The 1st Minnesota Infantry got into the Civil War right from the beginning. The unit was organized in April of 1861 and mustered in on the 29th of the month. At the first Battle of Bull Run on July 21st, 1861, the regiment had 48 men killed or mortally wounded.
In 1862, the 1st Minnesota fought in most of the battles in the Peninsular Campaign. It followed that with the battles of South Mountain and Antietam. It’s most famous action took place on the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, July 2nd , 1863.
The 1st Minnesota was on Cemetery Ridge that afternoon, and from that vantage point they could see the five Alabama regiments of Brigadier General Cadmus Wilcox break through the forward Union position along the Emmitsburg Road. Union Second Corps commander Major General Winfield Hancock saw it too, and rode up to the 1st Minnesota’s position. The regiment had three of its companies on detached service, and had only 262 officers and men present. But they were the only troops available, so Hancock ordered them in to buy enough time for reinforcements to arrive.
The regiment rushed into action, charging with fixed bayonets. The aggressive action surprised Wilcox’s men and momentarily thwarted the Confederate advance. The Minnesotans took cover along a dry creek bed called Plum Run and the two sides exchanged fire. The outnumbered Federals could not hold out long. But artillery fire from Union guns on Cemetery Ridge, and the timely arrival of Federal infantry reinforcements allowed the 1st Minnesota to return to Cemetery Ridge.
The 1st Minnesota was in action for only about fifteen minutes, but it was enough time for Union reinforcements to arrive and stop the Confederate advance. But the regiment paid a heavy price. Forty men were killed and another 175 were wounded, a casualty rate of 82%. The unit was again in action the next day, helping to repulse Pickett’s Charge.
For more on the 1st Minnesota Infantry at Gettysburg click here.