The Union Called

Published 3:03 pm Sunday, May 12, 2013

The soldiers of Mower County’s Company C. Photo provided.

About 10 years ago, a World War II history geek and author shifted gears and tried to learn more about his great-great-uncle’s role in the Civil War.

John Lundstrom

John Lundstrom

John Lundstrom certainly found what he was looking for, and along the way resurrected some of the most significant war stories in southeastern Minnesota’s history. They are told in his book, “One Drop in a Sea of Blue: The Liberators of the Ninth Minnesota.” The book was released in August of 2012.

Within that Ninth Regiment, companies from Mower, Winona and Wabasha counties, among others, went outside their orders and freed a desperate slave’s family during the Civil War. They were the Liberators, 38 of them, from Companies C and K of Mower and Winona counties, respectively. Lundstrom discovered his uncle, John Morrison from St. Charles, was one of them. Then he found out a lot more.

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“I just kept getting more and more information,” Lundstrom said, and after 10 years compiled a 400-page account of events.

To his surprise, letters, recollections, documents, war records and more information was all still alive. Through his research, he felt like he met some of those soldiers.

“I’ve really developed an interest and affection for Mower County,” said Lundstrom, who is from Milwaukee. “They really represent the best of the Union Army. “They really kind of became friends of mine in the sense that I feel like I know them.”

Lundstrom traveled plenty of places during his research, including the Mower County Historical Society several times. He found accounts from the Mower County Register and learned about locals such as The Rev. John Arnold, John Hartley and Capt. Edwin Ford. They were from some of the first families to settle in the area and described the gentle topography of the land on the Iowa border.

Col. Alexander Wilkin, was the head of the Ninth Minnesota and is frequently metioned in the book. Photo provided

Col. Alexander Wilkin, was the head of the Ninth Minnesota and is frequently metioned in the book. Photo provided

Lundstrom discovered subtle details about many of the men, including Ford, who was an accountant and farm products dealer in Austin. His reputation with his fellow soldiers was shaky at times, until battle began.

One young soldier from Mower County, David Felch, who was also a Liberator, was among several who stood out to Lundstrom. Felch, the son of Mower County’s first probate judge, joined the Union at about 19.

“Felch is one of my real heroes in this book,” Lundstrom said.

Lundstrom quoted Felch’s accounts of going to war in his book; “‘There is some of the hardest boys at this place [Fort Ridgely] that I ever saw, more gambling, card playing, stealing, swearing & getting into the guard house than ever was to Fort Snelling.’”

Further into his research, Lundstrom found Felch’s first-hand account of the liberation on Nov. 11, 1863.

While Lundstrom’s research revolved around the Liberators and their act of heroism, the book delves further into their lives, including their punishment from the Union for their actions. Other details mention how many from the Ninth Minnesota were captured and held at the Confederate prison Andersonville.

“The Ninth Minnesota is really blessed with some excellent resources and recollection material,” Lundstrom said.

A select few Union soldiers even had to swear allegiance to the Confederacy and join its ranks to save their own lives. Lundstrom found so many details, he’s now working on a book about those troubled Union soldiers. And through it all, he got to visit the gravesite of his great-great uncle, where thousands of soldiers are buried and labeled by numbers, no names.

Lundstrom, a former curator at the Milwaukee Public Museum with a master’s degree in history, will talk about his book at the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul on July 13. Copies of the book are available from Amazon, on Kindle and from the Minnesota Historical Society.