Remembering the First Minnesota Volunteers

Among the heroes who saved the Union on July 2 at Gettysburg with Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain and the 20th Maine were the 282 men of the First Minnesota Volunteers. Their story cannot be told often enough, and Mackubin Thomas Owens makes it the centerpiece of his terrific “Reflections on Memorial Day.” (Courtesy of No Left Turns.)
HINDROCKET adds: Well, the Trunk is right, of course. The pivot of American history turns on the second day at Gettysburg, and, while thousands of men fought gallantly on both sides that day, there were two points where the fate of the world, really, hung in the balance. The first was at Little Round Top, where Chamberlain’s 20th Maine held off Confederate attacks throughout the day. The second came late in the afternoon, when the Confederates attacked the center of the Union line, which had been stripped almost bare as Union generals sent more and more troops to defend the southern part of the line. It was in the center that the First Minnesota made its famous suicide charge, attacking onrushing Confederates who outnumbered the Minnesotans fifteen to one in a desperate effort to gain time to reinforce the Union line. The regiment suffered a casualty rate exceeding 80%, but succeeded beyond General Hancock’s expectations, as they not only purchased with their lives the critical minutes needed to reinforce the Union line, but stopped the Confederate advance in its tracks. No unit of the United States Army has ever exceeded the First Minnesota for gallantry and courage.
Several years ago, the Trunk, Mrs. Rocket and I visited an elementary school somewhere in the Minneapolis suburbs, where several fourth grade classes had been brought together (by someone, I can’t remember who) to hear me recount the history of the First Minnesota Volunteer Regiment. It was a lot of fun, and the kids really seemed to enjoy it. A number of them were amazingly knowledgeable about the Civil War, too. That is a key fact: there are a great many Americans who care deeply about the Civil War. Much of the best work on the war has been done by amateurs. So the academic historians–no offense to the Rocket Prof–have never really been able to take control of that piece of our history. Which, on the whole, is a very good thing.


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