It's been well-documented that William Colvill was the colonel who led the famous First Minnesota regiment in a battle-saving charge at Gettysburg 150 years ago today.
A much lesser-told story is what the 6-foot-5 Civil War hero did after the conflict, when he settled in Duluth and a site near Grand Marais, the Duluth News Tribune reports. Colvill became a state lawmaker and attorney general. But few personal details are available to help bring the celebrated soldier to life a century and a half later, Al Zdon, a military history author, told the the News Tribune. Zdon wrote a 110,000-word paper about Colvill, but he admits that even at that length it is not an intimate portrait of the man.
“You’d like to say you really know him,” Zdon told the newspaper. “I just never did.”
This week, the nation celebrates the anniversary of Gettysburg, the battle that helped turn the war in the Union's favor. It was the conflict's bloodiest engagement, with 51,000 casualties.
The 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry regiment – among the first to volunteer to serve in President Lincoln's Union Army – were heroes of the battle. Historians have debated the exact statistics, but it is believed that 262 Minnesota men made a suicidal charge as the Union line sagged, in an effort to allow the rest of the Union forces a few minutes to regroup. A majority of them died in the charge – but perhaps ultimately saved the battle for the Union.
The Winona Daily News noted that every man had assumed he was doomed when the charge order was made, but they bravely plunged into the gap, wrote Wayne Jorgenson, author of “Every Man did his Duty,” a history of the First Minnesota.
The Minnesota Historical Society has more information on the celebrated regiment, which served at a number of other major battles.