The First Minnesota Regiment at the Battle of Gettysburg was the only regiment from Minnesota to serve in the Eastern theater during the Civil War. The other Minnesota regiments served in the Western theater. There are other books that cover the First Minnesota’s regimental history from their beginnings to their end; Pale Horse At Plum Run, which won the Minnesota Book Award for 2003, covers only its involvement after the Battle of Antietam to the end of the Battle of Gettysburg.
This volunteer regiment was made up of immigrants and second and third-generation Americans. Leehan says that some of the previous histories of the regiment are mythology, with many of the previous histories and reports being contradictory and exaggerated. Leehan strives to provide an accurate history of the regiment by using witness accounts, official documents, and other reliable sources. Some of this material had never been published before now, and these sources are noted in the endnotes.
The First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment was part of the Army of the Potomac. On July 2, 1863, at the Battle of Gettysburg, the Regiment played an important role on Cemetery Ridge. The 283 men of the regiment charged down the Ridge to Plum Run to prevent over a thousand Confederates from taking the Ridge and causing the Union lines to falter. Seventy percent of the Regiment were either killed or wounded in this charge, giving the book part of its title. The next day, July 3, saw those who were still alive and able to fight help to repulse the famous Pickett’s Charge of the Confederate Army. Pickett’s Charge failed and ended the battle. By Leehan’s account of what happened afterward, the Union generals thought that the Confederates would attack again while the Confederates thought the Union would attack them and wipe them out. Both sides had had enough, and Lee and his army were able to retreat before the Union army could prevent it, leaving a battlefield strewn with dead and wounded from both sides.
Four appendices cover how time was kept and varied; Civil War weapons; the mythology of the First Minnesota; and a list of casualties. Following the appendices is the bibliography, endnotes and the index. Six well drawn maps help locate the First Minnesota and other regiments of both sides during the Battle of Gettysburg. There are 29 black and white photographs from the Civil War and after. The chapters are the right length, very readable and enjoyable for both the general reader and the academic. Leehan includes many quotes from primary sources that add much to the story without changing incorrect spelling and grammar of the authors in order that the reader may hear from eyewitnesses of the events. This book is highly recommended to those interested in the Battle of Gettysburg, the First Minnesota, and Minnesota history.
Brian Leehan is a librarian and news assistant at the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper. This is his first book.