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One Drop in a Sea of Blue

The Liberators of the Ninth Minnesota

by John B. Lundstrom

Publication Year: 2012

Soldiers in the Union Army volunteered for many reasons—to reunite the country, to put down the southern rebellion. For most, however, slavery was a peripheral issue. Sympathy for slaves often came only after the soldiers actually witnessed their plight. In November 1863, thirty-eight men of the Minnesota Ninth Regiment responded to a fugitive slave’s desperate plea by holding a train at gunpoint and liberating his wife, five children, and three other family members who were being shipped off to be sold. But this rescue happened in Missouri, where Union soldiers had firm orders not to interfere with loyal slaveholders. Charged with mutiny, the Minnesotans were confined for two months without being tried. Their case was even debated in the U.S. Senate. This remarkable and unprecedented incident remains virtually unknown today. One Drop in a Sea of Blue is the story of these thirty-eight liberators and of the Ninth Minnesota through the entire Civil War. After a humiliating defeat at Brice’s crossroads, Mississippi, many were held at Andersonville and other notorious confederate prisons, where the Ninth Minnesota as a whole suffered a death rate exceeding 60 percent. Yet the regiment also helped destroy the confederate army of Tennessee at Nashville and capture mobile. In August 1865, when the Ninth Minnesota was mustered out, only fourteen liberators stood in its ranks. With vital details won through assiduous research, John Lundstrom uncovers the true stories of ordinary men who lived and died in extraordinary times.

Published by: Minnesota Historical Society Press

Front Cover

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Title Page, Copyright

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Table of Contents

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. 3-5

I never thought I would ever write a book on the Civil War. For forty years World War II has been my passion, and I have written five books on the early Pacific naval campaigns. The Civil War has always interested me, but only in an abstract way. I did not expect to be able to contribute anything original...

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Chapter One: We Are Coming, Father Abraham

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pp. 7-25

On a cold, moonless night in November 1863, the third autumn of the Civil War, an escaped slave stumbled through the gloomy countryside as fast as his tired legs permitted. He learned that day that he and his entire family— wife and five young children, brother and sister-in-law, and two younger...

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Chapter Two: In the Land of Secesh

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pp. 26-42

After more than a year guarding the frontier from the Dakota, the Ninth Minnesota finally headed south to the “real war” against the Rebels. On October 8, 1863 after tearful goodbyes on the St. Paul levee, Colonel Wilkin with regimental headquarters and Companies A, B, D, E, and I of the Ninth...

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Chapter Three: The Outrage at Otterville

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pp. 43-68

On October 18, two and a half weeks before the election, General Brown directed Colonel Wilkin to furnish two companies of the Ninth Minnesota to guard the railroad bridge over the Lamine River near Otterville, forty-five miles west of Jefferson City. The bridge was one of the most vulnerable points...

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Chapter Four: An Act of Humanity

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pp. 69-95

Federal military policy that buttressed slavery in the loyal Border States of Missouri, Kentucky, Maryland, and Delaware grated on some Union soldiers, most particularly those from the Upper Midwest. Historian Victor B. Howard points out that in Kentucky (as with the Ninth Minnesota later in Missouri),...

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Chapter Five: From Missouri to Memphis

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pp. 96-107

In January 1864 the thirty-eight Otterville liberators gratefully resumed the anonymity of the ranks. Thereafter the Minnesotans engaged in no confrontations with higher authority over escaped slaves or, apparently, anything else. To garrison key points along the Pacific Railroad, the Ninth Minnesota...

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Chapter Six: An Easy Happy-Go-Luck Kind of March

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pp. 108-124

Wilkin’s surprise orders on May 31 added the Ninth Minnesota to a large expedition organized at Memphis by Maj. Gen. Cadwallader C. Washburn. He tasked Brig. Gen. Samuel D. Sturgis to find and defeat Maj. Gen. Nathan Bedford Forrest’s formidable cavalry force lurking in northeastern...

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Chapter Seven: The Battle of Brice's Crossroads (I)

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pp. 125-152

The Ninth Minnesota was fifth in order within the First Brigade, behind the Ninety-Fifth Ohio, the two artillery batteries, the 114th Illinois, and the Ninety- Third Indiana. The Seventy-Second Ohio and the brigade ambulances brough up the rear. With Marsh on horseback at its head, the Ninth Minnesota,...

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Chapter Eight: The Battle of Brice's Crossroads (II)

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pp. 153-179

In the past half hour the Ninth Minnesota, in a sharp counterblow, had driven back Bell’s reinforced brigade, thereby relieving the perilous situation of the Union right wing along the Ripley-Fulton road. Lacking visible support from friendly troops, Marsh marched the Minnesotans back through the brush to...

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Chapter Nine: Our Poor Exhausted, Foot Sore Boys!

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pp. 180-205

“The labors were fast overcoming me, and I was glad when darkness closed the scene,” recalled a sick and worn-out Lieutenant Keysor. Sergeant Dodds of the 114th Illinois spoke for all that day on the Union side: “Dear, oh dear! Such a time was never seen by mortal man—such a defeat—such confusion...

