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The First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment
Mar 13, 2017
The First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment mustered for a three-year term (1861-1864) in the Union Army at the outset of the American Civil War when the prevailing enlistment period was three months. During offensive movements, it sustained high percentages of casualties at the Battles of First Bull Run (20%) and Antietam (28%) and a catastrophic 82% at the Battle of Gettysburg. It is most noted for its service on the second day at Gettysburg.
At a pivotal moment in the 1863 struggle at Gettysburg, Major General Winfield Scott Hancock, commander of II Corps, ordered the First Minnesota to charge into a situation where it would be outnumbered by at least 5 to 1. The general's purpose was to buy minutes of delay with human lives, and one survivor spoke afterward that he expected the advance to result in "death or wounds to [every single one of the attackers]." The regiment fully and instantly obeyed the order, suffering at least 82% casualties among those making the attack; this action contributed significantly to the preservation of a key Union defensive position on the heights of Cemetery Ridge.
When given the opportunity to speak about the regiment after the war, both General Hancock and U.S. President Calvin Coolidge were unrestrained in their praise. Hancock placed its heroism highest in the known annals of war and ascribed unsurpassed gallantry to the famed attack. Emphasizing the critical nature of the circumstances on July 2 at Gettysburg, President Coolidge considered, "Colonel Colvill and those eight companies of the First Minnesota are entitled to rank as the saviors of their country."
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