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1ST Minnesota & 20th Maine

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Gettysburg, July 2, 1863

Five Historians describe the First Minnesota Regiment at Gettysburg

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General Winfield Scott Hancock,
II Corps

"….Hancock galloped off to the right, where he soon came upon a large body of Confederate infantry advancing unopposed toward the undefended crest of Cemetery Ridge. The general at first thought these were Union troops retreating from the advanced front, but a volley of shots which wounded his aide Captain W.D.W. Miller soon revealed the truth. He then spied a Federal Regiment of about three hundred men coming up from the rear. Spurring over to them, Hancock shouted to their colonel, 'Do you see those colors? Take them.' It was clearly a suicidal mission, but Colonel William Colville and his 1st Minnesota hesitated not a moment. Charging at top speed with bayonets leveled they tore into the enemy force, the brigade of Cadmus Wilcox of A. P. Hill's corps, and brought it to a halt. They took fearful losses--well over two-thirds of their number--but they did their job. They stopped cold a rebel advance which threatened to break the Union line in two, and they gave Hancock the time he needed to gather reinforcements in this area. The charge of the First Minnesota at Gettysburg has become one of the most famous of the whole war."

David M. Jordan, Winfield Scott Hancock: A Soldier's Life (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1988), 93.

Captain Joseph Periam, Co. K

 

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"The most desperate struggle occurred on Longstreet's front , where two Union regiments at separated points of this combat zone, the 20th Maine and the 1st Minnesota, achieved lasting fame by throwing back Confederate attacks that came dangerously close to breakthroughs. …

A mile to the north, however, another Alabama brigade threatened to puncture the Cemetery Ridge line near its center. Their attack hit a gap in the Union line created by the earlier advance of Sickle's corps to the peach orchard. Winfield Scott Hancock's 2nd Corps occupied the sector, but until Hancock could shift reinforcements to stop the assault he had only eight companies of one regiment on hand to meet the oncoming brigade. The regiment was the 1st Minnesota, veteran of all the army's battles since the beginning at Bull Run. Hancock ordered these 262 men to charge the 1,600 Alabamians and slow them down long enough for reinforcements to arrive. The Minnesotan's did the job, but only forty-seven of them came back. Hancock plugged the gap, and the Confederate attack all along the southern half of the battlefield flickered out in the twilight."

James M. McPherson, Battle Cry of Freedom (New York: Ballantine Books, 1988), 659-660.

 

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Charles Goddard, Co. K

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Sergeant, Matthew Marvin, Co. K

"It was at Gettysburg that the First had its rendezvous with history, not once, but twice. It was here that the First earned the right to be on William F. Fox's list of the Civil War's great fighting regiments. On July 2, the First was called upon to stop the advance of the Confederates through a gap in the Union line. They did so at a cost of two-thirds of those involved, described by Hancock as one of the most gallant deeds in history. The next day, the regiment participated in one of the great military dramas of American History--the Pickett-Pettigrew Charge and repulse. At the Copse of Trees, the First lost another one-third of the few survivors from the day before."

Robert W. Meinhard, "The First Minnesota at Gettysburg," The Gettysburg Magazine (January 1991): 79.

 

 

"As a result, he had found neither the time nor the means to fill the gap on his left, where Caldwell had been posted until his departure, and the even larger gap that yawned beyond it ever since Sickles moved out to occupy the salient.   To his horror, Hancock now saw that Wilcox was headed directly for this soft spot, driving the remnant of Humphreys' division pell-mell before him as he advanced, with Lang on his left and Wright on the the left of Lang.  Gambling that no simultaneous attack would be launched against his right, just below Cemetery Hill, Hancock ordered Gibbons and Hays to double-time southward along the ridge and use what was left of their commands to plug the gap the rebels were about to strike.
He hurried in that direction, ahead of his troops, and arrived in time to witness the final rout of Humphreys, whose men were in full flight by now, with Wilcox close on their heels and driving hard for the scantly defended ridge beyond.  As he himself climbed back up the slope on horseback, under heavy fire from the attackers, Hancock wondered how he was going to stop or even delay them long enough for a substantial line of defense to be formed on the high ground.  Gibbons and Hays "had been ordered up and were coming on the run," he later explained, "but I saw that in some way five minutes must be gained or we were lost."   Just then the lead regiment of Gibbon's first brigade came over the crest in a column of fours, and Hancock saw a chance to gain those five minutes, though at a cruel price.
"What regiment is this?"  He asked the officer at the head of the column moving toward him down the slope.
"First Minnesota," its commander William Colville replied.
Hancock nodded. "Colonel, do you see those colors?"  As he spoke he pointed at the Alabama flag in the front rank of the charging rebels.  Colville said he did.
"Then take them," Hancock told him.
Quickly, although scarcely a man among them could have failed to see what was being asked of him, the Minnesotans deployed the slope--eight companies of them, at any rate; three others had been detached as skirmishers, leaving 262 men present for duty--and charging headlong down it, bayonets fixed, struck the center of the gray line.   Already in some disorder as a result of their run of nearly a mile over stony ground and against such resistance as Humphreys had managed to offer, the Confederates recoiled briefly, then came on again, yelling fiercely as they concentrated their fire on this one undersized blue regiment.  The result was devastating.  Colville and all but three of his officers were killed or wounded, together with 215 of his men.  A captain brought the 47 survivors back up the ridge, less than one fifth as many as had charged down it.   They had not taken the Alabama flag, but they had held on to their own.  And they had given Hancock his five minutes. plus five more for good measure."

Shelby Foote, Stars in Their Courses: The Gettysburg Campaign June-July 1863 (New York: The Modern Library, 1994), 145-146.
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Alonzo Pickle, Co. K

 

 

 

The 1st Minnesota was a regiment with a reputation, if there ever was one.When the Union line was reeling back on July 2, Hancock had ordered it, with only seven companies in line, to attack. The Minnesotans had charged Wilcox's brigade of Alabamians, halted them, turned the tide of battle, and suffered casualties that reduced the seven companies from 262 to 47 effectives. This 82 percent loss, with none reported missing, is generally considered to have set a record for the Union army.

George R. Stewart, Pickett's Charge: a Microhistory of the Final Attack at Gettysburg, July 3, 1863 (Boston:Houghton Mifflin Company, 1959), 58.

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Charles North Co. K

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