Ceremonies honor Civil War victory, fallen soldier
By Ruth Nerhaugen, Contributor
Ceremonies dedicating a new gravestone for a Civil War hero and commemorating the victory of Union forces at Vicksburg, Miss., will take place on July 4 in Red Wing's Oakwood Cemetery.
The 10 a.m. program, free and open to everyone, will include presentations by Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie and three experts on the Civil War or local history.
The Governor's Civil War Commemoration Task Force and the city of Red Wing are joint hosts for the event, according to Ken Flies, a task force member who coordinates the Soldier Recognition Subcommittee.
The main purpose is to commemorate and remember the participation of Minnesota Civil War soldiers by dedicating the gravesites of men who were killed in battle and returned for burial in Minnesota.
Major Abraham Welch was among those soldiers. He is buried at Oakwood Cemetery, but had only a small gravestone in poor condition, Flies said. It is being replaced by a new granite stone that will have a carving of Welch's image.
"To me, (Welch) is one of the outstanding Minnesota soldiers in any war," Flies said. Wounded several times and captured, he distinguished himself in the Dakota Indian War as well as the Civil War.
Welch was injured and died following the siege of Vicksburg, which ended 150 years ago July 4. He was among the few Minnesota battle casualties whose bodies were brought home for burial.
Gen. Lucius Hubbard also is being honored because of his role at Vicksburg. Hubbard was a colonel in the 5th Minnesota Regiment, which fought at the siege; he later became a general and Minnesota's governor. His gravesite at Oakwood will be rededicated.
Flies, who will be emcee, said the program will include comments by Ritchie, who is co-chairman of the task force, and presentations by three others:
• Mitch Rubinstein, president of the Twin Cities Civil War Roundtable, will talk about the strategic importance of Vicksburg.
• Joseph Fitzharris, professor emeritus of history at the University of St. Thomas, will discuss the role of the three Minnesota regiments at Vicksburg -- the 3rd, 4th and 5th.
• Fred Johnson, Red Wing native and historian/author, will tell the stories of the two soldiers.
In addition, area Civil War re-enactors will conduct a brief Grand Army of the Republic memorial ceremony at Welch's gravesite and fire a musket salute, according to Randy Kuznicki, captain of the 3rd Minnesota Company C Volunteer Infantry re-enactment group.
A contingent of men and women from the group will be present for the event, member Diane Buganski said, including women dressed in garb of the era in addition to the soldiers. Buganski, who typically portrays a nurse and cook for the regimental hospital, will be dressed in black to represent the deep mourning of all the women who lost fathers, brothers, sons and husbands in the war.
The 3rd Regiment re-enactors have participated in several similar ceremonies and grave dedications around the state, Buganski said. Last weekend they were in Utica, Minn., honoring fallen soldiers.
The Commemoration Task Force was established in 2011 and has been active statewide funding and promoting events. It maintains an informational Website at www.mncivilwar150.com.
Flies became its spokesman for soldier recognition as a result of a project he undertook some years ago while living in Plainview.
Two local soldiers who had been killed in Nashville were brought home for burial, but their graves were marked only by a decrepit stone. He worked with a great-great-niece and the Veterans Administration to get a replacement gravestone.
Asked how rare it was for soldiers to be buried at home, Flies decided to find the answer. He now is seeking to identify all Minnesota soldiers who were killed or mortally wounded in Civil War battles, or who died in prison, who then were brought home for burial.
Of an estimated 800 Minnesotans who fit that category, he has only been able to locate the graves of 18 men. Difficulties bringing them home in the 1860s included the distance from the battlefields, transportation challenges and the fact that families had to go themselves to retrieve their loved ones.
Many other soldiers died during the war, Flies noted, but two-thirds of the deaths were due to disease. His focus is on "the ultimate heroes."
The task force has been holding commemoration events for those soldiers on the anniversary of the battles in which they died. "This is the eighth event," Flies said. The task force is providing new gravestones for some if the old ones are unreadable or broken.
"In part it is symbolic," he said. "There are so many Civil War soldiers," and he sees honoring these individuals as a way to honor them all. "If we forget these men," Flies pointed out, "what will happen to our World War I and WWII soldiers some day? They are all important."
Flies also is working to establish an electronic database where people can access information about soldiers in all cemeteries. "We have to do it now or it'll be lost forever," he said.
If you go...
What: Civil War commemoration and rededication
Who: Governor's Civil War Commemoration Task Force
When: 10 a.m. Thursday, July 4, rain or shine
Directions: Enter Oakwood Cemetery at the end of East Avenue; go left on Summit Street then left again on Wilson Street to the gravesite