Born in Pennsylvania on July 22, 1821, Lewis McKune was raised on a farm. Married to Laure Ett in June of 1844, they farmed in Pennsylvania until 1846 when Lewis, age 25, and his wife started west, settled in Illinois where their first child, Caroline, was born in 1848.At the beginning of the California gold rush, the family headed further west to seek their fortune. He was reasonably successful and returned to Illinois in 1855 with some money and more children, sons Frank and Fred.
In 1856 he uprooted them again and, travelling by prairie schooner, moved to the Minnesota Territory where he settled in Blooming Grove. He farmed, bred horses, and in 1857 opened a store in Morristown. A final child, Julia, was born in 1859.
An ardent Republican, Lewis participated in the local political campaign of 1856, was a member of the Minnesota Constitutional Convention of 1857, and served as a state senator from 1857-8. He was described by his friend James Childs “as a born hero, ready to stand by and fight for what he believed was right, regardless of personal ease, safety or financial sacrifice.”
During a conference committee meeting in the Constitutional Convention, tempers grew short and Judge Thomas Wilson, a Republican from Winona, was assaulted by Willis Gorman, a Democratic from St Paul, later to be a well-respected Colonel is the 1st Minnesota and after that a Brigadier General. Gorman was a large and powerful man. Wilson was much smaller and in poor health. This mismatch so incensed McKune that he gave Gorman a severe tongue lashing and told Gorman that if he wished to whip some Republican, he was ready. At 6′ 5 1’2″ McKune was an imposing figure and Gorman chose not to accept the challenge. It is not known how this dispute affected them when they were both officers in the 1st Minnesota.
An ardent patriot, McKune talked, in a conversation with his friend James Childs on the evening of March 9, 1861, about the inevitability of war and that he would be involved. He felt, too, that he would die in the struggle. He had already made arrangements for his family with this in mind.
With the outbreak of the war, the 39 year old McKune volunteered as a private in the Faribault Company. He was elected First Lieutenant and later was appointed Captain of Company G.
One July 21, 1861, the day before his 40th birthday, with the very first volley from the Confederates at the Battle of Bull Run during the very first combat seen by the 1st Minnesota, Lewis McKune was shot through the heart as he lead his company.
McKune was carried from the field to the rear by Pvt William T Mollison and another member of the company where he died soon thereafter.
According to Ed Stevens of Company B, Lewis’ last words were “Rally men! Rally!” as the bullets flew fast around him. And Ed Basset of Company G wrote, “He stood by us giving us commands and had his arms raised up encouraging the boys on. We lament his loss greatly. We loved him and he was no coward.”
After the battle his sword, belt and pistol were retrieved and sent back to his family. It is not known where he was buried.
Two years later, his widow Laure Ett McKune died on March 6, 1863, leaving three orphans. Patrick Healey was appointed to be their guardian and a pension application for minor children was filed on their behalf. As a result, they received $20 a month.