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NARRATIVE OF THE FIRST REGIMENT OF MINNESOTA HEAVY ARTILLERY

BY LIEUTENANT AND ADJUTANT JAMES J. EGAN

This regiment commenced its organization in the summer of 1864, and as fast as each company was organized was ordered to Chattanooga, Tenn. Sherman had begun his march to the sea, Hood was preparing to march northerly, and Chattanooga thus became a strategic point. General Thomas was in Nashville, overlooking the entire situation, and maintaining a large force of artillery at Lookout Mountain and Chattanooga.

The state at this time had an estimated population of 250,000 persons; 25,000 men had enlisted in the Union cause from Minnesota; the frontier had been depopulated by the Sioux outbreak; agriculture was the chief source of livelihood; and it will therefore be readily seen how great the strain upon our young commonwealth to take almost 1,700 men, its very bone and sinew, from families dependent for support upon their industry and labor. An extraordinary cause justified the demand, and to the last bugle call of their country's cause these men cheerfully responded. Children, families, homes, were left behind, and the South faced. That terrible South where so many had already met death. The cities had been depleted, and the gallant men composing the First Minnesota Heavy Artillery came mainly from the country districts. Intelligent and stalwart, healthy and rugged and inured to toil, they formed splendid material for soldiers. The regiment was composed of twelve companies, each company containing one hundred and forty men, officered by one captain, four lieutenants, and the usual non-commissioned officers. Great care was used by the governor in selecting such officers, old veteran soldiers being usually selected, sergeants from the veteran First Minnesota, and corporals from the Third, Fourth and Fifth being made captains and lieutenants.

When one of the great heroes of Gettysburg, Colonel William Colvill, consented to take charge of the new organization, and the veteran major of the Fourth, L. L. Baxter, his next in rank, was made lieutenant colonel, and Misner of the Third and Eddy of the Fifth, and that other gallant veteran from the First Minnesota, who had encountered Longstreet's charge at Gettysburg, C. P. Heffelfinger - when these follow as majors, who couldn't say that "Duty well performed, if not success and honor, must follow their regimental banner."

The command is ordered to Chattanooga to take charge of the heavy guns and forts of that place. Under the brow of Missionary Ridge, at the base of Lookout Mountain, and with the battlefields of Chickamauga and Atlanta beyond, what inspiring memories to lofty thoughts and patriotism! Rumor comes from time to time that Hood is about to march to Chattanooga and thence to Knoxville. The men are placed on half-rations, and the utmost vigilance exerted and anxiety prevails. There was reason for this anxiety. General Hood had reorganized the rebel forces of the South and Southwest, and it was a serious question as to what route he would take north. By attacking and capturing Chattanooga, thence on to Knoxville, he could have joined General Lee and delayed the final result.

The confidence displayed by Generals Thomas and Stedman, in placing the regiment in so responsible a post, was extremely complimentary. General Thomas Francis Meagher, fresh from the battlefields of Virginia, was given command of the district of Etawah, embracing our post, until the danger was over. The battle of Nashville has been fought and won; Sherman has reached the Carolinas; Lee has surrendered at Appomattox. The war practically over, the regiment in the summer and fall of 1865 is finally mustered out. Captain Harvey, Officer of St. Paul, was honored by being made acting assistant adjutant general of the district. Lieutenant Colonel Baxter became our colonel, and was, by order of General Thomas, chief of garrison artillery of Chattanooga from March, 1865, until the regiment left for home. Others, by reason of their activity and intelligence, were placed in places of trust and peril, and the regiment, with its career and duty well done and sacrifice endured, merits a name high on the monument that the record of Minnesota soldiers deserves.

 

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