By Don Davis
Minnesota soldiers gave their lives on July 2, 1863, in the Civil War’s Battle of Gettysburg to buy fellow Union troops a few minutes, and up to 100 Minnesotans plan to remember the sacrifice during a battlefield visit next week.
The 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment was the country’s first to answer President Abraham Lincoln’s call for troops in 1861, and two years later at Gettysburg, Pa., its soldiers attacked the Alabama Brigade as it prepared for what was thought could be a final push to break through Union lines. If that had happened, the fear was that Confederate troops would have reached Washington and defeated Lincoln’s Army.
Instead, the Minnesota soldiers delayed rebel troops for a few minutes, long enough that more Union fighters could reach the battle and eventually win. However, 170 of the 262 Minnesotans facing 1,600 Alabama troops were killed to buy needed time.
Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie said that 150 years later the U.S. Army War College still takes military leaders to the site to show what bravery means.
“They gave all they had to save the day and save the Union,” said Rep. Dean Urdahl of Grove City, a former history teacher and Civil War buff.
Urdahl and Ritchie are co-chairmen of Minnesota Civil War 150 (www.mncivilwar150.com). They will lead the state delegation to Gettysburg.
On Tuesday, the two joined Gov. Mark Dayton in preparing for the trip. The celebration included men dressed in Civil War uniforms.
With Ritchie and Urdahl leading the trip, dignitaries will include Maj. Gen. Rick Nash, head of the Minnesota National Guard; Sen. Roger Reinert of Duluth; and Rep. Mary Murphy of Hermantown.
Urdahl said that Minnesota Civil War re-enactors will follow the 1st Minnesota path on that deadly day 150 years ago, and an Alabama contingent will follow its troops’ footsteps.
“Minnesota was the first state to volunteer to defend the union,” said Reinert, a civics instructor.
The soldiers, mostly 18 and 19 years old, expected a short war, he said. “This was going to be a chance to see the country.”
Instead, the 1st Minnesota was engaged in battles throughout the next two years.