By Jennie Zeitler
Todd County’s annual History Day was brought to life during a presentation by Col. Lowell Kruse, Camp Ripley director of logistics and a Civil War re-enactor.
Kruse travelled to Gettysburg in June to take part in a 150th anniversary re-enactment of the Battle of Gettysburg. He recounted the events of that historic battle and described a Civil War soldier’s life for dozens of history buffs at the Browerville Community Center, Oct. 12.
“For three days, I tried to live the sparse life a soldier had to live,” said Kruse.
Kruse showed the clothing, weapons and ammunition, cooking tools, food and shelter items that were issued to a Civil War soldier.
“A soldier was given one to three days of hardtack (dehydrated biscuit), salt pork, coffee beans, sugar and salt at a time,” Kruse said. “His life revolved around breakfast and supper and brewing coffee a couple of times a day. He ground his own coffee beans. The meat was so salty that it needed to be soaked in water first; it was time-consuming.”
The soldier had a canteen for water, a tin cup and a “mucket” — a cup with an attached lid and bail handle for hanging over a fire while brewing coffee.
“Soldiers were expected to forage in the countryside for additional food,” Kruse said. “They were probably hungry much of the time.”
A Civil War private was paid $13 per month.
“He was often supporting a family back home, so he had very little money to spend,” Kruse said.
Kruse demonstrated the nine steps necessary to reload his rifle, a muzzle percussion weapon. A soldier commonly received about 60 rounds of ammunition.
The 1st Minnesota Volunteer Regiment was formed in 1861 after Gov. Ramsey answered, in person at the White House, President Abraham Lincoln’s request for troops.
“The 2/135th Infantry in Mankato traces their lineage back to the 1st Minnesota,” said Kruse. “It was the very first state-raised regiment of the Civil War, It was part of the Army of the Potomac.”
During the Battle of Gettysburg, the 1st Minnesota’s 400 soldiers plunged into a gap in the Union line and stopped the advance of 2,500 troops from Georgia.
Plugging that gap left only 42 Minnesotans uninjured. “The Civil War was an eye-opener for tactics,” he said. “The rifles used were much more accurate. The enemy could be engaged at 150-200 yards instead of 50-75 yards. There was time to load many more times.”
The war began with units using Revolutionary War tactics, firing one time per engagement with less accurate weapons.
“Casualties then were 10-15 percent,” said Kruse. “Now, the armies could engage further out, firing two to three times and more accurately.”
The war was the first time rifled weapons were used in conflict. With the rifling in the barrel and the minie balls used, this also meant more wounds. Kruse pointed out that greater advances in medical treatment were developed in response.
By the end of the war, tactics and weapons were being used that would be used in World War I.