|Our Sam Smith "running rifleman" statue at Summit Cemetery, Morris MN|
Our town of Morris MN has surprising connections to Civil War memory, considering how far to the West we are. We were founded six years after the end of the war. But there is a statue at our local cemetery (the public one, not the Catholic anti-abortion one). The statue is of Samuel Smith, running just like the pose of the official monument to the First Minnesota Regiment at Gettysburg. Mr. Smith was present for several of the famous engagements in the Eastern theater. He was assigned to the ambulance corps for the Battle of Gettysburg. His descendants continue to be well-known in the Morris area.
Why did the young men of that era put their lives on the line? Perhaps more intriguing: Why were they sacrificed in such large numbers amidst tactics that seemed so brutal and futile? There is a book about Cold Harbor called "Not War But Murder." In that case it was the Union that employed the sad mass assault approach vs. fortifications. The movie "Cold Mountain" showed Union forces being chewed up.
Debate over public art at MN capitol
We reflect on this troubling chapter of U.S. history when we consider State Capitol art. There was a totally needless dust-up recently when our governor appeared to make a reasoned judgment. We no longer need such focus on the Civil War conflict at our state capitol via art. Because he is a Democrat, the other party was bound to take issue with the judgment.
It seems hard for Democrats to assert themselves these days. Republicans seem to have the default political position that people favor. We get disgruntled about government. The Republican Party feeds into that. Things change when Republicans finally get enough power to impose their positions. So now the "repeal" of "Obamacare" looms, for real, and suddenly the realities of that are beginning to scare people.
So now we come down to the question: Should the old paintings at our state capitol stay as conspicuous as they have been for the last century? The obvious answer would seem to be "no." It is exciting to ponder what kind of historical artwork might be exhibited to replace the old stuff. The art could in fact be rotating, refreshed from time to time.
Governor Dayton is wholly right in asserting that Minnesota has been through a long and interesting history since we sent troops for the Civil War.
The Civil War was unlike other wars in that we were fighting our own brethren, our own countrymen. Efforts at reconciliation were strong after the war. Captured battle flags were returned. Minnesota still has one, only because of an oversight. The state of Virginia cannot make a formal request for its return. Southern governments of today cannot take actions bestowing respect on what the Confederacy represented. There is a private re-enactors group in Virginia that has made requests for return of our flag. In the most famous snub of that, Governor Jesse Ventura spoke for Minnesota. "We won" or something like that. I really wouldn't care if the flag were to be returned. The Southern cause died eons ago. "The South will rise again!" is just a cute comment you'll find in souvenir gift shops in the South.
Some veterans have felt the need to defend the conspicuous Civil War art at our capitol, using the knee-jerk pronouncements about how those sacrifices need to be remembered. Why not display paintings from the other wars where our adversaries were truly from outside? Minnesotans have made countless dedicated sacrifices. But the Civil War was fought against a civilization with which we would reconcile.
Regardless, we will never forget the U.S. Civil War. Go out to our cemetery and appreciate that Sam Smith statue. Think of the resolve. I wish there was a wider open space around the statue, maybe even a small park area. I'm really not a fan of cemeteries anymore. But the Smith statue has meaning that transcends the normal cemetery plot purpose.
Fame achieved by First Minnesota
The men of the First Minnesota are most remembered for their actions on July 2, 1863, during the second day's fighting at Gettysburg. Our regiment prevented the rebels from pushing the Federals off of Cemetery Ridge, a position that was to be crucial in the battle. General Hancock ordered the First Minnesota to assault a much larger enemy force. The battle cry was "take those colors." Thus, "Take Those Colors" is the name of a song I decided to write about the gallant First Minnesota. I don't know if I'll have it recorded.
I invite you to read the lyrics. The song has a verse/climb/chorus structure. The tempo is upbeat with strategic pauses here and there.