By Tim Krohn
The Free Press
Wayne Jorgenson has a life-long, abiding respect for a group of men who lived 150 years ago.
Jorgenson became enthralled with the 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry some 40 years ago when he helped found a 1st Minnesota reenactment group. For 20 years he's run the 1stminnesota.net website, dedicated to one of the most vaunted regiments of the Civil War.
He recently published the book, "Every Man Did His Duty," a high-quality, richly illustrated book dedicated to telling individual stories of many of the soldiers, including from the Mankato area.
(The book is available at 1stminnesota.net. Tasora Books, hardcover, 320 pages, $59.95)
The Eden Prairie resident said there are many good books covering the history of the regiment.
"I wanted wartime stories, I wanted a picture book, a story book so people could see their face and get to know them."
He found 300 pictures of soldiers and whittled it down to more than 100 who had the best stories. But the names of all who served and all 300 photos appear in the book, along with rosters and a variety of photos of items soldiers carried with them into war.
Jorgenson said the reputation of the 1,225 men who served in the 1st Minnesota was well justified.
"There was a mystique to the Minnesota men -- the character they had compared to what I call the "city boys" out east. The ones who came out here in the 1860s, they were farming, logging, surviving, shooting guns. All these pioneering traits made them stronger and better soldiers."
Jorgenson said the 1st quickly attracted attention from the generals, who often dealt with high rates of desertion and panic during battle. The unit's actions at Bull Run, which deteriorated into a haphazard retreat, particularly caught attention.
"It was how they carried themselves. At Bull Run they were one of the last ones pulled out of battle and they retreated orderly, not running off pell-mell. That impressed the generals. They never once lost their flag and they never broke and ran."
That reputation for toughness was put to bloody use at Gettysburg. The 1st Minnesota was being held in reserve to fill gaps if trouble arose. When Confederate soldiers threatened to take Cemetery Ridge and break the Union line -- perhaps turning the tide of the battle -- some 260 1st Minnesota soldiers were sent into a force of 1,500 to 1,800 Confederates. The unit was decimated, but the time they bought allowed the Union to hold its lines.
Jorgenson's book retells the story of one Mankato soldier, William Henry Wikoff, who served for three years (see related story).
Other Mankato area men who enlisted about the same time as Wikoff included Charles Mansfield, George Pfeffer, Frederick Diehr, Benjamin Dewy, James Cannon, W.A. Coy, Ed Casey and Charles Andrus.
"(Wikoff) epitomizes what these guys were like. He had a good sense of humor, but they were there to do their job."