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The Shooters

 

Article as Printed in the Wright County Journal:

 

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, too.

        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 said.

 

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.

 

Hands-on fun

 

        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 box.

 

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, as well.

        “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 heavy projectiles.

 

Camaraderie

 

        Peterson said the hardships endured by the soldiers helped bring them closer together and developed intense camaraderie.

        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 established.

        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.)

 

 

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