On this day 157 years ago

I don’t know that my Minnesota ancestors fought in the Civil War, but the Iowa side of the family did, in the Western campaigns under Grant. I’ve been in this state for 20 years, my mother and grandparents were born here, so it’s fair that I take a little pride in the bravery of the 1st Minnesota.

No Minnesotan should ever flaunt the Confederate flag.


  1. says

    While doing some family history research I came across a branch of the family in America. One of their ancestors, Edmund Strother Dargan was a Confederate congressman for Alabama At the meeting which lead to the break up of the Union he produced a piece justifying slavery. His basic premise was that slaves were so used to being slaves that if they were freed they would not be able to survive on their own. As a result there would be all these starving ex-slaves who would have to be put out of their misery. Three other ancestors served in a Carolina regiment Two of them are listed as deserters from the Confederacy. They were a private and a corporal and were clearly smarter than the other who was a medical officer and was killed in battle. The congressman had one other claim to infamy. Apparently one particularly obnoxious congressman insulted him so he stabbed him on the floor of Congress.

  2. blf says

    I like this bit: According to Ye Pfffft! of All Knowledge, they managed to capture the colors of the 28th Virginia Infantry. “The Confederate flag was taken back to Minnesota as a war trophy and is kept but not publicly displayed at the Minnesota Historical Society.” Virginia has apparently tried several times to get the flag returned, but Minnesota has told them to feck off.

  3. Pierce R. Butler says

    Such a clean, bloodless battle scene!

    And with two rather African-looking men in the front line – has to have been (re-?)painted in the 21st century.

  4. whheydt says

    I’m afraid that my father would amused–on behalf of his grandfather–with that painting. That particular great-grandfather fought in the war and apparently derided most painting of it for showing far more space between the lines of the two forces than there really was. Unfortunately, my great-grandfather was on the Confederate side (3rd Louisiana Cavalry).

    The other side of my father’s family was still in Prussia at that point (that great-grandfather having left instead of being drafted into the Prussian Army for the Franco-Prussian War of 1870). Both sides of my mother’s family were still in Denmark–arriving in the US in 1906 (my grandfather) and 1907 (my grandmother).

  5. says

    This reminds me of the 20th Maine. I think there’s a song about them. (I have little of quality to add to this discussion, I just wanted to say more than “eff the rebs” and “fifth”!)

  6. anne says

    I am also reminded of the 20th Maine. My husband’s brother’s wife, and therefore some of my nieces and a nephew, are descended from someone who served in the 20th. I’ve seen the letter from Chamberlain that my sister-in-law keeps, thanking her ancestor for his service.

    No Mainer should ever flaunt any Confederate flag.

  7. starskeptic says

    Pierce R. Butler@3
    Which ones are the ‘rather African-looking men’?

  8. jacksprocket says

    (Steve Earle)

    I am Kilran and I’m a fightin’ man and I come from County Clare
    And the Brits would hang me for a Fenian so I took my leave from there
    And I crossed the ocean in the Arrianne, the vilest tub afloat
    And the captain’s brother was a railroad man and he met us at the boat
    So I joined up with the 20th Maine, like I said my friend I’m a fighting man
    And we’re marching south in the pouring rain, and we’re all goin’ down to Dixieland

    I am Kilran of the 20th Maine and we fight for Chamberlain
    ‘Cause he stood right with us when the Johnnies came like a banshee on the wind
    When the smoke cleared out over Gettysburg many a mother wept
    For many a good boy died there, sure, and the air smelled just like death
    I am Kilran of the 20th Maine and I marched to hell and back again
    For Colonel Joseph Chamberlain – we’re all goin’ down to Dixieland

    I am Kilran of the 20th Maine and I damn all gentlemen
    Whose only worth is their father’s name and the sweat of a workin’ man
    Well, we come from the farms and the city streets and a hundred foreign lands
    And we spilled our blood in the battle’s heat, now we’re all Americans
    I am Kilran of the 20th Maine and did I tell you, friend, I’m a fighting man
    And I’ll not be back this way again – ’cause we’re all goin’ down to Dixieland

    Words and music by Steve Earle South Nashville Music/WB Music ASCAP.

  9. Pierce R. Butler says

    starskeptic @ # 7: Which ones are the ‘rather African-looking men’?

    To my eye, the man whose head is closest to the center of the picture seems much darker-skinned than my idea of the typical 1863 Minnesotan, The hatless man just to his right seems quite Caucasian, but the next one to his right looks rather swarthy. That guy in the lower-right waving a sword (really? in a gunfight?) also looks much darker than the rest.

  10. garnetstar says

    82% casualties? I think that today even 30% casualties are considered an unacceptable slaughter in a battle.
    Yuck, the good old days.

  11. Mobius says

    @10 Typically in a Civil War battle one side would retreat after taking 30% casualties.

    This story reminds me of the 20th Maine at Little Round Top on the same day. Joshua Chamberlain’s regiment pushed back numerous Confederate charges. Finally, with ammunition nearly depleted, Chamberlain ordered fix bayonets and charged, pushing the exhausted Confederates back.

    I don’t recall the exact figures (and Wikipedia doesn’t seem to have them), but the regiment started the day with about 380 men and ended with about 150 whole and walking wounded. It earned Chamberlain the Congressional Medal of Honor.

