One hundred fifty years after the historic Battle of Gettysburg, the Minnesota National Guard honored the soldiers who fought during that pivotal time of the American Civil War.
On the sesquicentennial anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg, Minnesota Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. Richard C. Nash, traveled to Gettysburg to pay tribute to Minnesota’s First Volunteer Infantry Regiment. As the leader of the Minnesota National Guard, the state’s volunteer military force, Nash took part in a series of events recalling the actions at Gettysburg and the valiant efforts of the First Minnesota.
July 2, beginning at the Gettysburg museum, Nash retraced the steps of the First Minnesota troops on the second day of battle at Gettysburg in 1862. He met with Alabama Adjutant General, Maj. Gen. Perry G. Smith, at Plum Run or “Bloody Run”. It was there where two confederate brigades from Alabama and Mississippi stormed through the broken federal line and the Union Army needed a few minutes before their reserves would arrive. The First Minnesota, with 262 men, was the nearest unit. When ordered to counter-charge the confederates, Col. William J. Colvill, the commander of the regiment, replied, “to the last man.”
Following an exchange of gifts, both Adjutant Generals marched through the Valley of Death on the land where their predecessors had fought. Together they arrived at the First Minnesota Memorial Monument on Hancock Avenue where a rededication ceremony was held.
July 3 events included a visit to an area reserved specifically for Soldiers of the First Minnesota at the Gettysburg National Cemetery. State and commemorative 150th anniversary flags were placed on First Minnesota graves, showing that the great history of Minnesota’s First Volunteer Infantry Regiment is not forgotten.
In 1861, when President Lincoln called for 75,000 troops to support the Union Army in battle, then Minnesota Governor Alexander Ramsey was the first to commit troops from his state. When he returned to Minnesota from Washington, it took less than two weeks to obtain 1,009 volunteers to answer the call.
The First Minnesota participated in several battles throughout the Civil War. In 1861, they were heavily engaged at the First Battle of Bull Run, as well as the Battle of Ball’s Bluff. In May 1862, the First Minnesota became part of the First Brigade, Second Division, Second Corps of the Army of the Potomac. As a part of this Corps, the First Minnesota participated in the Peninsula Campaign, the Seven Days Battle, and Antietam in Maryland where they sustained heavy losses.
These battles paled in comparison to the fighting which occurred at Gettysburg, where the First Minnesota was crucial to the future success of the Union Army. During this second day of fighting at Gettysburg, troops of the First Minnesota charged the Confederates, securing the Federals position on Cemetery Ridge, which became essential to winning the battle. At the outset, the Soldiers of the First Minnesota were outnumbered approximately four-to-one and suffered casualties of nearly 82 percent. To this day, that casualty rate stands as the largest loss by a surviving military unit in a single day’s engagement during the Civil War.
One hundred fifty years since the First Minnesota entered federal service, Minnesota’s volunteer force has slowly transformed into the Minnesota National Guard we know today.
“Today’s citizen-soldiers and airmen continue to play integral roles whenever the U.S. finds itself in conflict, ensuring that the legacy of the First Minnesota lives on,” said Nash.
Story by Spc. Linsey Williams, 1/34th ABCT Public Affairs