163 were killed or wounded on July 2; the next day, another 70 were added to the toll. Their casualty rate was 82 percent-the highest for any battle during the war. The remaining few went from Gettysburg to New York City, where they were posted to quell draft riots. During that time, a woman who had watched them leave Fort Snelling just two years before saw them march through Brooklyn. She sent a description of the scene to the St. Paul Press: "Their bronzed faces looked so composed and serious. There was a history written on every one of them. . . . The music of the band, as the men went through the changes of the drill, was very sweet, but it seemed to me all the while like a dirge for the fallen."

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