First Minnesotan Infantry Regiment
This photograph was taken at Ft. Snelling, Minn., on May 18,
1861. It shows officers and civilians flanked by a few enlisted
men in their unique red shirts, black trousers, and black hat
Photo: Minnesota Historical Society
The First Minnesota
Infantry Regiment was one of the first units organized after President
Lincoln's call for 75,000 troops in April, 1861. The regiment was filled
with enthusiastic men from all over Minnesota and was one of the
few regiments that received training by a qualified officer. Colonel Gorman
was an unpleasant but competent taskmaster and by July, 1861 the regiment
had been sent east and fought with distinction at the battle of Bull Run.
It participated in all the major campaigns of the Army of the Potomac through
the fall of 1863 and a portion of the command called the First Battalion
were at Appomattox, the last battle of the war.
This regiment was best known for the dramatic charge at the battle of Gettysburg. During the night of July 2, 1863 the regiment attacked Wilcox's Alabama Brigade as it was getting ready for the final push to break the Union line. The First Minnesota crossed 200 yards of open ground, fixed bayonets and charged the Confederates in spite of four to one odds. The rebels regrouped and in five minutes killed and or wounded over 150 of the 300 or so soldiers. Darkness and Union reinforcements saved the regiment from total destruction and the stalled the confederate attack.
After the war the several of the survivors held annual reunions in St. Paul where they discussed and took up collections to help members in need. These reunions continued until 1932, the last members of the regiment, Edwin Season and James Wright of Company F died in 1936.*
The significance of this army is that it was the first organized military force in the state of Minnesota. Although there were militias scattered around the state, only a few of them were actively recruited, but were usually uneffective. Despite the threat of Indians all around Minnesota, ( the bloodiest being in 1862) men in Minnesota had dodged the governments attempt to organize them in defense of their homes. The few volunteer militia companies that did enjoy any kind of extended existence were distinguished more by their concern with military efficiency.
As early as September, 1849, during the the initial session of the legislative assembly of Minnesota History, a report urging the organization of a territorial militia was read in the Council by William H. Forbes from St. Paul who spoke for a majority of the Committee on the Militia. Forbes reasoned that a militia force was necessary to contain the "warlike character of the Indians located within the territory and on it's borders." As further inducement, he made apparent the fact that when a territorial militia was organized, it would become eligible to receive arms gratis from the Federal government. David B. Loomis from Stillwater, in the minority report, indicated that the entire number of persons within the territory capable of bearing arms barely exceeded the number to from one regiment. Doubt was also expressed concerning the number of persons available to fill the numerous positions slated to be occupied exclusively by officers.**
**From Muskets to Missiles by------------