Edward Bassett was just 19 when he was mustered into Company G of the 1st Minnesota on April 29, 1861 as a private. He was just short of 5’8”, about average, with fair complexion, grey eyes, and black hair. He was born in Hartford, Connecticut. His family moved west, settling in Morristown, Minnesota in the south central part of the state.
Edward left behind 218 letters written in a clear hand that would reflect the effects of difficult fighting and marching on this young soldier by becoming cramped and shaky.
On December 11, 1862, the First Minnesota joined the battle at Fredericksburg, Maryland. They were stationed on the right of the Union line. From there they witnessed the fruitless assault on the Confederate position at Marye’s Heights. Originally ordered into the attack, the orders were countermanded and the 1st was not engaged in the worst of the fighting. Edward later wrote about the event.
“It was some of the hardest fighting I have ever seen. Our Regt. was ordered to charge, but it was countered, so we did not get into the hardest part of the fight. On the 14th we lay on one of the principal streets of the city all day. We were on picket again that night, and remained until about ten o’clock the night of the 15th. The last night on picket we dug rifle pits, and we laid in them all day. If a man showed his head he got a bullet after him. The Penn. Regt. on our right pulled out and left our left flank exposed, but the rebs didn’t attack. It would have been pretty rough for us if they had. I was hit for the first time by a piece of shell, it was about spent and did no harm.” He wrote to his parents saying. “The shell burst in front of where our Co. was seting on the ground behind a tight board fence & one piece struck me on the bottom of my foot but it had lost its speed & did no damage.”
“The citizens had all left. We chased the Reb pickets thru the streets and houses. We found plenty to eat of about everything. Gen. [Oliver O.] Howard complimented us on our behavior. Our loss was very heavy, the Rebs a lot less.”
On October 14, 1863, he suffered a slight wound to his head at the battle of Bristow Station. In a letter home to his parents he wrote about his wound.
“P.S. I expect you will see my name on the list of wounded. I have been told that it was there, but I told them not to put it there for I have not got anything worth mentioning. There was a ball struck me on the left side of my head, passing through my hat, but as soon as it hit my head it glanced off only bruising it, so as to make it pretty sore. It did not break the skin although it made my dizzy for a while. I did not leave the field. There is four large holes in my hat but I think it was done by two bullets and I know there was not more than three. It was a close call but I paid them for it. There was one bullet hit my knapsack and tore a large hole in it. I told the boys not to give my name among the wounded but it was so close a call to a bad wound that is why it is there.”
Edward participated in the First’s storied charge at Gettysburg and while his letters down play the severity of the fight for consumption at home, an inventory of his uniform taken after the charge showed, that while he was not wounded, he had a bullet holes in his hat and his shirt, a bullet tore off his knapsack, and another the heel of his shoe.
Edward mustered out with the regiment on May 5, 1864. He chose not to reenlist in the First Battalion, but on Feb 21, 1865, he enlisted in Company L of the First Minnesota Heavy Artillery. Several men from his old unit were in service with this unit, including his former commander, Col. William Colvill. Edward was promoted to sergeant four days after enlisting, certainly because of his experience. They were stationed in Tennessee, where they trained and did guard duty. The unit was mustered out on Sept 27, 1865.
He married Harriet (Hattie) Amanda King on March 22, 1871, at Faribault, MN. They farmed in Faribault until 1874, when they moved their family to Worthington, Minnesota. He spent the rest of his life there. He died April 9, 1897 at the age of 58 and is buried in the Worthington Cemetery.
Morton Basset, his son, wrote a book, From Bull Run to Bristow Station, based on his father’s diary notations and the letters he sent home during the war.
Richard Krom, Edward’s great grandson, wrote a fine historical narrative, The 1st Minnesota Second to None, which traces the history and exploits of the 1st Minnesota and includes all 218 of Edward’s letters. It is available by contacting Richard at FirstMNPatriot@aol.com.