Richard Moe tells the story of the First Minnesota Volunteers Regiment during the Civil War, the only Minnesotan regiment that fought in the Eastern theatre of the war; other regiments fought in the Western theatre. In The Last Full Measure , originally published in 1993 and re-published in 2001, Moe incorporates new material from various primary sources like diaries, letters and reports to expand upon his history of the First Minnesota.
The First Minnesota was part of the Army of the Potomac, present at the battles of Bull Run, Edward’s Ferry, The Peninsula Campaign, Antietam, Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, and Gettysburg. Members of the First Minnesota were volunteers who were fighting for the preservation of the Union. They were at first very enthusiastic, as were many volunteers - they thought the war would be a quick one with a lot of glory spread around. After the disaster of Bull Run, they realized that it was not going to be an easy war.
The regiment served as a rear guard for the Union army’s retreat back to Washington. They saw action in the Peninsula Campaign and at Antietam, though they luckily were not put into the meat grinder at Fredericksburg. They served with the diversionary force at the Battle of Chancellorsville, which meant they were not at the defeat of General Hooker at Chancellorsville but were at Fredericksburg. The First was almost wiped out at the Battle of Gettysburg. Moe relates how they saved the Union army from defeat, sacrificing a lot of men in that battle. Later this regiment that served with great honor was mustered out since their term had expired. Some re-enlisted, but many were too worn out or wounded to continue.
Historian and author James M. McPherson gives this book high praise, saying “This is Civil War combat history as it should be written... the best thing of its kind that I have ever read.” This praise is well-earned. The book flows with the waves of a narrative, and Moe’s expert use of his sources (most quoted were not officers) makes the story lively.
The several black-and-white maps throughout the book are easy to read and understand, and the many black-and-white illustrations are mainly photographs from the period. Also included are endnotes, a short bibliography and an index. This book is highly recommended to Civil War enthusiasts and those interested in Minnesota history.
Richard Moe graduated from Williams College in 1959 and received his law degree from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1966. He became the president of the National Trust for Historical Preservation in 1993. He is co-author of Minnesota Treasures (2004) and of Changing Places (1997).