History comes alive through Civil War enthusiasts

DAVID PHILLIPS/SPRING VALLEY TRIBUNE Civil War reenactors Ken Cunningham of Red Wing, left, and Michael Ritchie of Minneapolis talk to spectators observing the Boys of ‘61 when they set up in Spring Creek Park in Spring Valley during Loyalty Days weekend. Learning about life in 1861 are, from left, Lyle Kruegel of Spring Valley, Mike Thorstenson of Spring Valley and Gordon Haubenschild of Rochester. The camp drew a lot of interest from area residents during the overnight stay in Spring Valley.
David Phillips

The reenactors in the Minnesota Boys of ’61 are more educators than actors as they brought a wealth of information to Spring Valley when the 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment and the 2nd Minnesota Battery of Light Artillery set up camp.

The group was in Spring Valley as part of the First District VFW Loyalty Days celebration Saturday, May 4, and Sunday, May 5. The reenactors provided demonstrations of various aspects of Civil War life during their encampment.

The Minnesota Boys of ’61 is a nonprofit group of individuals dedicated to honoring Minnesota’s role in the Civil War and its veterans. The group’s ultimate goal is to establish a memorial honoring those who defended the Union and the State of Minnesota during the years 1861 to 1865.

However, the reenactors spend much of the summer traveling to locations in Minnesota and across the country to bring Civil War history alive. Spring Valley was the first 2019 stop on a tour that typically goes to 16 to 23 locations each summer.

Sergeant Daryl Duden of Red Wing said his 2nd Minnesota Battery of Light Artillery has traveled throughout Minnesota, but also visited Kentucky, Tennessee, Atlanta and other places to reenact life from the Civil War. Most of the battery’s reenactors are from southeastern Minnesota, which is where the original battery drew from at the time of the Civil War.

The Second Battery of Minnesota Light Artillery, which formed at Ft. Snelling, fought in some of the major battles in the Civil War's Western Theater. In their three-and-a-half years of service, the Second's officers and men had the unique experience of functioning in all branches of the army-artillery, cavalry and infantry, according to the Minnesota Historical Society.

The First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment is unique in that it was the first body of troops raised by the state for Civil War service, and it was among the first regiments of any state offered for national service.

The reenactors not only dress the part, they are extremely knowledgeable about all facets of the Civil War. In addition to sharing their knowledge with the public in camps such as the one in Spring Valley two weeks ago, they also go to at least a couple schools, scheduling Edina and Wells this year.

Duden said the Civil War changed society in many ways besides warfare. The war resulted in great changes in women’s roles in society as they stayed behind to operate businesses and take care of household finances. There were also great advances in medicine as soldiers were often unaware of even simple sanitary practices, which resulted in dysentery and disease killing more soldiers in the Civil War than all the combat action combined. Canned food also developed at this time so soldiers had rations in the field.

“It was a great time in America’s history,” said Duden.

The artillery unit has two cannons — a gold one that dates back to 1865 and a black one that was made specifically for the movie “Glory.”

While the artillery battle demonstrated the cannons, the reenactors of the 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment interpreted life as a soldier, including marching, music, camping and weaponry.

The reenactors wear wool uniforms during the day, which can get hot during mid-summer, and sleep in canvas tents with wool blankets at night, which may not be quite enough to keep them warm in the early spring. Although the weather in Spring Valley was fine, Duden recalled an encampment in Illinois when a snow-rain mixture was coming at him sideways. His layers of wool blankets barely kept him warm though the night.

There are a large group of reenactors in the group, which includes former educators and Civil War enthusiasts, but not all of them make every event. They take turns so there are enough to provide an accurate representation of events.

For more information on the group and the memorial, there is information online at www.minnesotaboysof61.org.