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1st Regiment, Minnesota Volunteer Infantry
Flag of Minnesota.svg
Flag of Minnesota
Active April 29, 1861 to July 15, 1865
Country United States
Allegiance Union
Branch Infantry
Engagements First Bull Run, Seven Days Battles, Second Bull Run, Fredericksburg, Antietam, Gettysburg, Bristoe Station, Mine Run Campaign

The 1st Regiment, Minnesota Volunteer Infantry was a volunteer infantry regiment that served in the Union Army during the American Civil War. It was noted in particular for its gallant service and heavy casualties at the Battle of Gettysburg.

Contents

Organization and early service

The 1st Minnesota was the first state volunteer regiment formally tendered to the Federal government under Abraham Lincoln's call for 300,000 troops in 1861, being offered on April 14 for three months service, Minnesota Governor Alexander Ramsey happening to be in Washington at the time. It was organized at Fort Snelling, Minnesota, on April 29 and subsequently remustered for three years service on May 10.

The regiment suffered significant losses during its term of service in the Eastern Theater. At the First Battle of Bull Run, it took the heaviest casualties of any Federal regiment on the field, an unfortunate honor that it would hold in more than one battle. At the Battle of Antietam, the Minnesotans and their parent brigade, commanded by the regiment's former colonel, Willis A. Gorman, were in General John Sedgwick's ill-famed assault on the West Woods, resulting in a Union rout from that part of the field. However, as always, the 1st Minnesota fought with courage and distinction.

It was at Antietam where Oscar Cornman of Company B was killed and Color Sergeant Sam Bloomer was wounded.

Gettysburg

Monument to the 1st Minnesota Infantry Regiment at Gettysburg Battlefield, Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, located on Cemetery Ridge, off South Hancock Avenue.

The men of the 1st Minnesota are most remembered for their actions on July 2, 1863, during the second day's fighting at Gettysburg, where the regiment prevented the Confederates from pushing the Federals off of Cemetery Ridge, a position that was to be crucial in the battle.

Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock, commander of the II Corps, ordered the regiment to assault a much larger enemy force (a brigade commanded by Brig. Gen. Cadmus M. Wilcox) telling Col. William Colvill to take the enemy's colors. The fateful charge bought the time needed while other forces were brought up. During the charge, 215 members of the 262 men who were present at the time became casualties, including the regimental commander, Col. William Colvill, and all but three of his officers.

The unit's flag fell five times and rose again each time. The 47 survivors rallied back to General Hancock under the senior surviving officer, Captain Henry C. Coates. The 83 percent casualty rate stands to this day as the largest loss by any surviving military unit in American history during any single engagement. The unit's flag is now in the Minnesota Capitol's rotunda.

Despite the horrendous casualties the 1st Minnesota had incurred, it continued the fight the next day, helping to repulse Pickett's Charge. The surviving Minnesotans just happened to have been positioned at one of the few places where Union lines were breached during that engagement, and, as a result, charged the advancing Confederate positions one last time as a unit.

The monument to the 1st Minnesota at the Gettysburg National Battlefield Park bears the following inscription:

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.[1]

During the chaotic fighting that took place in the repulse of Pickett's Charge, Private Marshall Sherman of Company C of the 1st Minnesota captured the colors of the 28th Virginia Infantry.[2] Private Sherman received the Medal of Honor for his exploit. The flag was taken back to Minnesota as a prize of war and is kept but not publicly displayed at the Minnesota Historical Society. In the mid-1990s, several groups of Virginians threatened to sue the Society to return the 28th Virginia's battle flag to the Old Dominion. However, the Minnesota Attorney General advised that such threats were without a legal basis and the flag remains in the possession of the Society to this day.

Cpl Henry O'Brien repeatedly picked up the fallen colors of the 1st Minnesota, and carried a wounded comrade back to the Union lines despite being knocked out by a bullet to the head and shot in the hand. He was awarded a Medal of Honor for his heroism.

Later service

The 1st Minnesota continued in the Army of the Potomac, serving later in 1863 in the Bristoe Campaign and the subsequent Mine Run Campaign. It was mustered out of service upon completion of its enlistment on April 29, 1864, at Fort Snelling. Enough of the regiment's veterans reenlisted to form the nucleus of the 1st Minnesota Battalion of Infantry which returned to Virginia and served through the end of the war.[3] Other veterans provided officers for the 1st Minnesota Heavy Artillery Regiment.[4]

Casualties

The 1st Minnesota Infantry suffered the loss of 10 officers and 177 enlisted men killed in action or who later died of their wounds, plus another 2 officers and 97 enlisted men who died of disease, for a total of 286 fatalities.[3]
Bull Run
Edwards Ferry
Fair Oaks
Savage Station
Glendale
Vienna
Antietam
Fredricksburg
Chancellorville
Gettysburg
Bristow

Colonels of the regiment

Continued lineage

The 2nd Battalion, 135th Infantry Regiment [2-135 IN] of the 34th Infantry Division (Minnesota Army National Guard) traces its roots back to the historic 1st Minnesota Volunteers.

See also

References

  • Andrews, General Christopher Columbus, ed., (1891). Minnesota in the Civil and Indian Wars. Pioneer Press.  

Notes

  1. ^ DCMemorials.com
  2. ^ research file (MOLLUS at Gettysburg Discussion Group website).
  3. ^ a b Civil War Archive website regimental history
  4. ^ Andrews, p. 612.

Further reading

  • Moe, Richard, The Last Full Measure: The Life and Death of the First Minnesota Volunteers. New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1993, ISBN 978-0-8050-2309-1

External links

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