A series of historical cemetery tours this summer highlights the young men of Scott County who joined the Union Army during the Civil War.
In February 1862, Ernst Boessling's parents wrote a letter: Their only son was 18, it said, and he had their "full consent and permission to ... enlist into the United States Army for three years or during the war."
Boessling actually was 15 years old when he joined Company D of the Fifth Minnesota Infantry and marched off, first to fight the Dakota Indians at Fort Abercrombie in what is now North Dakota, then to Mississippi to join the Civil War battle of Vicksburg.
During the 40-day siege of Vicksburg, Boessling fell ill. He died on Sept. 10, 1863. He was 17.
Boessling's grave marker and those of more than two dozen other Civil War veterans from Scott County stand in Oakwood Cemetery in Belle Plaine. Those gravestones were the subject of a tour organized by the Scott County Historical Society as part of the ongoing 150th anniversary of the Civil War.
More than 24,000 Minnesotans fought for the Union Army in the Civil War, many enlisting in August 1862, when President Abraham Lincoln put out a call for re-enforcements. Although no Civil War battles were fought in Minnesota, the Dakota Conflict also was fought that year and brought the idea of war into focus for many who enlisted.
The Scott County Historical Society has 650 Civil War soldiers in its database and will hold more gravesite tours in August and September.
Boessling's body is buried at Vicksburg, but his family, which moved to the Belle Plaine area shortly after his birth in 1847, erected a grave marker at Oakwood Cemetery in his memory.
Allison Drtina, program manager at the Historical Society, led the July 14 tour along with Scot Stone, a volunteer who began researching old Army records, newspaper clippings and obituaries when he was asked to write an article on the Civil War vets for the society.
Despite temperatures in the 90s by the tour's conclusion, Drtina wore a "town dress" of the style favored by wives of doctors and lawyers in the 1860s, including a hoop skirt and a snood for her hair. As a concession to the temperature, she skipped the layers of petticoats, corsets, chemises and other accoutrements of the period.
There are more than 25 Civil War veterans buried at Oakwood, along with one veteran of the Mexican-American War, fought between 1846 and 1848, and one, Francis Bliss, who fought in the War of 1812.
Little is known about the latter two men and about some of the Civil War veterans who died in the late 1800s. But clippings and obits provided a glimpse into the lives of those who lived into the 1900s, when people began to reminisce and romanticize the war.
John McConnell was 17 when he enlisted in Company C of Brackett's Battalion, Minnesota Volunteer Cavalry, in March 1863. He had been born in Ayr, Scotland, and soon thereafter settled in Pennsylvania with his family. The family moved to Illinois and Iowa before settling in Blakely Township in Scott County.
McConnell returned to Blakely Township to farm at the end of the war. He married four times and outlived each of his wives. He was the last Scott County Civil War veteran when he died in May 1943. By 1946, Drtina noted, there were only six Civil War veterans still alive in Minnesota.
McConnell, like many of his fellow veterans, was active in the General Bradley Post of the Grand Army of the Republic in Belle Plaine. The GAR -- the forerunner to the American Legion -- worked for veterans' rights. The Bradley Post closed in 1943.
McConnell's father, Sgt. Alex G. McConnell, also served in the war, enlisting in August 1862 in Company I of the Eighth Minnesota Volunteers, and serving three years.
James McNelly was the first Belle Plaine man to volunteer for the war, Drtina said. He enlisted in Company C of the First Minnesota Regiment at age 22 and fought in the First Battle of Bull Run. He was wounded three times -- shot twice and bayonetted once -- and taken prisoner. Records show that he was discharged in 1863. He died in Belle Plaine on Sept. 8, 1868.
Merriam Ward was the first settler in Blakely Township when he moved to Minnesota in 1855. He volunteered in 1861, reenlisted in January 1864 and was discharged "for disability" in November of that year, according to records.
His obituary in the Belle Plaine Herald on Jan. 5, 1911, said, "Mr. Ward was a man of sterling character, of a peaceful disposition, honorable and upright with everybody. He was one of those noble and hearty pioneers who did their duty and did it well."
Pat Pheifer • 952-746-3284