You learn something new…

I’m from Minnesota. I may have mentioned that before. We Minnesotans tend to be fiercely proud about our state. But I learned something new about Minnesota last week and I’m still a bit in shock about it. It turns out that any Civil War buff who knows their stuff will know that it was Minnesotans who turned the tide at the Battle of Gettysburg, which (along with the Battle of Vicksburg) is seen as changing the direction and eventual result of the Civil War.

Why did we not learn about this in school? It sounds sort of important.

I came upon this startling information in Gettysburg, where I did a battlefield tour when I was in town for a local arts festival on my way to a work thing in State College, PA. I learned so many interesting things, like about the craze for cyclorama paintings in the late 18th century. Again, who knew?

Minnesota only became a state in 1858. (Trivia note: The University of Minnesota, founded in 1851, actually pre-dates the state!) Several of the maps around the official battlefield museum did not have Minnesota on them and thus did not identify them as being unionist. But our little group of soldiers made a huge difference, and at significant sacrifice. The monumental inscription tells the story best:

On the afternoon of July 2, 1863 Sickles’ Third Corps, having advanced from this line to the Emmitsburg Road, eight companies of the First Minnesota Regiment, numbering 262 men were sent to this place to support a battery upon Sickles repulse.

As his men were passing here in confused retreat, two Confederate brigades in pursuit were crossing the swale. To gain time to bring up the reserves & save this position, Gen Hancock in person ordered the eight companies to charge the rapidly advancing enemy.

The order was instantly repeated by Col Wm Colvill. And the charge as instantly made down the slope at full speed through the concentrated fire of the two brigades breaking with the bayonet the enemy’s front line as it was crossing the small brook in the low ground there the remnant of the eight companies, nearly surrounded by the enemy held its entire force at bay for a considerable time & till it retired on the approach of the reserve the charge successfully accomplished its object. It saved this position & probably the battlefield. The loss of the eight companies in the charge was 215 killed & wounded. More than 83% percent. 47 men were still in line & no man missing. In self sacrificing desperate valor this charge has no parallel in any war. Among the severely wounded were Col Wm Colvill, Lt Col Chas P Adams & Maj Mark W. Downie. Among the killed Capt Joseph Periam, Capt Louis Muller & Lt Waldo Farrar. The next day the regiment participated in repelling Pickett’s charge losing 17 more men killed & wounded.

It had never occurred to me to do Civil War battlefield tours before, and Gettysburg was not on my “to do” list in terms of trips and tourist things, but I am so glad I got to see it and to learn about this. The longer I’ve lived in the UK, the more interesting I’ve found American history! And in this case, “Minnesota’s Own” really did make a big difference.


3 responses to “You learn something new…

  1. I was able to take my boys to Gettysburg some years ago and found it an amazing and educational place. Learned a bit about the New Yorkers, as well 😉

  2. Gettysburg is on my to do list. One day when the girls can understand the meaning of it.

  3. I am a Minnesotan as well and learned about the MN soldiers role at Gettysburg when I was 25 years old. A few days after taking the tour, I was sitting in a room full of Pennsylvania teachers talking about how amazed I was that MN was so involved at Gettysburg. I realized after I shut my flapper that I sounded like children in MN are not educated…alas…The Philadelphia and Minnesota Orchestras did a co-commissioned piece about Gettysburg a few years ago that was pretty cool. Just had to comment and say “You’re not the only one.”

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