Andrew Mattson

Civil War re-enactors stand near the grave of Company H Pvt. Andrew Mattson during a ceremony last August.

At a time when the United States is so drastically divided, pause to reflect this Memorial Day.

Remember those who gave their lives to unite this country. Remember the Carver County soldiers who served in the Civil War.

They left their families and homes and farms to quell a rebellion that threatened to destroy the United States.

“I need give no extended explanations for volunteering in the Union Army,” recalled Pvt. Bjorn Aslakson, of Carver. “There were hundreds of thousands of others who did the same. My country was in dire need and called all loyal sons to its defense, and although I had a wife and family, I could not say no. That is how I came to volunteer in Company H.”

Company H of the Ninth Minnesota Regiment was made up mostly of Carver County residents. The group included many immigrants who had recently arrived in the country, but were already willing to fight for it.

In spring 1864, the Ninth Minnesota, under the command of Gen. Samuel D. Sturgis, embarked on an effort to defeat Maj. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest and his cavalry, according to historian John Lundstrom.

On June 10, 1864, at the Battle of Brice’s Crossroads in Mississippi, the regiment fought as rear guard. However, as the battle turned against the Union, the Ninth Minnesota ended up fighting in the front lines, fending off the Confederate Army and enabling the rest of the Army to escape.

In the battle, Capt. William Rowe Baxter, of Chaska, was killed. So was wagoner John Stack. A report shortly after placed the losses within the regiment as 286 killed, wounded or missing — 233 were taken prisoner. That included 28 soldiers of Company H.

By the end of the war, of the 28 POWs, only 11 soldiers were known to survive. Most were held at disease-ridden Andersonville Prison in Georgia, a place which could only be described as hell on earth. The prison existed for 14 months, holding 45,000 Union soldiers, of which almost 13,000 died, according to the National Park Service.

“The sight of all this misery — the starved, dying and half-naked humans all around, those with scurvy misshaped limbs, swollen joints and festering sores infected with gangrene — all contributed to make the newcomer so unnerved that he would soon get into a mental condition of despair out of which the ghostly beacon of death seemed welcome,” Aslakson would later recall. “I often wished and prayed that death would end my misery.”

The war would end and the men would be released. However, many of the survivors, their bodies weak from prison, would die young. Sgt. Andrew Mattson, described as a “skeleton,” returned to his wife and 5-year-old son on the shores of Lake Waconia, dying two days later.

The men of Company H were among the first local residents to die for our country, but they weren’t the last.

Every war takes its toll and many local troops have paid the ultimate price for the United States of America. Those who’ve made it home have scars, both seen and unseen.

This Memorial Day, take a moment to remember the sacrifice of Company H.

Community Editor

Mark Olson, the Chaska and Chanhassen community editor who has worked in Carver County for 20 years, makes any excuse to write about local history. In his spare time, Mark enjoys perusing old books, watching blockbusters and taking Midwest road trips.

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