Minnesota Fiddlers




by Walter Sigtermans

      Before the Civil War Minnesota was a freshly minted state consisting of German, French, Irish and English immigrants.  They were strangers from different nationalities which had, at times, been at odds with each other.  However, by the end of the war there were 20,000 veterans who all identified themselves as "Minnesotans."  The war may have given cohesiveness to a random collection of foreigners.  Eight Minnesota veterans of the Civil War would each, in their own turn, be Governor of this state.

     One of the best known tunes during the Civil War, played on both sides of the conflict, was "The Girl I Left Behind Me."   A tune by that title had been published in Dublin in 1791 and the melody appeared in print in 1810.  The song came to the United States when American soldiers had learned it from a British prisoner during the war of 1812.  It became the standard marching tune of the American Army during the Mexican-American war of 1846-1847 and remained so during the Civil War.  Both sides composed their own lyrics to go with the melody and make the marches a little less boring.

Click here to see the sheet music to "The Girl I Left Behind Me"

Click here to listen to an mp3 of "The Girl I Left Behind Me"

Civil War

    On April 12, 1861, less than 3 years after Minnesota became the 32 state, war broke out between the states. On April 14, 1861 Governor Ramsey called for volunteers to save the Union. The First Minnesota Regiment was formed and mustered at Fort Snelling April 29th.


    A regiment is a force of one thousand men, typically from one location.  In Europe it was expected that soldiers from the same town would be a more cohesive force, but America was an immigrant nation where your neighbors might speak a different language than you.

    Before the war had ended Minnesota would supply 25,000 soldiers to the war, from a population of 180,000 settlers.  Minnesotans fought in nearly every engagement of the Civil War, including the battle of Gettysburg.


     The second day of fighting at Gettysburg centered about a place called Cemetery Ridge.  The Confederates were threatening to take the heights and a force was needed to hold off the approach until Union re-enforcements could be brought up.  262 members of the First Minnesota charged into the Confederate advance and bought the time needed, but during that five minutes they suffered 215 dead or wounded.  The next day, July 3rd 1863, surviving members of the First Minnesota helped repel Picketts charge in the decisive battle which altered the Civil War.