Colvill honored on Gettysburg anniversary
By Ruth Nerhaugen, Contributor
The 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg and the Goodhue County man who led Minnesota soldiers in a key charge will be commemorated at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday at the Cannon Falls Community Cemetery.
Twenty to 30 soldiers of the Minnesota National Guard's 135th Infantry will gather at the Colvill Memorial to conduct the ceremony, marking the anniversary of the battle and honoring the sacrifices made by the 1st Minnesota in that battle under the leadership of William Colvill.
Colvill emigrated from New York to Cannon Falls in 1854 then moved to Red Wing and opened a law office. A leader in local affairs and the state, he became editor of the first newspaper, the Sentinel, and was elected secretary to the Minnesota Territorial Council.
When the Civil War broke out in April 1861, Colvill was one of the first to enlist. Eyewitnesses reported that when the call came for volunteers at the first war meeting, "two young men rose and ran over the backs of their seats in their haste."
Colvill reached the pen first, and was elected captain of the Goodhue County Volunteers, which became Company F of the 1st Minnesota Regiment. The regiment was engaged in the war's most strategic battles, including Bull Run, Antietam, Fredricksburg and Gettysburg. Colvill was promoted to colonel at the Battle of Chancellorsville in April 1863.
Colvill led the desperate charge at Gettysburg in which the 1st Minnesota -- a brave band of 262 men -- saved the position of the Union forces on Cemetery Ridge. After the battle only 47 men were able to answer roll call.
He suffered all his life from the wounds received in the war. Colvill had taken a bullet in his left breast in the battles of the Peninsula campaign, and suffered crippling injuries to his right ankle at Gettysburg.
After the war he returned to Red Wing to practice law, was elected state attorney general and later served in the Minnesota Legislature. Colvill Park in Red Wing is part of his original homestead lands.
Colvill died in 1905 at the Soldier's Home in Fort Snelling, St. Paul, and was buried in Cannon Falls.
President Calvin Coolidge came to Cannon Falls in 1929 to dedicate the Colvill Memorial, which is a replica of a bronze statue erected in 1909 under the dome of the State Capitol. Coolidge recalled the 1st Minnesota's heroism:
"In all the history of warfare the charge at Gettysburg has few, if any, equals and no superiors. It was an exhibition of the most exalted heroism against an apparently insuperable antagonist. Holding the Confederate forces in check until other reserves came up, it probably saved the Union Army from defeat."
Tuesday's ceremonies at Cannon Falls will include the laying of a wreath, a reading of the Plum Run Report, a 21-gun salute and taps.