  12. Ridana says

    9) @ Pierce R. Butler:
    Here’s a better image of the painting (by Don Troiani, 1984). You can both enlarge it in the window plus zoom your screen without losing much resolution for a closer look at the details.

    To my eye all of them are white, just either more or less tanned, smeared with gunpowder soot, or in shadow. The one that you particularly noted is dark, but it seems to be shadow and he has shaggy straight hair.

    The one that really threw me for a loop in the image as posted above was the guy shouldering the backwards pointed bayonet. Even enlarging it until it was fuzzy it looked for all the world like a Native American man with long black hair and tips of feathers, his face turned away, about to be nailed by an incoming giant flip-flop. Turned out the feathers were his fingertips, the long hair, his upraised arm bent to shield his face, and the flip-flop, his hat flying off. :D My eyes are old.

    It also sort of looked like the seal on the flag was a hole blown clean through it (by the giant thong?), but the scene seemingly behind it would’ve had to be in the sky, so I knew that wasn’t right. Hence my search for either a better image or a description.

    As for the fellow with the sword, maybe he lost his gun (with its stabby bayonet), yet is still prepared to charge with only his stabby sword.

  13. Pierce R. Butler says

    Ridana @ # 13 – Thanks, that’s a much clearer image. Still not a drop of blood visible anywhere.

    To my eye all of them are white, just either more or less tanned, smeared with gunpowder soot…

    The Minnesotans’ faces are clean and their uniforms all seem freshly laundered, except for one or two of the fallen. Their officers must have maintained high standards of appearance, even on the second day of a prolonged disagreement with literally faceless foes.

    I’d say the flip-flop hat came off the head of the middle man of the three in the front line, since the feather-fingered fellow still wears his. Inspiring how the wind causes both banners to billow, yet barely riffles the rifle smoke.

    And the sword-(epee?-) wielding soldier in the foreground right, the one apparently carrying a tin water cup on the brim of his hat ;-), wears a shamrock on his chest (as on the hat of the central figure). Must’ve been a couple of the Black Irish.

  14. seachange says

    Nonrefundable cash up-front. If not offered, they know their words are worthless.

  15. numerobis says

    What sucks is that after all the bloodletting, the North won, and then said “ok well that was fun, carry on then” to the Southern plantation owners.

  16. says

    Problem was a lot of opposition to slavery in the North was based on the economic effect on free white labor, not concern for the enslaved. There is a reason for the name of RADICAL Republicans; they were more likely to give a damn.

  17. John Harshman says

    It boggles my mind that the Confederate flag is so often displayed in east Tennessee and, of all places, West Virginia. Those who do not learn from history are doomed to be douchebags.

  18. sirsamvimes says

    The 20th Maine Volunteer Infantry brought 386 men to Gettysburg, of whom 29 were killed, 91 wounded, and 5 missing. The names of the casualties are listed on the monument on Little Round Top.

  19. blf says

    The “shamrock” is the 1st Minnesota’s infantry corps badge (and can also be seen on the hat of the frontmost standing Union soldier (see the image @13)); the flag with the seal seems related to that of Minnesota at the time (the background colour is apparently different, maybe the one in the painting is the infantry version?); images of both the badge and state flag of the time at Ye Pffft! of All Knowledge.

  20. Ridana says

    Pierce R. Butler @14: Look again. :) No one standing seems to be bleeding, but the fallen soldier on the left (feet near ammo box?) is bleeding from the mouth, and there are some blood stains on others fallen, esp. the one caught mid-drop with his canteen still in the air. It could be mud, but it’s a different color from the mud stains on the downed man to the right of him.

    The hat was knocked off his head when the man raised his arm to shield his face. You can see his bare head with sandy hair peeking out on the right side of his arm. And those faces don’t look clean to me. The center man shouting shows smudge lines on his forehead, the man to the right of sword guy beneath the bayonet has a smudge on his cheek…I won’t detail all that I see. I wouldn’t call their uniforms clean and pressed either, but ymmv.

    I don’t know art, but it still seems reasonably good to me and gets its point and emotion across. At least it beats McNaughton’s crap all to hell.

  21. Pierce R. Butler says

    Ridana @ # 21 – Okay, I zoomed in on the fallen soldier next to the ammo(?) box, and have to agree that a little blood does show on his face. Not so sure about the face-planter – the stains on his back seem much the same as the stains on his elbow…

    You’re also right about the flying hat: I had thought that the head of the man behind the one with his gun still on his shoulder was that man’s head. And I took what you see as smudges as light/shadow effects – we’d have to interrogate the artist very closely to make sure.

    I see the uniforms as well-laundered mostly because I compare them to, e.g., Matthew Brady photographs, and written descriptions of the poorly-equipped troops on both sides of the Unpleasantness Between the States. It surely also influenced me to look up Troiani’s website and see that whitewashing the ugliness of war is his consistent pattern, regardless of his claim (“DON TROIANI is a traditional academic realist painter well known for his extremely accurate historical and military paintings mostly of the Civil War and American Revolution.”) otherwise. He may get the insignia on the buttons right, but politically he belongs in the “Dulce et decorum est …” school, which I find inherently fantasist.

    The other thing that struck me about the 1st Minnesota painting at hand here is the uncanny resemblance between the hatless man in the front line and the wounded Minnesotan writhing on the ground before him: practically twins, right down to the hair- and mustache-trimming. No wonder the one still on his feet seems so angry.