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Second Company of Minnesota Sharpshooters

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Black and white photograph of Merrill Dwelle, member of the Second Company of Minnesota Sharpshooters, c.1864. Photograph by Joel Emmons Whitney.

Merrill Dwelle, member of the Second Company of Minnesota Sharpshooters, c.1864. Photograph by Joel Emmons Whitney.

Minnesota raised two companies of sharpshooters during the Civil War. Both were in the elite Berdan’s Sharpshooters brigade. The Second Company of Minnesota Sharpshooters, however, served out most of its three-year enlistment with the premier regiment of the state: the First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment.

On June 13, 1861, Colonel Hiram Berdan of New York proposed forming a regiment of sharpshooters. The U.S. government quickly accepted Berdan’s suggestion, authorizing a second regiment as well.

Recruited early, the First Company of Minnesota Sharpshooters went on to become Company A of the Second U.S. Sharpshooters Regiment. The Second Company of Minnesota Sharpshooters was recruited in St. Paul between November 23, 1861, and March 17, 1862. The company was sent east a month later to join the Army of the Potomac.

The Second Company was assigned to the First U.S. Sharpshooters Regiment and given the designation of Company L. The company received its equipment and weapons when it was already in a combat zone: the Virginia Peninsula between the James and York Rivers. Its men were armed with the supremely accurate and reliable Sharps rifle. These fired cartridges loaded at the breech of the weapon, and had a much higher rate of fire than the muzzle-loading muskets used by most other troops.

The company received its first drilling in company movements and skirmishing on May 12, and participated in the Battle of Hanover Courthouse two weeks later.

On May 30, 1862, Captain William F. Russell received Order #153, which instructed him to detach Company L from the First Regiment U.S. Sharpshooters and attach it to the First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry.

In the Battle of Fair Oaks/Seven Pines on May 31 and June 1, Company L missed going into action with the First Minnesota, as the regiment was already fighting. On June 1, the company was engaged in the battle, and finally connected with the First on June 2. From that point until the regiment mustered out of service, Company L fought with the First Minnesota.

The hard marching and swampy, unsanitary conditions of Virginia’s Peninsula took a toll on the company. On June 10, 1862, Merrill Dwelle of Company L wrote to his sister from the Fair Oaks battlefield. He described the sickness that plagued the men, including its officers, and remarked that they had been unusually active for such a “green” company.

They continued to be active, but didn’t stay green for long. They fought in most of the Seven Days Battles during the Peninsula Campaign, and went into action with about forty-two men on September 17, 1862, at the Battle of Antietam. In ten minutes, twenty of those men were wounded, one mortally.

At Gettysburg, the company was detached from the First Minnesota and sent to support an artillery battery near Cemetery Hill. They fought in this position on July 2 and 3, 1863, sniping at Confederates across the fields and helping to turn back Pickett’s Charge.

By the end of November 1863, the entire company had been assigned to provost guard (military police) duty at their division’s headquarters.

In February 1864, the First Minnesota was sent back to the state to be mustered out of service in the spring. Not enough men were recruited, re-enlisted, or still had time on their original enlistments to keep the regiment in service. But there were enough to form the new First Battalion of Minnesota Volunteers, composed of Companies A and B.

On May 3, 1864, General U.S. Grant’s Overland Campaign launched the Army of the Potomac into nearly forty-eight consecutive days of exhausting marches and savage combat, including the Battles of the Wilderness, Spotsylvania, and Cold Harbor. Portions, and often all, of Company L were repeatedly pulled from provost duty and put on the battle line. The campaign ended with a nearly year-long siege of the city of Petersburg, just south of Richmond, Virginia.

On March 19, 1865, the Second Company of Minnesota Sharpshooters reached the end of its three-year enlistment. Eighteen men re-enlisted, and a handful still had time on their original enlistments. All were transferred to either Company A or to the newly formed Company C of the First Battalion of Minnesota Volunteers.

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A/.D989
G. Merrill Dwelle and family papers, 1843–1896
Manuscript Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
https://mplus.mnpals.net/vufind/Record/001718189
Description: Correspondence and diaries of Dwelle’s service with the Second Company of Minnesota Sharpshooters.

Board of Commissioners. Minnesota in the Civil and Indian Wars, 1861–1865. 2 vols. St. Paul: Pioneer Press Company, 1891.
http://archive.org/details/minnesotacivil01minnrich

Holcombe, Return I. History of the First Regiment Minnesota Volunteer Infantry, 1861–1864. Stillwater, MN: Easton & Masterson, 1916.

