Officers of the 1st Minnesota Infantry, 1861.
When the Civil War began on April 12, 1861, Minnesota's governor, Alexander Ramsey, was in Washington, D.C. and he immediately promised President Abraham Lincoln that Minnesota would raise a regiment of 1,000 volunteer soldiers for service in the Union army. These were the first troops offered to fight for the Union during the Civil War. In order to organize and train these raw recruits the state of Minnesota re-opened Fort Snelling to serve as a rendezvous and training center for the volunteer soldiers.
While at the fort, recruits learned the basics of soldiering, and spent the majority of their time marching, drilling with their weapons and standing guard duty. After the draft was instituted in 1863 several large wooden barracks were constructed outside the fort's stone walls to accommodate the large numbers of new soldiers. Once a military unit's term of service was done, Fort Snelling also served as their mustering-out point before the men returned to civilian life. Between 1861 and 1865 nearly 25,000 soldiers passed through Fort Snelling on their way to southern battlefields.
Co. E, 8th Minnesota Infantry, 1862.
Minnesota's soldiers played pivotal roles in many battles across the south. Among the state's most famous units was the 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry, which was not only the first regiment of soldiers offered to fight for the Union army, but also halted a determined Confederate assault at Gettysburg in July 1863 helping to save the Union line. Other units, like the 2nd Minnesota Volunteer Infantry, fought in the war's western theater and distinguished themselves in battles at Shiloh, Vicksburg, Chickamauga, and Atlanta as well as on General William T. Sherman's "March to the Sea." Other soldiers, such as the 3rd Minnesota Infantry, returned to Minnesota in 1862 and fought in the U.S.-Dakota War.
In total, Minnesota furnished 11 infantry regiments, two companies of sharpshooters, several units of artillery and cavalry, and several dozen sailors. During the war 104 African-American men from Minnesota volunteered for service in the army's African American units, including the 1st Iowa African Infantry Regiment, as well as the 18th and 68th Regiments of United States Colored Troops (USCT). By the war's end in 1865, more than 2,500 Minnesotans had died in battle or from illness, and countless more had been wounded while serving in the Union army.
Find out more about Minnesota and the Civil War
Fort Snelling in 1865. Artwork by David Geister.
Depicts the extent of Fort Snelling's expansion during the Civil War (1861-1865).
Bibliography / Resources
Bishop, Judson. The Story of a Regiment - Being a Narrative of the Service of the Second Regiment Minnesota Veteran Volunteer Infantry in the Civil War of 1861 to 1865 . St. Cloud, MN: North Star Press, 2000.
Carley, Kenneth. Minnesota in the Civil War: An Illustrated History. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2006.
Moe, Richard. Last Full Measure: The Life and Death of the First Minnesota Volunteers. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2001.
Newson, Mary Jeannette. Memories of Fort Snelling in Civil War Days, Minnesota History Magazine, Volume 15, Issue 4, pages 395-404, Minnesota Historical Society Press, 1934
Wright, Charles A. No More Gallant a Deed: A Civil War Memoir of the First Minnesota Volunteers. St. Paul, MN: Minnesota Historical Society Press, 2001.
View a selection of Civil War objects in the Society's collections.