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The 1st Minnesota’s Return Home: Winona

Recently I had occasion to visit La Crosse, Wisconsin.  An evening soiree on behalf of the Mississippi Valley Conservancy was held on sightseeing pontoon boat.  We left from Levee Park in downtown La Crosse and wandered amongst the backwater islands and sand dunes near La Crosse. 

La Crosse’s Levee Park was designed by Frederick Law Olmstead the Younger in the early 1900’s.  His father, Frederick Law Olmstead the Elder, designed Central Park.  Go to Wikipedia and read about the two Olmsteads and imagine what America would be like without the influence of their landscape contributions.

Sculptural Centerpiece to Levee Park, La Crosse, WI.

Sculptural Centerpiece to Levee Park, La Crosse, WI.

The 1st Minnesota passed through La Crosse on their trip out east in 1861 and again when they returned in February of 1864. Their return trip in the dead of winter was cold and harsh and not without danger. After commandeering a train in Portage City, Wisconsin by declaring it a “military action,” the 1st made it to La Crosse to begin their trip upriver and to home.

There still being no operating railroad in Minnesota, the trip upriver was to be, as described by James Wright, “rather primitive, being bobsleds with large boxes on them filled with straw and cross-seated with boards, without backs of any kind.  There were plenty of buffalo robes, as well as straw, and these met the needs of the cold night.”

Wright continues, “It was the first sleigh ride in the service, and they were soon talking, laughing, and singing like a pleasure party out for an evening ride.  We were on the ice-covered river, which made a level and very smooth road and progress was rapid.”  Eventually this festive atmosphere gave way to sleep.

The first town they came to in Minnesota was Winona, home of Company K.  Wright reports, “We were approaching Winona, and a bonfire was burning on the ice near some of the warehouses. We were soon there and out of the sleighs, to be quickly surrounded by a cheering crowd, which welcomed us with a hearty enthusiasm that warmed us almost instantly. It was about midnight and bitterly cold, and it was a surprise to us that there should be any one in waiting at that hour, on such a night.

“That first meeting, with people of our own state on the western bank of the Mississippi, was all we could have asked and much more than we had any right to expect, especially if we consider the hour and the temperature.  It touched our inmost natures.  Only those who have been absent long and suffered much can rightly appreciate such a greeting.”

Mississippi just down river from LaCrosse. Bluffs of Minnesota in left background.

Mississippi just down river from LaCrosse. Bluffs of Minnesota in left background.

It is the shared feeling of the production team for our film “No More Gallant a Deed” that once again, after 150 years, it is time to bring the soldiers of the 1st home to a warm welcome from their fellow Minnesotans.

In 1864 when the boys returned home, the islands seen in the photos would have been nearly stripped of their trees, having been used for firewood. The bluffs of Minnesota, seen in the background of these photos, would have been nearly treeless on the south and southwest facing sides and covered instead with what is called “goat prairie,” a mix of wild flowers and tall grasses and brushy trees.  Fires started by lightening kept trees from gaining a foothold and foresting over the bluffs.

Backwater river channel near La Crosse.

Backwater river channel near La Crosse.


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The Men

Charles Goddard

Charlie Goddard was born in Pennsylvania May 14, 1845 to Catherine and Abner Goddard. He was the only child of nine that survived childhood.More »

Edward Bassett

Edward Bassett was just 19 when he was mustered into Company G of the 1st Minnesota on April 29, 1861 as a private. His family moved west, settling in Morristown, Minnesota in the south central part of the state.More »

Mathew Marvin

Mathew Marvin was born on September 21, 1838 in Connaston, New York. In 1859 at the age of 19, Matthew moved to Winona, Minnesota where he worked as a clerk for J. J. Randall & Co, a leather goods store. More »

Samuel Stebbins

Samuel was born in Brookline, Vermont on April 30, 1830. Upon reaching his majority, he travelled quite extensively and worked at a variety of occupations before purchasing a farm near Winona, Minnesota in the fall of 1856. More »

The Timeline


Apr 12

Confederates open fire on Fort Sumter.

In Washington, Governor Alexander Ramsey pledges 1000 Minnesota troops to President Lincoln, the first troops pledged.

Apr 15

President Lincoln calls for 75,000 troops.

Apr 27

The ten companies of the 1st Minnesota report to Fort Snelling.

Jun 22

The 1st leaves for Washington D.C., arriving on June 26.

Jul 21

The 1st sees combat at the Battle of Bull Run. One of the last regiments to leave the battlefield, the 1st suffered the highest casualties of any Union regiment with 48 killed, 83 wounded, 23 wounded and missing, and 30 missing.

Oct 21

The 1st is lightly engaged at the Battle of Ball's Bluff.

More »