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Chapter Ten: Picking up the Pieces

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pp. 206-214

The Union called the bitter defeat at Brice’s Crossroads the Battle of Guntown, after the small town five miles southeast. The subsequent retreat was, according to Wilkin, “probably the most severe of the war.” A survivor of the First Battle of Bull Run, he knew of such things. The Ninth Minnesota...

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Chapter Eleven: Lost in the Confederacy

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pp. 215-232

While the Ninth Minnesota licked its wounds in Memphis and prepared to fight again, 7 officers and 228 enlisted men fell into Rebel hands. Just the year before at Vicksburg, General Grant had accepted the parole of 30,000 Confederates who were told simply to go home and await news that they had been...

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Chapter Twelve: Andersonville (I)

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pp. 233-265

On the dismal Sunday afternoon of June 19, the first trainload of 824 Union enlisted men (including about 150 from the Ninth Minnesota) from Sturgis’s failed expedition entered “Camp Sumter,” the prison at Andersonville.1 Formed in the “drenching rain” into a ragged column of fours, the weary,...

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Chapter Thirteen: Andersonville (II)

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pp. 266-293

The hideous first four weeks at Andersonville were just a foretaste for the Ninth Minnesota prisoners of the rest of their captivity. Their strength and health swiftly deteriorated. “During the latter part of July the heat became so terrific that sickness and death increased to an alarming extent,” recalled...

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Chapter Fourteen: Spreading the Misery

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pp. 294-309

By August the vastly overcrowded Andersonville prison, where nearly all the Ninth Minnesota prisoners were held, was a festering sore, impossible in current circumstances to improve and under increasing threat from Union forces. With Sherman tightening his noose around Atlanta, General Winder...

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Chapter Fifteen: With Smith's Guerrillas

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pp. 310-324

In the summer and fall of 1864, the Ninth Minnesota, though sadly reduced, continued to do its part to win the War of the Rebellion. At Memphis in late June, while most of its prisoners were being introduced to the culture of Andersonville, the regiment itself gladly found a home in Maj. Gen. Andrew...

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Chapter Sixteen: Back to God's Country

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pp. 325-341

In early November, as the ever-shrinking Ninth Minnesota plodded east to St. Louis, their imprisoned comrades wondered if they would spend the whole winter, if not longer, in captivity. The first bright spot was the presidential election on the eighth. Not realizing the fall of Atlanta had sealed Lincoln’s...

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Chapter Seventeen: Andersonville (III) and Cahaba

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pp. 342-354

By early December 1864, almost four thousand wretched former Millen prisoners—those not exchanged at Savannah or removed to Florence—had fetched up in remote Blackshear in southeastern Georgia. About twenty were from the Ninth Minnesota, including liberators Frahm, Gordon, and Rodier....

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Chapter Eighteen: The War is Won

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pp. 355-373

The grave threat that drew Smith’s Guerrillas and the Ninth Minnesota back across the Mississippi River in late November 1864 was the battered but still unbowed Confederate Army of Tennessee. Once Sherman roared toward Savannah, Hood, just as aggressive, set the distant Ohio River firmly in his...

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Chapter Nineteen: Coming Home

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pp. 374-391

By mid-March 1865, with Robert E. Lee besieged in Richmond and Petersburg, and Joe Johnston scrambling in North Carolina to protect his rear, the general exchange of prisoners that emptied Florence, Salisbury, and Columbia finally spread to other prisons deep within the rapidly shrinking...

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Chapter Twenty: After the War

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pp. 392-406

The postwar experiences of the twenty-seven surviving liberators (nothing is known of the two deserters), as they faced the challenges of resuming their lives, earning a living, and raising families, might be seen as broadly representative of Union Civil War veterans. All but one eventually married....

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Conclusion: Drops in the Sea of Blue

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pp. 407-410

The saga of the thirty-eight liberators during the Civil War is a part of the greater story of the Ninth Minnesota Volunteer Infantry in the struggle to destroy Southern slavery and reunite the United States. The Minnesotans overcame the shame of one of the bitterest defeats of the war at Brice’s...

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pp. 411-413

Many individuals, institutions, and organizations have graciously contributed their resources, expertise, and time to the creation of this book. The mere mention of some of them here can only be a token of my warmest gratitude for them all....

Appendix. The Liberators

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pp. 415-419


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pp. 421-463


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pp. 465-479


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pp. 481-499

Image Credits

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pp. 501

Back Cover

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E-ISBN-13: 9780873518727
E-ISBN-10: 0873518721
Print-ISBN-13: 9780873518215
Print-ISBN-10: 0873518217

Page Count: 512
Illustrations: 38 b&w photos, 16 maps, bibliography, notes, index, appendices
Publication Year: 2012

Edition: 1

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Minnesota -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865.
  • United States. Army. Minnesota Infantry Regiment, 9th (1862-1865).
  • United States -- History -- Civil War, 1861-1865 -- Regimental histories
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