Organized in late 1864, the Eleventh Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment was the last infantry unit to be raised by the state. Though not involved in any major battles, the regiment performed a crucial service that helped to achieve ultimate Union victory.
The Eleventh Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment was formed in response to President Abraham Lincoln's last call for troops. The officers and men were organized and mustered into service at Fort Snelling in August and September of 1864.
The men initially were issued no weapons and had to borrow muskets from the fort. By late September the regiment was full, with just over a thousand officers and men. On September 20, the regiment departed Fort Snelling and marched to St. Paul's lower levee. Here, while waiting for the boats that would take them south, the men finally received their arms and accoutrements.
Due to the Mississippi's low water level, the Eleventh's officers traveled to La Crosse on a very small steamboat with a shallow draft. The enlisted men went downriver on two large, uncovered barges. At La Crosse the regiment took the railroad to Chicago. The regiment remained in Chicago for just over a week, and then headed toward Nashville.
The Nashville area became the Eleventh's area of operations for the remainder of its time in service. The Eleventh was assigned to the Department of the Cumberland. Here, the men were tasked with guarding a thirty-mile stretch of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad from the Kentucky line to Nashville. The regiment's largest concentration, including headquarters, was located just outside of Gallatin, about twenty-three miles northeast of Nashville.
The Louisville and Nashville was a major conduit for troops and supplies for the Union Army of the Cumberland. Therefore, the Eleventh Minnesota was tasked with the important job of guarding the railroad against attacks by Confederate guerillas. The men spent the following winter on picket, guard duty, and patrol. Occasionally, the men chased after bands of guerrillas. Usually, the chase ended with the guerrillas disappearing into the countryside.
By November of 1864 the railroad was operating at full capacity, with troop and supply trains constantly running to Nashville. During the battles of Franklin and Nashville, cannonading was distinctly heard all along the Eleventh's section of railroad. Some curious members of the regiment even managed to witness part of the Nashville battle.
On June 26, 1865, the Eleventh Minnesota started for home. The regiment arrived at St. Paul on July 5 and was mustered out of service on July 11. Throughout its service, the Eleventh lost three enlisted men killed, and one officer and twenty-one enlisted men died of disease.
The story of the Civil War is often told through accounts of its major battles and campaigns. However, as the record of the Eleventh Minnesota Volunteer Infantry attests, those who played important, if less dramatic, supporting roles contributed just as greatly to the war effort.
Board of Commissioners. Minnesota in the Civil and Indian Wars, 1861–1865. 2 vols. St. Paul: Pioneer Press Company, 1891.
Dyer, Frederick H. A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion. Des Moines, IA: Dyer Publishing Company, 1908.
United States War Department. The War of the Rebellion: A Compilation of the Official Records of the Union and Confederate Armies. 70 vols. in 128 parts. Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1880–1901. Reprint: Harrisburg: National Historical Society, 1971.
William H. Van Kleeck Diaries, August 14, 1864–July 15, 1865
Manuscript Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul
Description: Two diaries kept by the commissary sergeant of the Eleventh Minnesota Infantry.
The diaries discuss Van Kleeck's experiences at Fort Snelling, his duties in securing and distributing the regiment's rations, Confederate guerrilla activity, the Battle of Nashville, the weather, recreational activities, illnesses, Lee's surrender, and the regiment's return and discharge at Fort Snelling.
In the fall 1864, the Eleventh Minnesota Infantry guards a vital section of the Louisville and Nashville Railroad, allowing troops and supplies to safely and quickly reach the Union Army of the Cumberland in time for the battles of Franklin and Nashville.