One hundred and fifty years ago today, the First Minnesota Volunteer Regiment performed a military action about which President Calvin Coolidge would later say, “In all the history of warfare this charge has few if any equals and no superiors. It was an exhibition of the most exalted heroism against an apparently insuperable antagonist.”
When they formed in 1861, the First Minnesota boasted 1,000 men — indeed, Minnesota had the highest percentage of volunteers of any state in the Union, with over half of the state’s eligible men enlisting. After six weeks of training, they loaded onto a barge, and then trains, to take them to war. They changed trains in Chicago, and the Chicago Tribune wrote,
“There are few regiments we have ever seen that can compare to the brawn and muscle with these Minnesotians, used to the axe, the rifle, the oar and the setting pole. They are unquestionably the finest body of troops that has yet to appear in our streets.”
But by 1863, their number had dwindled to 262.