The No More Gallant a Deed documentary tells the remarkable story of the 1st Minnesota Volunteer Regiment set against the backdrop of pioneer Minnesota. This regiment, described by President Calvin Coolidge “as saviors of their country,” was composed of ten companies of 100 men each from nine Minnesota communities: Winona, Wabasha/Lake City, Red Wing, Hastings, Stillwater, Faribault, Minneapolis, St. Anthony, and St. Paul (two companies). The exploits of the 1st Minnesota have been mostly forgotten.
The 1st Minnesota Regiment was known for their resolute behavior and bravery under fire. Their charge into legend happened on July 2, 1863 during the second day of the Battle of Gettysburg, when 262 members of the 1st attacked 1600 Confederates, gaining five-minutes-time which allowed Union reinforcements to arrive and close a dangerous gap in the Union line. At the end of the fifteen minute fight, only 42 men of the 1st walked off the field; the rest were killed or wounded. Were it not for their actions, the Battle of Gettysburg might well have been lost. A loss that might well have meant the loss of the Civil War.
No More Gallant a Deed is different from the standard documentary approach of recent years. It will be the voices of the men themselves who will bring the 1st Minnesota to life in our film. There will be no recreations of epic battles. No learned “talking-heads” will offer their views of the well-known events of 1861-1865. Instead, our approach will be to explore the small personal details of a soldier’s life as revealed in their letters and diaries, supported with the use of archival photographs, newspaper reports, paintings, maps, and music
A thousand strong, the 1st marched out of Fort Snelling in early June 1861. Ably led throughout the war, the regiment earned a reputation of not retreating no matter how grave the situation, earning commendations from every quarter including President Lincoln himself. The battles they fought from Bull Run to Gettysburg have been documented, but not in a way that brings the story to life for contemporary Minnesotans as No More Gallant a Deed will. Every man was an immigrant to Minnesota and new to war. We will learn what it was like to march 64 miles in two days across Virginia in stifling July heat to fight a three-day battle. We will hear in their words their opinions on everything from the topography they traversed, to their concern for those back home, to their hopes of surviving the carnage that was the Civil War which took nearly 800,000 lives.
Direct descendants of the 1st will read on camera from their ancestors’ letters and diaries, linking the 19th Century to the 21st Century. This will be the first regimental history produced where each word is authentic and comes from the combatants and not through the filter of historians and analysts.
Of the original thousand who embarked on steamboats from St. Paul, Minnesota and then travelled by train from La Crosse , Wisconsin to Chicago and on to the East and the newly started war, the film will be framed around significant stories of individual soldiers. This film will examine the Civil War from the perspective of those who fought it. The men who made the historic charge down Cemetery Ridge to save the Union Army will tell the tale. Through them we will be able to understand what it was like to leave their homes in the country’s newest state to face three years of hardship and death before returning much changed.
Sergeant James Wright, Company F of Red Wing, will be the soldier narrator. He will lead us through the war. He died in 1936, the last man of the 1st. He was their chronicler, the author of the book No More Gallant a Deed, the day by day account of the 1st Minnesota.
We will meet others, too:
- Philip Hamlin, a student who wrote eloquently of his experiences until his death at Gettysburg;
- Isaac Taylor, a school teacher who pondered in his diary the meaning of all he saw;
- sickly Charley Goddard who enlisted at 15 promising his mother he would write her every day;
- wounded Sam Bloomer, a native of Switzerland who lost a leg at Antietam and wondered if a woman would ever love him;
- Thomas Pressnell who stopped by the White House on a whim and had a pleasant chat with President Lincoln;
- Edward Bassett, a farm boy who survived the war but found it too haunting to contend with;
- Colonel William Colvill, a natural leader, a hero to his men, to his state and nation. We will come to know the reason why his statue stands in the rotunda of the Minnesota State Capitol and why 20,000 Minnesotans showed up in Cannon Falls in 1928 to hear President Calvin Coolidge pay him homage.