Well folks, the First Minnesota not only saved the battle, but in the eyes of many, they actually saved the Union Army and the nation.
None other than President Calvin Coolidge said in 1928 that... "So far as human judgement can determine, Colonel Colvill and the eight companies of the First Minnesota are entitled to rank as saviors of their country."
It is difficult to imagine these 262 heroes getting a higher praise from any authority. The 262 marched, then ran and then charged into the valley of death, taking fire from three sides. Cannons on the left, cannons on the right, cannons in front of them... you probably remember the poem, from another day many decades earlier. 262 went into Gettysburg's valley of death. Only 47 came out.
On Sunday I mentioned that in this battle, not one of the 262 men was awarded a Medal of Honor for his bravery. Not One! Two would get the medal for the famous charge on the third. But those actions are not the subject of this blog.
After Fredericksburg, Canadian born George Morgan, who had risen in ranks with the unit from Private to Lt. Colonel, was promoted to Colonel of the Regiment. When he was further promoted to Brig, General, Lt Col. Colville was promoted to Colonel and commander of the regiment. He would lead the 262 men into the battle of 2 July at Gettysburg.
Wounded and knocked off his horse, he struggled to get to a ditch and role into it to get out of the hale of bullets whizzing through the air. He passed out and was later discovered by a soldier looking for his wounded brother. That man, with aid of yet others carried Colonel Colvill away to safety.
Any student of the Medal of Honor story will know that dozens, if not hundreds of officers were awarded Medals of Honor while leading or rallying their men into battle, and even doing so while wounded. Dozens if not hundreds of others were also awarded a Medal for rescuing their commander from certain death at the hands of the enemy.
But not a Medal for this officer, nor his rescuers. Same thing for the Lt. Colonel of the unit in the same battle, when he was shot down. Same for the Major, also a Canadian, and another captain, and the adjutant and a handful of other captains and Lieutenants. In not one case was the rescued or the rescuer awarded a Medal of Honor. Yet at the same time and throughout the history of the medal may others were for doing basically the same thing, and so awarded.
Cpl, later Sergeant Irvine of the First, is shown after that battle of the 3rd, with his unit's colours. He carried them bravely near the end of the battle, though wounded that day, and until mustered out about 8 months later.
But he only got the colours after Corporal Henry O'Brien was wounded in the hand. A shot that also broke the very shaft that held the colours.
And O'Brien got them when John Dehn was wounded, and before Dehn came Stevens, and Nason and Densmore and Ellet. Five of these falling with in a 15 minute period on 2 July.
Clearly you can see now how important the colours are when the enemy had made them a priority target.
O'Brien would be awarded the Medal of Honor, as would another soldier by the name of Sherman, for the capture of an enemy flag, both actions on 3 July. But that said all the rest of these heroes risking their lives and being shot down, All have been ignored as candidates for nomination for the Medal, one created, in part, for just such occasions.
In Irvine's image above, note that the bottom of the flag shaft has been broken away and thus not the normal 9 feet high. Note also that the soldier, whilst wearing a sword, would be very challenged to use it as he needed both hands to manipulate the flag when sending directions to the rest of the regiment. Note further how battle ridden and tattered the flag is from numerous bullet or shrapnel hits.
Before leaving this blog I want to give honourable mention to Sergeant John Densmore who was born at Maguadavic New Brunswick and served with the First and its Colour Guard. As noted he was one of those wounded at his job.
First he was wounded in the knee but he kept going. Over the nest 50 yards he would get wounded 4 more times before dropping. A bullet tore his thumb off. Then he'd take a chest wound that would go right through his body. Then a shot to the right thigh, then a face wound that entered from the left, exited through the right and took most of his jaw en-route. Five wounds, an advance of 50 yards and no Medal!
A year earlier another unit colour bearer was shot and killed. And another colour bearer was shot so bad his leg had to be amputated. He died soon after. Neither got a Medal.
Clearly all of this suggests that the methods used to award these medals had many a flaw. Many have been robbed of their rightful place on these honour roles and someone in the Medal of Honor world should identify this issue and take steps to have it thoroughly investigated with the hopes that some of these heroes can finally received their just rewards.
It is never to late to correct wrongs.
Lets see who will take action on this!
I will be doing some further research next week and will not be doing a blog on Sunday. I shall return on the 27th.