The Civil War, 150 years past, is closer than you think.
For former Minnesota Gov. Al Quie, the war is as close as his grandfather, Halvor Quie, who served in a Minnesota sharpshooter regiment at the Battle of Antietam and nearly lost a leg to the wounds he suffered there.
On Wednesday, Quie and other state officials gathered with blue-coated re-enactors who are traveling to Maryland this weekend to commemorate the bloodiest single day of combat in American history.
The Antietam anniversary is part of the state's ongoing effort to honor the history, horrors and heroes of the war years. The Minnesota re-enactors will carry small flags to Antietam, to leave at the graves of the 10 known Minnesota casualties buried near the battlefield. More than 400 members of the 1st Minnesota Volunteer infantry fought in the battle, and more than 120 of them were killed or wounded.
“What causes a person to care so much for people he has never seen that he would endanger his life for them?” said Quie, who remembers playing on the floor as a small child and listening to the stories about the grandfather who died before he was born. “I remember thinking of facing rifles and muskets and I knew I didn’t have the nerve.”
But years later, when Quie was a state senator, it was the memory of his grandfather that inspired him to buck the Republican caucus and vote in favor of the Fair Employment Practices Commission – the state’s first attempt to crack down on discrimination in the workplace.
“I was really struggling,” Quie said. “And it was thinking of my grandfather… I stood up and said, ‘There’s no reason for me to vote for this legislation. There are no African Americans in my district. There’s no economic reason why I should do it. There’s only one reason why I could vote for it: It’s the right thing to do.’”
Quie’s grandfather was one of 12,401 Union soldiers wounded or killed in the battle at Antietam Creek, near Sharpsburg, Md, on Sept. 17, 1862. The Confederacy lost 10,318 kiled or wounded.
A few days after the federal victory, President Abraham Lincoln issued the first draft of what would become the Emancipation Proclamation, declaring that the 3.1 million men, women and children living in slavery in the Confederate states would be freed if the states did not return to the Union by the end of the year.
On Sept. 22, the anniversary of Lincoln’s proclamation, Minnesota will commemorate that first tentative step on the road to freedom with a ceremony in St. Paul's Calvary Cemetery.