Mike Eckers of Owatonna presented information about Fillmore County’s contributions to the Civil War during the Wykoff Historical Society meeting on Monday, Nov. 28.  BRETTA GRABAU/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPERS
Mike Eckers of Owatonna presented information about Fillmore County’s contributions to the Civil War during the Wykoff Historical Society meeting on Monday, Nov. 28. BRETTA GRABAU/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPERS
Think back to 150 years ago. The country was half way through the most devastating war fought on American soil and men from almost every state in the Union contributed soldiers to the war effort.

As a part of the annual Wykoff Historical Society meeting on Monday, Nov. 18, Mike Eckers of Owatonna, presented a detailed lecture on the men Minnesota sent to the Union Army, particularly those from Fillmore County and many residents of Wykoff and the surrounding area.

Minnesota produced some of the most well-known and honorable regiments of both the Union Army and Confederate Army. Eckers emphasized at that time, Minnesota was the farthest west anyone would go to settle. Any farther would have been in Dakota Indian Territory.

"Minnesota was only three years old as a state when the war began," Eckers said. The governor of the state, Henry Sibley, happened to be in Washington, D.C., when war was declared. Whether it was legal or not, since he was out of the state, he offered President Abraham Lincoln the first 1,000 men called to serve in the army. These men made up the First Minnesota regiment.

Minnesota eventually supplied 11 regiments and sent a higher percentage of men to battle than any other state. This consisted of 23,600 men, 2,400 of whom died while enlisted.

The First Minnesota regiment was the only Minnesota unit to make it to the eastern theater of the Civil War. Their glory moment came at the Battle of Gettysburg on the second day of battle. At Plum Run on July 2, 1863, 262 men of the First charged to meet a much larger Confederate force, and, within 15 minutes, 82 percent fell. This sacrificial act saved the Union victory at Gettysburg.

The First contributed gallantly to the Union cause. Eckers stated, "The First was the only regiment ever mustered out before the war ended. Some men returned to Minnesota and others continued fighting as the First Minnesota Battalion."

Not far behind in fame was the Second Minnesota regiment. This regiment consisted solely of volunteers, with the exception of Company A. The men of Company A were the militia regiment from Chatfield. The commander, Judson Bishop, eventually became a brigadier general.

In January of 1862, the Second participated in the Battle of Mill Springs, which was the first Union victory of the war. Later, they served as a pivotal part of the Battle of Chickamauga, which easily may have been a Confederate victory except for the efforts of the Minnesota men and their commander, George Thomas, known as the Rock of Chickamauga.

The Second served for four years and marched 5,300 miles to battles in the western theater of the war.

The Third Minnesota unfortunately tangled with the Confederate cavalry general, Nathan Bedford Forrest. By making the Minnesota commander believe he was outnumbered, Forrest forced the surrender of the men who outnumbered him eight to one. Eckers related that these men were paroled and sent back to Minnesota to deal with the Dakota War of 1862.

Once they returned south, the Third was assigned to be a provost guard in Arkansas. They did such a good job as a police force, a petition began to keep them as provost guards.

Another notable unit for the sake of Fillmore County was the Ninth Minnesota. One commander of this regiment was Josiah Marsh from Fillmore County. His brother, John, had commanded part of the Fifth Minnesota when the Dakota War broke out. He was killed en route to Fort Ridgley. The next day, Josiah enlisted in the army and eventually commanded the Ninth.

June 10, 1864, represented the bloodiest day in Minnesota history for the Minnesota Ninth. In the Battle of Sadine, 219 men were captured and sent to the infamous Andersonville Prison. Within six weeks, all died. This included two sets of brothers who died in one day, Eckers related.

According to Eckers, Fillmore County supplied 80 to 90 men who enlisted to fight. Half of them were in cavalry units fighting with an Iowa cavalry or against the Dakota.

One young man from the Fillmore County area, Wallace Shipton, enlisted with the Eighth Minnesota in 1863 at age 13. Four of his brothers had enlisted in the Second Minnesota. Eckers stated this was a very unique find for so many men from the same family to fight in the war. Two of the brothers were buried in Fillmore County and one in Austin.

Though Minnesota was such a young state, all the regiments and the men of Fillmore County played a crucial and important part in the history of this state and nation.