Minnesotans for Lincoln’s Army
Immediately after Fort Sumter surrendered, Governor Alexander Ramsey “tender[ed] to Secretary of War Simon Cameron 1,000 men from Minnesota “to defend the Government.” This was the first State to offer men to Lincoln’s regime, though Minnesota’s principal Democratic newspaper pointed out that it was the only Northern State which demanded federal money before troops were released to Lincoln.
Bernhard Thuersam, www.Circa1865.com
Minnesotans for Lincoln’s Army
“Ramsey’s patriotic tender [of April 14] was not as magnanimous as it appeared at first glance. In the written tender he commented that since the Minnesota legislature was not in session [until early 1862], he felt justified in requesting the Federal government to provide the “reasonable expenses” involved in readying the men for service.
On the following day, April 15, Lincoln issues a call for 75,000 militiamen to serve for three months . . . His authority was an act of Congress passed in 1795. Included in the act were provisions that no militiaman could be compelled to serve longer than three months; nor could the militia as a whole be continued on active duty thirty days after the commencement of the next session of Congress.
The response of the [Minnesota] volunteer militia was less than gratifying [to the Governor]. The Clearwater Guards held a meeting on April 22. In reply to the query “Will the Guard volunteer its services . . . for a term of three months . . .” the vote was twenty yeas and twenty three nays; eleven members were absent. Similarly, the volunteer militia company near St. Cloud, a German unit, decided against being activated. The members argued that if both they and the regular army troops who had been guarding the frontier left the State, there would be no protection for the settlers from Indian raids.
The companies from Chatfield, Mankato, and New Ulm were also conspicuously absent later at St. Paul. The remaining three companies: the Minnesota Pioneer guard from St. Paul, the St. Anthony Zouaves, and the Stillwater guard, were likewise reluctant to enlist for three months.
The Minnesota Pioneer Guard was the oldest, best known, and at the time thought to be the best trained of the three. Social exclusiveness rather than military efficiency was reflected by the qualifications for membership. As a bona fide member of the Pioneer Guard the recruit could look forward to active participation in 4th of July celebrations, steamboat excursions . . ., and other festive doings. Military activities, while of some significance, were not the primary concern of the company.
Cameron’s [new] directive was determined by a proclamation by Lincoln on May 3  which called for 42,034 volunteers to serve for three years unless discharged at an earlier date. Lincoln had no authority to issue an executive order requiring men to serve as volunteers for three years. In illegally doing so, he indicated that Congressional approval would be asked for as soon as possible.
Many of the men were hesitant to sign up for the extended term. Few were of the opinion that the war would be a short one. They did not relish the thought of continuing their present mode of living for the next three years. Approximately 600 of the original three-month men signed up for the three-year tour of duty. A total of 345 declined. No company re-enlisted as a single unit. Whether undue pressure was exerted upon the men is difficult to determine.
[A] letter from a member of the Wabasha company to [Lt. Governor Ignatius] Donnelly stated that: “The officers went to work to get the consent of the men. The Col. Gets drunk – rolls out half a dozen kegs of beer, issues orders that clothing shall not be given to those who will not enlist. Those who don’t enlist will be discharged and disgraced . . .”
In addition to the enlistment problem . . . Mage Eustis of Minneapolis and John Lamb of St. Paul negotiated a contract to provide rations for the regiment at a rate of fifty cents per man per day. The first meal on April 29 . . . was satisfactory. Complaining commenced with the breakfast the following morning and eventually resulted in the so-called “bad beef riots.” The men pelted the cooks and the cookhouse with plates along with their contents consisting mainly of foul-smelling beef.”
(The First Minnesota, John Quinn Imholte, Ross and Haines, 1963, excerpts, pp. 6-10; 19-22)