On Wednesday afternoon, November 25, 1863, the Second Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment participated in one of the most dramatic assaults of the Civil War. They were fighting the Battle of Missionary Ridge, one of several important battles they had been involved in throughout their two years of service in the Union Army. This battle would prove to be the most significant in the history of the regiment.
Patriotism in Minnesota ran high when the Civil War began in the spring of 1861. More men answered the call to arms than the young state needed. These extra men didn't have long to wait. The call for additional troops came in June 1861, and by August the Second Minnesota Volunteer Infantry mustered into federal service. The first six companies garrisoned forts throughout the state while the remainder of the regiment assembled and trained at Fort Snelling. By early October the entire regiment gathered at Fort Snelling and prepared for the war.
On October 14 enthusiastic crowds gathered as Colonel H. P. Van Cleve paraded his Second Minnesota through the streets of St. Paul. Then the regiment departed for Louisville, Kentucky, where the men became part of the Army of the Ohio.
The regiment's first test of battle came on January 19, 1862, at the battle of Mill Springs (Logan's Crossroads), Kentucky. During the conflict, the Second took position against a rail fence as a Confederate line approached through the fog and mist. The Minnesotans didn't see the enemy troops lying even closer, on the ground just on the opposite side of the fence. Hand-to-hand fighting resulted, with the Second gaining the upper hand. Their fight at the fence was part of the first major Union victory in the West.
For the next eighteen months, the Second campaigned mainly in the states of Kentucky and Tennessee. The regiment played a minor role at the Battle of Perryville, Kentucky on October 8, 1862. In November the men joined the Union Army of the Cumberland.
By the late summer of 1863, the campaign to control Chattanooga and eastern Tennessee resulted in some of the war's heaviest fighting. On September 19-20 the Second Minnesota clashed with Gen. Braxton Bragg's Army of Tennessee at the Battle of Chickamauga in northern Georgia. On the second day of the battle, a federal tactical error led to a Confederate breakthrough which swept half the Union army from the field. The Second Minnesota and their comrades took up a defensive position to delay the Confederates. From mid-afternoon until dusk they held their position in the face of repeated attacks. This brave defense earned their corps commander, Maj. Gen. George H. Thomas, the nickname "Rock of Chickamauga." The battle was a Confederate victory.
The federals retreated to Chattanooga, and Bragg's army took position on the heights surrounding the town, including Lookout Mountain southwest of the city and Missionary Ridge to the east. In mid-October Maj. Gen. Joseph Hooker came west with a detachment of the Union Army of the Potomac. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant arrived to assume overall command of the Union forces. He gave Gen. Thomas command of the Army of the Cumberland. In mid-November Maj. Gen. William T. Sherman arrived with his Union Army of the Tennessee.
On November 24, 1863, Hooker's soldiers attacked and defeated the Confederates on Lookout Mountain. The next day, the federals advanced on the main Confederate line on Missionary Ridge. Gen. Grant gave the Army of the Cumberland a passive role in the center while Hooker's and Sherman's troops prepared to do all the real fighting on the flanks. These attacks stalled, and Thomas's men were ordered to assault the first line of Confederate works. The Second Minnesota led their brigade in capturing this position. Soon afterward, Gen. Grant watched in amazement as the entire Army of the Cumberland, without orders, assaulted the main Rebel line atop the ridge. A stunning Union victory resulted. The Minnesotans captured two cannon at the climax of the assault.
In 1864 the Second Minnesota took part in the Atlanta Campaign and marched with Sherman to the sea. At the end of the war the Second returned to Minnesota and was discharged on July 20, 1865. They had earned their place in history at Chickamauga and in the storming of Missionary Ridge.
Bishop, Judson W. The Story of a Regiment: Being a Narrative of the Service of the Second Regiment, Minnesota Veteran Volunteer Infantry, in the Civil War of 1861–1865. St. Paul: n.p., 1890. http://books.google.com/books?id=RTgWAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA5&source=gbs_selected_pages&cad=3#v=onepage&q&f=false
Board of Commissioners, Minnesota in the Civil and Indian Wars, 1861–1865. St. Paul: The Pioneer Press Company, 1891.
Dyer, Frederick H. A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion. Des Moines: The Dyer Publishing Company, 1908.
Faust, Patricia L., Ed. Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War. New York: Harper Perennial, 1991.
Fox, William F. Regimental Losses in the American Civil War. Albany: Albany Publishing Company, 1889.
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, vols. 7, 30 and 31.)
On November 25, 1863, the Second Minnesota plays a prominent role in the attack on Missionary Ridge outside Chattanooga, TN. This charge is a rare example of Union soldiers successfully storming a prepared Confederate defensive position and results in a brilliant Northern victory.