Article as Printed in the Wright County
What it was like
Buffalo resident gains firsthand information as Civil War
re-enactment group member
By Ed DuBois
Getting dressed up in Union
Army uniforms and marching with all the gear worn by Civil War soldiers gives
members of the 2nd Minnesota re-enactment group some idea “what it was like”
to serve the country about 140 years ago. The pleasure of sitting around
a fire roasting coffee beans and frying rations is part of that experience,
About 30 residents of Minnesota
and Wisconsin comprise the membership of the group. Their vice president
of recruitment is Dan Peterson of rural Buffalo.
He said a 1st Minnesota
re-enactment group has been active since the 1970s and at one time had as many
as 100 members. Both the 1st Minnesota group and the relatively new 2nd
Minnesota group are participating in a Civil War Weekend 1865 event at Fort
Snelling on Aug. 13 and 14, Peterson mentioned.
The 1st Minnesota was famous
for their heroic charge during the Battle of Gettysburg. They suffered
unprecedented casualties, but they saved the day by delaying a Confederate advance
long enough for reinforcements to arrive and prevent a breakthrough.
Valor and honor
Peterson said the 2nd Minnesota
earned their share of recognition for valor, as well. The Congressional
Medal of Honor was created during the Civil War. Of all the Medals of
Honor won by Minnesota units, members of the 2nd Minnesota received over half.
Peterson explained that the 2nd Minnesota joined Gen. Ulysses S. Grant
the day after the Battle of Shiloh in Tennessee. From there on, the regiment
fought with distinction in most of the major battles during the remainder of
the war. Peterson said they were in the thick of some of the worst fighting.
At Chickamauga, Tenn., the
2nd Minnesota saved the day three times while preventing Confederate breakthroughs.
Although the Confederates eventually won that battle, they paid a high
price. Only about half a year later, the Union Army took Atlanta, Peterson
Interest in history
A Civil War buff most of
his life, Peterson enjoys reading history books and learning about the culture
and events of the past. He and his wife Sally have four grown up children
and two grandchildren. Dan works as a sales rep for a company that helps
people serve as their own general contractor while building their homes. Previously,
he worked in senior level IT (Informa-tion Technology) management, he said.
About four years ago, Sally
saw an item in a Journal-Press publication about a Civil War related event.
Dan decided to go.
“I met the members of the
2nd Minnesota there,” he recalled.
Now he is a fully involved
member of the group.
Peterson has enjoyed hands-on
experiences that have given him concrete information about “what it was like”
to be a Civil War soldier. He described one event at Franklin, Tenn. that
involved 13,000 re-enactment people. About 7,000 portrayed Confed-erate
soldiers. Close to 100,000 spectators attend the three-day spectacle,
which included the firing of 32 canons.
Peterson is looking forward
to a national event in Mississippi at the site of the Battle of Corinth. About
12,000 to 15,000 re-enactment people are expected.
Recently, a smaller gathering
gave the 2nd Minnesota re-enactment group a chance to fire their black powder
rifles. They met a few miles north of Hinckley, Minn., where one of the
members owns 80 acres. Targets were set up at 50 yards, 100 yards and
200 yards in a safe area for shooting.
Peterson owns a reproduction
of an 1861 Springfield rifle. He and the others found out the Civil War
era rifles were fairly accurate at 50 yards, but the untrained shooters had
trouble hitting targets at 100 and 200 yards.
Peterson commented that
hands-on events like the one near Hinckley are better for recruitment. Firing
rifles is more fun than marching drills.
The temperature on July
16 in the Hinckley area was in the low 90s, and the re-enactment group members
wore their wool Civil War uniforms. They soon found out what the real
Civil War soldiers endured in the summertime. They soon took off their
heavy four-button sack coats. Instead of wool shirts, they wore lighter
civilian-type cotton shirts.
Peterson commented that
the Civil War soldiers asked for cotton shirts when they wrote home. The
Army only provided wool shirts, pants and coats. Asked why the wool of
the sack coat is so thick, Peterson said, “It’s durable.” He added that
the soldiers needed something that would keep them warm in the wintertime.
Hat for foraging
Holding out his forage hat,
he explained a leather strap above the brim could be used as a handle. The
hat became a container when the soldiers were foraging for food.
Some variety at mealtime
was desirable be-cause the Army provided only salt pork and hardtack (hard biscuits)
most of the time. Foraging was encouraged, Peterson ex-plained.
Each soldier carried a black
leather cartridge box with paper cartridges and mini-balls. The ammunition
inside the box was contained in tins that protected the soldier from cartridge
box explosions, which were a common occurrence, Peterson said. The tins
forced the explosion either up or out, and not toward the soldier carrying the
Tough and disciplined
Considering the danger of
wartime service, the instability of the ammunition, the uncomfortable clothing,
the scant rations, and unsanitary conditions, which left the soldiers vulnerable
to disease, Peterson has concluded that Civil War soldiers were extremely resilient
individuals. They had to endure weather extremes and harsh discipline,
“I can’t imagine how tough
they were,” Peterson said.
Discussing the bravery of
the 2nd Minnesota soldiers, he commented that they all came from the same general
region in the western, central and southeastern parts of Minnesota. Many
of the soldiers in the regiment had known each other for a long time.
“They didn’t want to show
fear or shame in front of their friends and relatives,” Peterson said.
That is apparently one reason
why many of the soldiers were willing to charge into enemy fire.
The damage a Civil War mini-ball
can do to a person is unthinkable. These bullets were about half an inch
in diameter and almost an inch long. Bones shattered when struck by these
Peterson said the hardships
endured by the soldiers helped bring them closer together and developed intense
The togetherness of the
2nd Minnesota re-enactment group is helped along by monthly meetings in the
wintertime and various activities and events in the summertime. Pet-erson
mentioned there are plans to build some winter quarters huts. He said
battles usually did not take place in the wintertime, so winter quarters were
The winter quarters project
could be one more method of finding out “what it was like” to serve in the military
about 140 years ago.
To find out more about what
the 2nd Minnesota re-enactment group is like, visit their web site at www.2ndminnesota.org.
Targets as they Appeared at Musket Shoot Live Fire Event
(Some of the pictures courtesy
of Dan Peterson and Bruce Nelson.)