When the call for troops came in April of 1861, Reverend Edward Duffield Neill, age 37, was serving as Chancellor of the University of Minnesota. He volunteered to be the chaplain of the 1st Minnesota Volunteer Regiment.
Ed was born in Philadelphia on Aug 9, 1823. He studied at the University of Pennsylvania and in 1842 graduated from Amherst College. He studied theology in Andover, Massachusetts, and in Philadelphia, becoming a minister of the Presbyterian Church. At his request he was transferred to St Paul in 1849 and ministered at the House of Hope Church until 1860. In 1858 he was appointed Superintendent of Public Instruction for the State of Minnesota and in 1860 he became the Chancellor of the University of Minnesota, an appointment that required him to step down from the church’s ministry.
On June 22, 1861, Reverend Neill led services for the men of the First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry at Fort Snelling. Afterward the men march from the fort through to the streets of St Paul and to the state capital building where they were presented with a flag from the women of St. Paul which they carried through Bull Run and beyond.
Chaplain Neill served with the 1st through the Battle of Malvern Hill, leaving the regiment on July 13, 1862 when he was appointed Hospital Chaplain for the Union Army, an appointment arranged by Governor Alexander Ramsey. He served at the Philadelphia area military hospitals.
In January 1864, Edward became Lincoln’s private secretary. As such he was to open and arrange all correspondence, and to sign land patents for the President. After Lincoln’s assassination he stayed on and served as secretary to President Andrew Johnson, a position he held until appointed by President Grant in 1869 to be the US Consul to Ireland.
In 1870 he resigned from governmental service and returned to Minnesota. In 1873 he became President of Macalester College. He stepped down from the presidency in 1884, but stayed at Macalester as professor of history, literature and political economy until his death in 1893.
In addition, and even while the Civil War was raging, he was Secretary of the Minnesota Historical Society from 1851-63. He authored numerous books including “The History of Minnesota” in 1858, which was reprinted in 1882. He also wrote the “History of Hennepin County” in 1881, including a biographical sketch about himself. He was instrumental in the building of Christ Church in Minneapolis and served as its minister for many years.
Married to Nancy Hall on Oct 4, 1847, at Snow Hill, Vermont, they had five children born prior to the war: Minnesota (3/28/50), Samuel (12/10/52) , Henry (4/15/55), Edward (8/1/58) and John (3/25/60).
He died at age 70 on September 26, 1893 in St. Paul. He is buried in Oakland Cemetery in St Paul.