Corporal George B. Clark and the Civil War: 1861-1865

By David R. Schleper

Corporal George B. Clark, of Shakopee, Minnesota served with the 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment, Company A, and was present at all of the regiment’s battles. The First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment was the first in the nation to answer President Abraham Lincoln’s call for troops in 1861, and they courageously served with great distinction.

The First Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment mustered for a three-year term (1861-1864) in the Union Army at the outset of the American Civil War when the prevailing enlistment period was three months. During offensive movements, it sustained high degrees of casualties at the Battles of First Bull Run and Antietam and a catastrophic degree of casualties at the Battle of Gettysburg. It is most noted for its service on the second day at Gettysburg.

At a pivotal moment and position during the 1863 conflict at Gettysburg, Union general Winfield Scott Hancock desperately ordered the 262 men of the First Minnesota to charge the 1,600 advancing Alabama Rebels.

Carpenter recalled, “We advanced down the slope…Comrade after comrade dropped from the ranks; but the line went. No one took a second look at his fallen companion. We had no time to weep.” Only 47 men returned alive, but they preserved a key Union defensive position.

On July 4, Lieutenant William Lochren wrote a letter to his hometown Winona Republican newspaper. “We are in the midst of a terrible battle,” he wrote. “Two thirds of the regiment are killed or wounded. We got the better of the enemy in the fight, and our regiment captured one stand of colors.”

When given the opportunity to speak about the Regiment after the war, both General Hancock and US President Calvin Coolidge were unrestrained with praise. Hancock placed its heroism highest in the known annals of war and ascribed unsurpassed gallantry to the famed attack. Emphasizing the criticality of the circumstances on July 2 at Gettysburg, President Coolidge considered, “Colonel Colvill and those eight companies of the First Minnesota are entitled to rank as the saviors of their country.”

Corporal Clark was captured at Antietam but released through a prisoner exchange and then was wounded at Bristow Station. He re-enlisted with the 1st Battalion of Minnesota Infantry, was captured at Petersburg and incarcerated for eight months.

While imprisoned he endured virtual starvation and lost his teeth due to scurvy. George B. Clark was forty-five years old when he died on March 16, 1887 due to his continuing illness.

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