Minnesotans see pivotal role soldiers played in war

by Jonathan Young

ECM Publishers

An official state delegation to Gettysburg rededicated the three Minnesota monuments on the battlefield during the battle’s 150th anniversary July 1-3.

Minnesotans laid a wreath at the foot of each monument and honored the 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment’s role in the conflict.

Although it was the only Minnesota regiment to fight at Gettysburg, the unit played a critical role and suffered severe casualties. After seeing action on two of the three days of battle, approximately 70 percent of the 330 Minnesotans who fought were dead or wounded.

The delegation of approximately 90 elected officials, historians, authors and history buffs traveled to Gettysburg on behalf of the Minnesota Civil War Commemoration Task Force and the Minnesota Historical Society.

Among the delegates were Congresswoman Betty McCollum; Secretary of State Mark Ritchie; state Reps. Mike Benson, Mary Murphy and Dean Urdahl; Maj. Gen. Richard Nash of the Minnesota National Guard; and Steve Elliott, director and CEO of the Minnesota Historical Society.

“Visiting the battlefield, where so many Minnesotans lost their lives or were injured, brings home the pivotal role these brave young men played in determining the outcome of the American Civil War and the future of the nation,” Elliott said.

On the evening of July 2, the delegation rededicated the monument at Plum Run, where the regiment made its famous charge against a much larger force to buy time for troops to fill a critical hole in the Union line.

A bronze statue of a charging soldier atop a granite base marks the location of the charge. The state of Minnesota placed the 32-foot-tall monument in 1893 at a cost of $16,000. It was first dedicated July 2, 1897.

During the rededication ceremony, Secretary of State Mark Ritchie – who serves as co-chair of the Minnesota Civil War Commemoration Task Force – read part of a proclamation by Gov. Mark Dayton declaring July 2, 2013, “Minnesota Courage at Gettysburg Recognition Day.”

Tenth-grader Joshua Hamal, of Rochester, participated in the ceremony by reading the poem “The First Minnesota at Gettysburg” by MacKinley Kantor.

Former U.S. Attorney Tom Heffelfinger and his wife, Janine, laid a wreath by the monument.

Tom Heffelfinger’s great-great-grandfather participated in the charge and was struck in the chest by a “minie ball,” a type of rifle bullet. Fortunately, a memo book in his pocket cushioned the impact, and he survived with severe bruises.

On July 3, the Minnesota delegation rededicated the other two monuments: an obelisk marking where the regiment helped repulse Pickett’s charge and an urn in Gettysburg National Cemetery.

Like the monument at Plum Run, the granite obelisk was placed by the state of Minnesota in 1893. It stands about 24 feet tall and cost $2,500.

The marble urn in the national cemetery was placed in 1867 by surviving members of the 1st Minnesota and has the distinction of being the first monument on the battlefield, as well as the only remaining urn. It stands at a little more than 5 feet tall.

Task force member Darryl Sannes, of Brooklyn Center, and his wife, Diane, placed a wreath next to the urn during the July 3 rededication ceremony that took place despite a gentle, steady rain. The couple has “adopted” the monument to ensure it is well cared for.

Members of the Minnesota delegation also placed commemorative Civil War veteran flags at each of the 52 Minnesota graves at the national cemetery. Earlier in the morning, a few members had placed them at the two graves of two Minnesotans buried in the local Evergreen Cemetery next door – William R. Allen, of Richfield, and Marcus Aurelius Past, of Brooklyn Township.

The rededication of the urn was the delegation’s last official activity on the battlefield. It ended with a moment of silence, a prayer by task force member Jeffrey Williams and a rendition of taps, played on the harmonica by Jefferson Spilman of the 1st Minnesota re-enactors.