First Minnesota unit played pivotal role in Union victory
By Terry Lehrke, News Editor
Col. Lowell Kruse has always been a history buff. He’s served in the military for 25 years, was deployed to Iraq in 2004, and is the current director of logistics for the Minnesota Army National Guard, with an office at Camp Ripley.
And, since 1986, he has taken part in war re-enactments as well as living history events.
At the end of June, Kruse was in Pennsylvania for a course with the U.S. Army War College and made plans to meet with friends and his 20-year-old son, Jacob, to take part in several re-enactments of the battle of Gettysburg just days before the 150th anniversary commemoration of the war. His wife, Amy, and 9-year-old son, Connor weren’t able to make the trip.
Two re-enactments were associated with the 150th anniversary. Kruse and his son participated with the Blue and Gray Alliance, which hosted the re-enactment from June 28 – 30. “It was hosted on private land about 1 1/2 miles west of the actual battlefield. The private land was the original site for the movie ‘Gettysburg’ about 20 years ago,” he said.
On each of the three days, a significant element of the battle at Gettysburg was re-enacted.
“What’s cool about that event is that it recreated the charge of the First Minnesota on the actual battlefield. The National Park Service let us recreate that charge and we marched across the battlefield to the re-enactment site that day,” said Kruse. About 9,000 re-enactors took part in the event.
One highlight, said Kruse was seeing the size and scale of the number of participants, something that doesn’t usually happen in a re-enactment or living history event.
“In the battle of Gettysburg, about 120,000 soldiers participated on both sides — to see just 10 percent of that on a battlefield is pretty amazing. That’s just 10 percent of what would have been huge hoard of soldiers coming down on the town of Gettysburg.”
He said it brings to light the thousands of soldiers that died at Gettysburg over a three-day period — nearly 50,000, almost evenly split between the Union and the Rebels.
“If you think about it, there were 120,000 soldiers involved in the battle, and a third of them were wounded or killed in one three-day conflict,” he said.
He said it was amazing to see 500 calvarymen on horseback in one location.
Minnesota, and in particular the Minnesota Army National Guard, has a special connection with the Battle of Gettysburg.
The First Minnesota was a regiment of 1,000 volunteer soldiers to fight in the American Civil War — in today’s terms, citizen soldiers.
By the time of the Gettysburg conflict, just 262 of the 1,000 soldiers remained.
But when Pres. Abraham Lincoln called for volunteers to go to the battle over the Union line near Gettysburg, Gov. Alexander Ramsey was the first to offer the services of the First Minnesota.
“The story of how they essentially saved the Union lines on the second day of Gettysburg is an incredible story — 262 soldiers got thrust against an element of the Confederate Army that outnumbered them 8-1 and they stopped that element,” said Kruse.
Just 47 soldiers left the battlefield unharmed — 86 percent of the unit were wounded or killed in that fight.
“That’s a pretty significant sacrifice that they made and in reality, if the brigade of Georgians had taken the lines, it would have ended in a confederate victory,” he said.
“The fact that there were 47 survivors after that is an amazing fact considering the line of fire the First Minnesotans took in that charge,” he said.
The Battle of Gettysburg was a pivotal point in the American Civil War. “It was considered the watermark of the Confederacy. From that point on Confederate Army was always in defensive mode and lost the ability to influence the political will of the north — that’s what they were fighting for — political will and the stamina of the Union,” said Kruse.
If the Rebels had been successful at Gettysburg just days before the celebration of the nation’s independence, July 4, Gen. Robert E. Lee’s plan was to arrive at Washington, D.C., on or about July 4 to take control of the Capitol.
The Civil War was fought from 1861 – 1865 after several southern slave states declared their secession from the Union and formed the Confederate States of America, also known as the Confederacy or the South.
A solemn time for Kruse was standing on the actual battlefield.
“To actually be on the field where the conflict occurred is to me a pretty solemn event,” he said. “To see the actual terrain — that portion of the line is so incredibly rough — and to think about those units trying to maintain their order as they’re marching into that fight through all that rough terrain.”
Now, 150 years later, the first brigade combat team of the 34th Infantry Division of the Minnesota Army National Guard can trace its lineage to that First Minnesota unit.
“The Minnesota National Guard is very proud of its connectivity to the First Minnesota,” said Kruse. “Minnesota should be proud of the sacrifice of that unit; that on day two of Gettysburg that unit saved the Union line.
“It’s important for us to recognize that the Minnesota National Guard carries that lineage and it has citizen soldiers that are no different than those who marched off to war in 1861,” said Kruse.
“It’s that connectivity back to history that sends tingles down your back,” said Kruse.
Morrison County in the First Minnesota
In 1861, Morrison County was still highly undeveloped land. Fort Ripley had just been constructed a few years prior, and the only town was Little Falls, which was nothing more than a small township. That is why, when brothers George and Daniel Adams enlisted for the Civil War in May 1861, they listed their home address as “The Platte River,” in Morrison County.
The Adams family, originally from New Brunswick, Canada, lived in Maine during the boys’ childhood. By 1857, they lived in Benton County and when the war broke out they had made their home on the Platte River.
The eldest Adams sons, George 19, and Dan, 21, enlisted with the First Minnesota and were placed together in Company E.
Both were with the First Minnesota at Gettysburg. George was wounded during the regiment’s famous July 2 charge but was able to return after only five nights in the Army Hospital in Newark, N.J. Whether or not Dan was injured, or if he was even with the company during the charge, is unknown.
Both brothers were mustered out (discharged) with Company E in May 1864. George enlisted with the 2nd Minnesota Infantry and was placed in Company C as a colonel. He fought in Sherman’s march to the sea, and was wounded at a skirmish in Jonesboro, Ga. He was mustered out in July 1865.
Three other Adams brothers fought in the war, including David, who served in the 1st Battalion of the Minnesota Infantry March 8 – July 14, 1865. When and where the others served is not known.
Although little is known of Daniel’s life after the war, George raised a family on a farm in Little Falls, along with his wife Ellen. He had lost all use of his right arm, and earned a government pension of $8 a month.
George died in Royalton in 1892, at age 48. Daniel and David are buried beside him at the family plot at Riverside Cemetery in Royalton.
Facts were taken from 1st Minnesota.net by historian and author Wayne Jorgenson of Eden Prairie.