Friday, December 26, 2008

Minnesota history

Today is a 'dark day' in Minnesota history, according to the radio news on KTLK, MPR and WCCO, as well as the StarTribune. 146 years ago today 38 Dakota Indians were executed after four months of open warfare. This 'dark day in history mantra' gets brought up every now and then, mostly to remind us white Americans how evil we are.

But if Dec 26th, 1862 was a dark day in Minnesota history, then it needs to pointed out that just six months later would see one of Minnesota's brightest days in history. July 3rd, 1863 near the Pennsylvania town of Gettysburg.

The 1st Minnesota Regiment was the first state volunteer regiment to officially respond to President Lincoln's call for volunteers. Four months before the Dakota uprising began, more than 1300 men left their homes and families to fight for the Union. (A fact not lost on the Dakota when they decided to fight, no doubt) After several small engagements, the 1st Minnesota found their purpose on the second day of the battle of Gettysburg.

"We roused before day, but late in the morning, July 3rd, everything was quiet as death along the whole line, but not even the private soldier was deceived, he knew it presaged a storm which at last broke upon us with all its fury. We lay behind a ridge of land about three feet in height. All at once the guns opened and from morn till middle of afternoon it raged with terrific violence. Flat upon the ground we lay, while the vertical rays of the July sun rendered the heat almost intolerable. "

-SGT Alfred Carpenter

From the official citation on the memorial at Gettysburg-

"Late in the afternoon of July 3, after the collapse of the Union line at the Peach Orchard, Confederate infantry in front of you threatened to pour through a gap in the Union line here. When Maj. Gen. Winfield S. Hancock, commander of the Union Second Corps, rode up to assess the situation, only one regiment was at hand to stop the Confederate tide -- the 1st Minnesota.
"My god, are these all the men we have here?" Hancock asked. It was, but they would have to do. "Charge the lines!" shouted Hancock, and immediately the lone regiment swept down the slope "double quick." With levelled bayonets, the Minnesotans crashed into Brig. Gen. Cadmus M. Wilcox's Alabamians who outnumbered them 4-to-1.

"Every man realized in an instant what that order meant - death or wounds to us all, the sacrifice of a regiment to gain a few minutes' time ..." Lt William Lochren

"For two hours we had fought desperately. The men seemed inspired and fought with a determination unconquerable. I believe they would have died or taken on the spot before yielding. Men fell about us unheeded, unnoticed; we scarcely knew they were falling, so great was the intensity of attention to approaching foe. Our muskets became so heated we could no longer handle them. We dropped them and picked up those of the wounded. Our cartridges gave out. We rifled the boxes of the dead. Artillerymen from the disabled pieces in our rear sprang forward, and seizing guns and cartridges from the wounded, fought by our side as infantrymen. Many of the men became deaf, and did not recover their hearing for a day or two. It was a grand and terrible scene. I wish I could paint it to you as I was and felt it." -SGT Carpenter

The charge broke the Confederate ranks and stalled the Southerners long enough for Union reinforcements to arrive. The Union line was saved, but at a terrific cost. According to a regimental officer, of the 262 Minnesotans in the charge, only 47 escaped death or injury."

On July the 5th, the regiment was left with a captain in command. He sent an action report to the governor back in Minnesota-

Our loss of so many brave men is heartrending, and will carry mourning into all parts of the state. But they have fallen in a holy cause, and their memory will not soon perish. Our loss is 4 commissioned officers and 47 men killed; 13 officers and 162 men wounded, and 6 men missing, - total 232 – out of less than 330 men and officers engaged. I send herewith a list of killed and wounded.

Several acts of heroic daring occurred in this battle; I cannot now attempt to enumerate them. The bearing of Colonel Colvill and Lieutenant Colonel Adams in the fight of Thursday was conspicuously gallant. Heroically urging on the attack they fell nearly at the same moment (their wounds completely disabling them), so far in the advance that some time elapsed before they were got off the field. Major Downie received two bullets through the arm before he turned over the command to Captain Messick. Color Sergt. E. P. Perkins, and two of the color guard successively bearing the flag, were wounded in Thursday’s fight. On Friday Corporal Dehn, of Company A (the last of the color guard), when close upon the enemy, was shot through the hand, and the flag staff cut in two; Corp. Henry D. O’Brien, of Company E, instantly seized the flag by the remnant of the staff and waving it over his head rushed right up to the muzzles of the enemy’s muskets. Nearly at the moment of victory he too was wounded in the hand, but the flag was instantly grasped by Corp. W. N. Irvine, of Company D, who still carries its tattered remnants. Company L, Captain Berger, supported Kirby’s battery throughout the battle, and did very effective service. Every man in the regiment did his whole duty. With great respect , I am, your obedient servant,

H. C. Coates

Captain, Commanding First Regiment Minnesota Volunteers.

His Excellency, Alexander Ramsey,

Governor of the State of Minnesota

So on this dark day in Minnesota history, don't let the media convince you to hang your head in shame.

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