The Second Battery of Minnesota Light Artillery fought in some of the major battles in the Civil War's Western Theater. In their three and a half years of service, the Second's officers and men had the unique experience of functioning in all branches of the army-artillery, cavalry, and infantry.
The Second Battery of Minnesota Light Artillery mustered into service at Fort Snelling in March 1862. Captain William A. Hotchkiss served as the battery's commanding officer. Hotchkiss was a veteran of the Mexican War and the Third U.S. Artillery. In April, the battery departed for St. Louis. By May 1 the men and officers had received their cannon: two twelve-pounder Napoleons and four six-pounder howitzers, all smoothbores.
After a few weeks of drill, the battery proceeded to Pittsburg Landing, Tennessee, the site of the previous month's Battle of Shiloh. Between June and mid-August, the battery participated in various minor campaigns and marches across Tennessee, Mississippi, and Alabama. In September, as part of General Don Carlos Buell's Army of the Ohio, the battery pursued General Braxton Bragg's Confederate Army of Tennessee into Kentucky.
There, on October 8, 1862, the armies clashed in the Battle of Perryville. As the Confederates massed in front of the Union left flank, one of the Second Minnesota's howitzer sections (two guns) was sent to that flank for support. They forced Confederate skirmishers from a barn. Also, according to some accounts, they silenced a Confederate battery. Their smoothbores, however, were of insufficient range to deal with the rebel guns effectively. Therefore, they were relieved by a section of rifled guns from another battery.
The howitzers were put back into position when the Southern infantry attacked, and were very effective firing canister into the infantry's ranks. Southern forces eventually outflanked the position and caused the Union force to retire. Meanwhile, the Minnesotans' other four guns supported the right of the line. Soon after advancing, this part of the line, too, was driven back by overwhelming numbers. Although the Confederates had gained the upper hand, they retired from the battlefield the next day. This allowed the Union forces to claim the victory.
By late December, General Bragg had positioned his army at Murfreesboro, Tennessee. His goal was to prevent Union forces from advancing on Chattanooga. Union General William S. Rosecrans advanced his Army of the Cumberland, which included the Second Minnesota Battery (part of William P. Carlin's brigade), to meet Bragg. During heavy skirmishing on December 30, the Minnesota battery's effective counter-battery fire drove off some Confederate guns.
At dawn on December 31, the Confederates attacked the Union right flank and forced the Federal soldiers to retire. Carlin's brigade suffered many casualties. The men of the Second Minnesota Artillery fought hard to prevent their guns from being captured. The battle, known as Stones River, raged back and forth throughout the day without a decisive victor.
After a day of rest, the Confederates attacked again on the afternoon of January 2, 1863. They were forced to retire, largely due to a line of fifty-seven Union cannon. The battle ended in a Union victory.
The Second remained on duty in the Murfreesboro area until the summer of 1863. During this time they traded their four six-pounder guns for ten-pounder Parrott rifled cannon. Between June and September the Army of the Cumberland found itself operating throughout middle Tennessee.
On September 19 and 20, the armies met again at Chickamauga Creek in northern Georgia. On the first day of battle, the Second Minnesota Battery took a position on the right of the Union line. Three times the battery prevented the Confederates from moving around the Northerners' right flank. The battery was in reserve on the second day of the battle. The Union troops were defeated and forced back to Chattanooga.
The Second Battery did not fight in the battles around Chattanooga that November. After a veteran furlough in early 1864, the men returned to the Chattanooga area in June. From then until the war's end, the men did not serve as artillery. First, they were mounted as cavalry. For a few months they performed escort and scouting duty. In October, they were given muskets and served as infantry, garrisoning Chattanooga and Philadelphia, Tennessee, until July 1865. With the war over, the Second returned to Minnesota and mustered out of service on August 16, 1865.
Board of Commissioners. Minnesota in the Civil and Indian Wars, 1861–1865. 2 vols. St. Paul: Pioneer Press, 1891.
Dyer, Frederick H. A Compendium of the War of the Rebellion. Des Moines, IA: Dyer Publishing, 1908.
Faust, Patricia L., ed. Historical Times Illustrated Encyclopedia of the Civil War. New York: Harper Perennial, 1991.
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. Reprint: Harrisburg, PA: National Historical Society, 1971.
Wendel, Vickie. "Ordinary Heroes: The Second Minnesota Battery of Light Artillery." Minnesota History 59, no. 4 (Winter 2004-05): 140–152.
In June 1864, the Second Minnesota Artillery trade their cannon for horses and serve as cavalry, performing scouting and escort duty. Four months later they are issued muskets and serve as infantry, performing garrison duty. Thus, they have the unique experience of serving in each branch of the army.