Stevens, C.A. Berdan’s United States Sharpshooters in the Army of the Potomac, 1861–1865. Dayton, OH: Morningside Press, 1984. Reprint of 1892 edition.

Related Images

Black and white photograph of Merrill Dwelle, member of the Second Company of Minnesota Sharpshooters, c.1864. Photograph by Joel Emmons Whitney.
Black and white photograph of Merrill Dwelle, member of the Second Company of Minnesota Sharpshooters, c.1864. Photograph by Joel Emmons Whitney.
Black and white photograph of Colonel Hiram Berdan, c.1861.
Black and white photograph of Colonel Hiram Berdan, c.1861.
Black and white photograph of Captain Mahlon Black, Second Company of Minnesota Sharpshooters, c.1862. Photograph by Joel Emmons Whitney.
Black and white photograph of Captain Mahlon Black, Second Company of Minnesota Sharpshooters, c.1862. Photograph by Joel Emmons Whitney.
Black and white photograph of Luman O. Tanner, private, Second Company of Minnesota Sharpshooters, c.1862.
Black and white photograph of Luman O. Tanner, private, Second Company of Minnesota Sharpshooters, c.1862.
Black and white photograph of Ozias B, Baker, private, Second Company of Minnesota Sharpshooters, c.1862.
Black and white photograph of Ozias B, Baker, private, Second Company of Minnesota Sharpshooters, c.1862.
Black and white photograph of men of the First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry in field works after the battlefield of Fair Oaks, Virginia, 1862. Evidence of the newly-attached Company L, the Second Company Minnesota of Sharpshooters, can be seen in the center-right of the photograph: a Sharps breech-loading rifle is hanging over a blanket.
Black and white photograph of men of the First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry in field works after the battlefield of Fair Oaks, Virginia, 1862. Evidence of the newly-attached Company L, the Second Company Minnesota of Sharpshooters, can be seen in the center-right of the photograph: a Sharps breech-loading rifle is hanging over a blanket.
Color image of Captain’s uniform shoulder insignia, worn by Captain Mahlon Black, Second Company of Minnesota Sharpshooters, 1862–1865.
Color image of Captain’s uniform shoulder insignia, worn by Captain Mahlon Black, Second Company of Minnesota Sharpshooters, 1862–1865.
Color image of an 1859 Sharps rifle.
Color image of an 1859 Sharps rifle.

Turning Point

On May 30, 1862, the Second Company of Minnesota Sharpshooters is attached to the First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment and helps create the distinguished record of the state’s premier regiment.

Chronology

November 23, 1861

Recruitment of the Second Company of Minnesota Sharpshooters, as part of the United States Sharpshooters brigade, begins in St. Paul.

May 5, 1862

The company arrives on the Virginia Peninsula between the James and the York Rivers to join General George B. McClellan’s Peninsula Campaign.

May 7, 1862

The unit becomes Company L in Hiram Berdan’s First U.S. Sharpshooters regiment.

May 27, 1862

Company L is under fire for the first time at the Battle of Hanover Court House. Two men are wounded, and two Confederate soldiers are captured by a member of the company.

May 30, 1862

Special Order #153 assigns Company L to the First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment of the First Brigade, Second Division, Second Corps, Army of the Potomac.

June 1, 1862

At the Battle of Fair Oaks/Seven Pines, one man in the company is wounded and four Confederates are captured.

June 25, 1862

The Seven Days Battles begin on the Virginia Peninsula. With the First Minnesota, Company L participates in the battles of Allen’s Farm, Glendale, Savage’s Station, and Malvern Hill.

September 2, 1862

The company sees action at Vienna, Virginia, with one man in Company L mortally wounded and one losing an eye.

September 17, 1862

At the Battle of Antietam, Company L goes into combat with forty-two men. Twenty are wounded (one mortally) within ten minutes of engaging the enemy.

July 3, 1863

Having held its position near Cemetery Hill throughout the Battle of Gettysburg, Company L helps to repulse Pickett’s Charge.

November 23, 1863

Company L is assigned to provost duty at Second Division headquarters.

January 1864

Forty-two men are still active on the Company L rolls; thirty are present for duty.

February 1864

The First Minnesota returns to Minnesota.

May 3, 1864

General Ulysses S. Grant’s Overland Campaign to take Richmond, Virginia begins. Nearly forty-eight days of continuous combat and marching bring some of the bloodiest fighting of the war, and Company L participates in many of the battles.

March 19, 1865

Company L musters out of Federal service. Eighteen men re-enlist, and along with those with remaining enlistment time, all are transferred to Company A or Company C of the First Battalion of Minnesota Infantry and serve through the end of the war.