The monument to the First Minnesota Regiment in Gettysburg looks exactly like our Sam Smith monument here in Morris. It's the "running rifleman" statue. The history of the Regiment has always fascinated me. Same with the whole phenomenon of Civil War remembrance. I strongly recommend the book "Confederates in the Attic" by Tony Horwitz.
I am pleased to have a new original song online, inspired by the First Minnesota's heroics at Gettysburg. The late Jack Imholte wrote a definitive book about the Regiment. Jack was our UMM chancellor (called provost at that time). I invite you to listen to my song. It's called "Take Those Colors" which is a paraphrase of the orders given these intrepid men (many of them lumberjacks) by General Hancock. The general, relieved to find troops available to plug a hole in the Union line, gestured toward the oncoming Confederates with their red battle flags and said "See those colors? Well then take them."
The song was recorded at the Nashville TN studio of Frank (Franklin) Michels. Frank is a sensitive musician and always does a great job. I love the Nashville music community. He plays all the instruments himself.
I again thank Gulsvig Productions of Starbuck for getting the song online. If you ever have media transfer work that needs to be done, contact the Gulsvigs. Here is the YouTube link for my song, "Take Those Colors." Thanks for listening. - B.W.
The regiment mustered for duty at Fort Snelling on April 29, 1861. It was heavily engaged at the First Battle of Bull Run on July 21. It took part in the Peninsula Campaign and the Seven Days Battles near Richmond VA. It incurred serious losses at the pivotal battle of Antietam. Men charged at each other through cornfields. It was spared direct battle at Fredericksburg which was a major Union loss.
Of course, every battle in the Civil War worked against the Confederacy because the Confederacy could ill afford any losses of men. The Union could always replenish its resources. Robert E. Lee gambled that the Union would tire of the conflict and negotiate to get out of it. Gettysburg might have tested that. But the South failed to prevail there.
Did the South actually "lose" that battle? The large-scale battles of the Civil War basically ended in stalemates. That's because of the advanced state of the weaponry. The losing side tended to be presented as the one that had to leave and go home. Lee's army was in Pennsylvania. It had to go home. The Union pulled out all stops to win at Gettysburg. It used "flankers," considered a drastic move: these soldiers shot anyone retreating or withdrawing without orders to do so.
An engagement for the ages
The First MN Regiment gained permanent fame with its fighting on Day 2 at Gettysburg. The day was drawing to a close. We were quite outnumbered as the "Alabamians" advanced. We engaged the graycoats at close range over 300 yards of open ground near Cemetery Ridge. It was a strategy of "buying time" while reinforcements were on the way.
Cemetery Ridge would prove essential on Day 3 of the battle. The Union had the coveted "high ground" for Day 3. Remember how Sam Elliott pronounced "high ground" in the movie "Gettysburg?" It was quite the factor.
Lee could be faulted for attacking the middle of the Union line. The rest is history. We have our statue of Sam Smith in Morris to appreciate it. Corporal Henry O'Brien and Private Marshall Sherman received the Congressional Medal of Honor. Alas, hundreds of Minnesota soldiers died or were wounded.
The regiment was nearly destroyed. But we survived to help quell the New York City draft riots. Our last fights were the Battle of Bristoe Station and the Mine Run Campaign. The regiment returned home in February of 1864. On April 28, exactly three years after many of its men had enlisted, the First Minnesota held its final parade and was dismissed from service.
Remember to pay a visit to our Sam Smith statue on Memorial Day. There's an American flag pushed into the ground there, so different from the other flags adorning the cemetery, because this flag does not commemorate service against a foreign power like Germany or Japan - it commemorates service against our own countrymen, profoundly sad but necessary.
The First Minnesota will always have a distinctive place in Minnesota memory. "Take Those Colors."
- Brian Williams - morris mn minnesota - firstname.lastname@example.org