ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) — Just three years into statehood, Minnesota in 1861 was anxious to prove itself.
Volunteers, the first of an estimated 24,000 state soldiers who would fight in the Civil War, rushed to sign up to preserve the Union by putting down secessionist Southern states.
They fought their first battle three months after the war began. Dozens more followed, often accompanied by heavy casualties. Late one afternoon at Gettysburg, four of every five soldiers of the First Minnesota Volunteers were killed or wounded in a heroic charge that bought crucial time for the Union army to prevail in battle and, ultimately, to win the war.
“These men were incredibly patriotic and brave and many of them made enormous sacrifices,” said Richard Moe, president emeritus of the National Trust for Historic Preservation and author of “The Last Full Measure,” a combat history of the First Minnesota.
At the State Capitol, battle paintings, time-worn flags, and statues of Minnesota’s military heroes of the Civil War are scattered throughout the building. And down John Ireland Boulevard, across Interstate 94, a large Civil War monument featuring Josias King, purportedly the first volunteer from the state, rises up from Summit Park, overlooking downtown St. Paul.
There, in the shadow of the Cathedral of St. Paul and a short walk from the Minnesota History Center, a large memorial focusing solely on the Minnesota soldiers who fought in the Civil War finally might be built.
For George Luskey, Bill Dalin, John Cain, Andrew Willenbring and other members of the Minnesota Boys of `61, it can’t come too soon. As the 150th anniversary of the war unfolds, that fledgling group is launching an effort to raise $750,000 in private funds to build it.
They hope to finish the job within five years, enabling construction to start before the anniversary of the war’s end in 2015. It would join memorials on the nearby Capitol grounds for World Wars I and II and the Korean and Vietnam wars.
“I think, really, to do anything less would not do them justice,” said Luskey, a retired deputy sheriff who, like the others, has long been active in Civil War re-enactments.
The idea surfaced several years ago, when Luskey and Dalin were at a Camp Ripley event honoring airborne troops. Dalin said Trudell Guerue, a member of the 173rd Airborne Brigade Association, asked them why they didn’t build a memorial to Minnesota’s Civil War troops.
“We kind of looked at each other, and said, `Why not?”‘ said Dalin, of Lakeville, the group’s treasurer.
Fifteen months ago, they formed the Minnesota Boys of `61 as a registered nonprofit organization. There’s a board but still no formal membership list.
The proposal also is in its infancy.
The Summit Park site owned by the city was recommended to them, and early support has been secured. There are plans, not only for the memorial but also for limited parking.
David Geister, a former re-enactor, has put together renderings of what the memorial might look like, but no final decisions have been made.
Any eventual monument would recognize each Minnesota regiment, battery, battalion or independent organization.
One idea, Luskey said, is to have two-dozen individual granite pieces inscribed with the names of the outfits, along with key information about them, placed in a circle around a larger bronze sculpture.
The effort comes naturally to folks such as Luskey, 62, and Dalin, 59, who’ve been captivated by the Civil War since they were kids and who have relatives who fought or were killed in the war and the Dakota War of 1862.
Owning their own uniforms, muskets, swords and other gear, they’ve participated in countless re-enactments, had roles in Civil War movies, and now look to pass that heritage along to younger generations.
“We like to link with them,” Luskey, the group’s president, said, “so they can grow up and have some sense of history in their own state.”
“We’re all walking history lessons,” Dalin said. “This memorial is an extension of that. This is what we live to do.”
A week ago, the Minnesota House took a moment to recognize their project and to offer support.
“Everyone needs a sense of history — where we have been and what brought us to the point where we are today,” said Rep. Dean Urdahl, R-Grove City. “What happened in the Civil War and what happened in Minnesota in 1862 are still with us today.”
Moe, the author and former National Trust for Historic Preservation official, echoed those sentiments.
“It was a different time in our nation — a critical time,” Moe said. “And the war eventually defined who we became as a nation.
“The idea of recognizing these men has a lot of merit,” he added. “I hope the memorial can be done in a way that tells the story of the Civil War in a way that educates people what it was all about. War isn’t glorious. … There was nothing glorious about that war.”
By DENNIS LIEN
St. Paul Pioneer Press
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