Minnesota Prairie Roots

Writing and photography by Audrey Kletscher Helbling

Remembering the start of the Civil War April 8, 2011

THE FIRST AND LAST TIME I attended a Cannon Valley Civil War Roundtable meeting, I was impressed by the collective knowledge this Faribault-based organization possesses of the Civil War. The session opened with each member sharing a historical snippet about the conflict.

Even guests like me were expected to offer something, anything. I was getting nervous as my turn neared and I couldn’t think of anything intellectually impressive to share. I had come solely because I wanted to see the slave documents that a guest speaker was bringing to the gathering. I didn’t expect this.

But then I remembered my tour of the Minnesota State Capitol months earlier. I could tell them, although I’m sure they knew, that a Howard Pyle painting, The Battle of Nashville, hangs in the Governor’s Reception Room. The artwork, according to the Capitol tour guide, is among the most noted of the Civil War and depicts the bloody conflict at Shy’s Hill, often defined as the war’s decisive battle.

And just to make sure the Roundtable members understood that I wasn’t completely Civil War illiterate, I also told them that the inclusion of white Georgia marble in Capitol construction drew the ire of Civil War veterans. The marble comprises much of the building’s exterior.


Georgia marble graces the exterior of the Minnesota State Capitol.

I doubt my tidbit facts impressed them, but I tried.

If you’re like me, not well-versed on the details of the Civil War, this year—the 150th anniversary of that conflict—offers the perfect opportunity to learn more. The Minnesota Historical Society has a lengthy list of educational activities planned to commemorate the anniversary.

This Saturday, April 9, for example, is “Civil War Flag Day at the Capitol” featuring three recently-conserved Minnesota Civil War flags and one from the Spanish-American War. The 11 a.m. – 4 p.m. event, with a 1 p.m. program, also includes Civil War artifacts, reenactors, children’s activities and more.

I won’t be at the State Capitol on Saturday because I’ll be attending “Recognition of the Fall of Fort Sumter—The Beginning of the Civil War” hosted by the Cannon Valley Civil War Roundtable and the Rice County Historical Society from 1 p.m. – 4 p.m. in Faribault. On April 12, 1861, the Confederates fired on Fort Sumter, starting the Civil War. Saturday’s event will be held at the Guild House of the 1862 historic Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour, 101 NW Sixth Street.


The Guild House is attached to the historic Cathedral of Our Merciful Saviour across from Central Park in Faribault.

I expect that some of the items on display at the Guild House will be artifacts—Abraham Lincoln photos and postcards, Civil War uniform buttons—I saw at the 2009 Roundtable meeting. Back then the presenter failed to bring his slave documents. Slave bills will be displayed on Saturday. There’ll also be weapons and money, buckles and bonds, and more.


Civil War uniform buttons and insignias displayed at a 2009 Cannon Valley Civil War Roundtable meeting.

This Civil War postcard was among the items a collector brought to a Cannon Valley Civil War Roundtable meeting.

An 1840 Philadelphia Derringer, like the pistol used to assassinate President Abraham Lincoln. A collector brought the pistol to the Roundtable meeting I attended in 2009.

Jan Stevens, an area Civil War enthusiast who creates replica historical clothing will dress in period clothing and greet visitors. Another reenactor will recruit visitors to join the cause.

Civil War music will fill the Guild House. Author Richard G. Krom, great grandson of a Civil War soldier from nearby Morristown, will sign and sell copies of his book, The 1st MN Second to None.

Finally, I’m looking forward to once again examining the recently-restored Rice County Civil War battle flag of Company C, Sixth Minnesota Volunteer Infantry. I’ve seen the flag only once before, viewing it at the county historical society under the watchful eye of Director Susan Garwood.

I was disappointed then that Garwood wouldn’t allow me to photograph the flag, even when I promised to turn off the flash on my camera. She wouldn’t be swayed.

But I’ll have my camera with me on Saturday and I’ll try again.

I expect the Civil War artifact collector whom I first met at the 2009 Roundtable meeting will be there too. He, thankfully, allowed me to photograph his historical pieces. But he wouldn’t allow me to publish his name in a blog post I wrote then. He looked me directly in the eye and demanded anonymity to protect his substantial investment. He wasn’t joking when he told me he knew where he could find me.

FYI: This weekend’s activities at the Capitol and in Faribault are free and open to the public. However, donations to the Rice County Historical Society will be accepted at the Faribault event where homemade pie and coffee will be served.

© Copyright 2011 Audrey Kletscher Helbling