The life of a Civil War soldier
By Melanie M. Hedberg—
In theaters, the movie “Lincoln” took place during the most crimson war in American history.
It revived our nation’s interest in the Civil War, or a rebellion, as Lincoln referred to it. On Feb. 28, youth and adults from the Rush City community experienced first-hand what it felt and looked like to be “fresh fish,” new recruits during an interactive Civil War army basic training drill.
Throughout the course of the evening, Arn Kind used his connection with history to bring the Civil War experience to life at the Rush City Public Library. Rush City was the last stop on a library tour that also included Chisago Lakes, Hinckley and Sandstone. Kind is a member of the First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment, a re-enactment group based out of Fort Snelling in St. Paul.
By day, Kind teaches sixth-grade history at Franklin Elementary School in Mankato. He loves to ask his students on a regular basis, “Why are you here?” and encourages them to learn they are a part of creating history. He commented that his classroom is truly a “United Nations” of students.
“Current events become history,” Kind said.
He also pointed out that the choices of our ancestors have become a part of creating that history we learn about.
How many soldiers lost their lives?
Kind said that the Civil War was the greatest tragedy to ever befall the American Nation.
From 1861-1865, the United States lost a total of 2 percent of its population trying to “preserve the union and keep this nation ‘One Nation Under God.’” At the time of the war, the U.S. population numbered 31 million people, with 22 million in the North and nine million in the South.
More than a million military personnel were wounded, and the death toll reached 620,000 soldiers. To paint a picture, Kind explained that the same Civil War casualties would be comparative to 208 times the current population of Rush City, seven times the population of Duluth or one and a half times the population of Minneapolis.
Kind shared with the group that there were actually two civil wars being fought simultaneously. The first was the war was between the North and the South, while Minnesota also was fighting the Dakota War, which ended in Mankato in 1862.
Kind was proud to declare that Minnesota, the 32nd Union State, was the first to volunteer Union Army troops in the Civil War. The First Minnesota had 262 soldiers, and Garrison Keillor took part in their re-enactment at Gettysburg during the 125th Anniversary.
Albert Woolson, an Army recruit from Duluth, was the last surviving Union veteran until he died in 1956. Woolson was one of more than 22,000 troops who fought during the Civil War.
What was it like to be a soldier during the war?
In answering this question, Kind displayed a collection of artifacts, uniforms, equipment and pictures depicting the Civil War era.
He emphasized that a soldier was well-disciplined from reveille to taps. He explained that wool was the favorite material used to design war uniforms, and wool was used for every season of the year. Different flags were taken into battle by the Union and the Confederate armies, and Kind explained that when certain weather conditions affected the appearance of the flags during battle, troops might accidentally shoot their fellow comrades.
Kind stated the number one rule and motto in the Army: “If you want it, you gotta carry it.” Kind went on to explain that new army recruits carried too much gear when they first enlisted.
As he demonstrated the step-by-step loading process of his black powder rifle used during the Civil War, Kind noted it was not an American-made weapon.
He explained the process of how a soldier used a sweaty sock and the butt of his rifle as a way to grind coffee beans. An Army rifle could be used for many different things including a backscratcher and a tent pole; a bayonet by itself came in handy as a rotisserie or a candle holder.
Popular instruments carried by soldiers included banjos, fiddles, harmonicas or squeeze boxes. Kind went on to say that approximately 10,000 songs were written during the Civil War, including such well-known tunes as “Dixie,” a favorite in the South, and “Battle Hymn of the Republic,” a Union favorite. Several of these tunes blended together into one harmonious melody as Kind mournfully played his harmonica.
The Civil War speaker event was presented in part by the East Central Regional Library and the Minnesota Historical Society, and Minnesota Arts & Cultural Funds.