The Fourth Regiment of Minnesota Infantry witnessed much of the action in the Civil War's Western Theater. They were part of minor skirmishes as well as major battles, expeditions and campaigns. They were fortunate to avoid heavy casualties in some large battles they were in, but they proved themselves good fighters. The officers and men saw Vicksburg surrendered. They were in Battles around Chattanooga. They marched with Sherman to the sea and witnessed the surrender of a major Confederate Army. Years after the war, the Fourth served as the subject for a famous artist's painting.
In September 1861, with two Minnesota regiments already in service, Governor Alexander Ramsey received a request from the Secretary of War for two more regiments. Ramsey directed John B. Sanborn, the state's adjutant general, to issue the necessary orders. As a result, the Third and Fourth Regiments of Minnesota Infantry were formed.
The Fourth Regiment mustered into federal service between October and December. In November John Sanborn was named as the regiment's colonel. At first the Fourth Regiment was retained in Minnesota to garrison the state's frontier posts. This "home guard" status caused some derision at the expense of the regiment, but the men believed that the war would be a long one and that they would get a chance to go south before it was over.
The men got their wish the following April. Late that month the regiment embarked on the steamers Sucker State and Hawkeye State and headed for Missouri. From May 1862 to September 1863 the Fourth operated mainly in the state of Mississippi. In the fall of 1862 the regiment participated in the battles of Iuka on September 19 and Corinth on October 3-4. At Iuka, while moving through the woods after dark, the Fourth startled an Ohio regiment. The Ohioans fired on the Minnesotans, killing and wounding several men before recognizing them as friends.
During the following spring and summer the Fourth served in General Ulysses S. Grant's Vicksburg Campaign. The regiment was fortunate to avoid heavy casualties in the several battles fought in early- and mid-May, including Port Gibson, Raymond, Jackson and Champion's Hill. By this time Colonel Sanborn had been promoted to brigade command, and the regiment was now commanded by Lieutenant Colonel John E. Tourtellotte. Hoping to avoid a siege, the Union forces attacked the Confederate works surrounding Vicksburg on May 19 and 22. Both attacks failed. During the assault on May 22, the Fourth Minnesota pressed right up to and on the enemy's works. For their bravery, they suffered twelve men killed and forty-two wounded.
Both sides then settled in for a siege. The Confederates capitulated on July 4. The Fourth Minnesota enjoyed the honor of leading the victorious Union troops into the surrendered city.
After Vicksburg the Fourth headed for Chattanooga, marching some 240 miles in November alone, including thirty-eight miles over the course of the 19th and 20th. Again the regiment was lucky to be in reserve during the Battle of Missionary Ridge on November 25. In January 1864 several members of the regiment reenlisted and enjoyed a furlough in Minnesota. That summer they headed for Georgia. On October 5 they fought the battle of Allatoona Pass, a significant supply depot for General William T. Sherman's army in Atlanta. The Fourth suffered thirteen killed and thirty-one wounded out of 450 engaged.
During the next six months the regiment participated in Sherman's March to the Sea and in his Carolinas Campaign. During the Battle of Bentonville, North Carolina, March 19-21, the Fourth Minnesota's division was held in reserve. The regiment was present near Raleigh when Confederate General Joseph E. Johnston surrendered his army to General Sherman on April 26, 1865, ending hostilities east of the Mississippi River.
On May 24 General Sherman's troops participated in the Grand Review march in Washington. Once again the Fourth Minnesota had the honor of taking the lead. In July the Fourth mustered out of federal service in Louisville, Kentucky. The regiment returned home and was discharged at Fort Snelling on August 7, 1865.
Board of Commissioners. Minnesota in the Civil and Indian Wars, 1861–1865. 2 vols. St. Paul: The Pioneer Press Company, 1891.
Brown, Alonzo L. History of the Fourth Regiment of Minnesota Infantry Volunteers During the Great Rebellion, 1861–1865. St. Paul: The Pioneer Press Company, 1892.
Dyer, Frederick H. A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion. Des Moines, IA: The Dyer Publishing Company, 1908.
Faust, Patricia L., ed. Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War. New York: Harper Perennial, 1991.
House, Henry A. Civil War Diary, 1862–1865
Manuscripts Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
Description: House served in Company F of the Fourth Minnesota during the Civil War.
Smith, Henry W. The Vicksburg Campaign: A Synopsis of Activities from November 1862 to July 4, 1863. Sioux Falls, S.D.: Will A. Beach Printing Co., 1931.
United States War Department. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. 70 vols. in 128 parts. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1880-1901. Reprint: Harrisburg: National Historical Society, 1971. (Series 1, vol. 36, part 1.)
Volk, Joseph H. Civil War Papers, 1864–1865
Manuscript Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
Description: Volk served in Company C of the Fourth Minnesota during the Civil War.
Warner, Ezra J. Generals in Gray: Lives of the Confederate Commanders. Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1997.
The Fourth Minnesota suffers heavy casualties in the second assault on Vicksburg on May 22. They take part in the siege of the city that follows. The Confederates surrender on July 4 and the Fourth is granted the honor of leading the Union troops into Vicksburg.