Outstanding in appearance, discipline, and precision at drill, the Third Minnesota Volunteer Infantry was often mistaken for a regular army unit. Rebel Colonel Ponder described the regiment as “the hardest lot of men he’d ever run against.” Betrayed by its higher commanders, the Third Minnesota was surrendered to Nathan Bedford Forrest on July 13, 1862, in Murfreesboro, Tennessee.
Through letters, personal accounts of the men, and other sources, author Joseph C. Fitzharris recounts how the Minnesotans, prisoners of war, broken in spirit and morale, went home and found redemption and renewed purpose fighting the Dakota Indians. They were then sent south to fight guerrillas along the Tennessee River. In the process, the regiment was forged anew as a superbly drilled and disciplined unit that participated in the siege of Vicksburg and in the Arkansas Expedition that took Little Rock. At Pine Bluff, Arkansas, sickness so reduced its numbers that the Third was twice unable to muster enough men to bury its own dead, but the men never wavered in battle. In both Tennessee and Arkansas, the Minnesotans actively supported the U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) and provided many officers for USCT units.
The Hardest Lot of Men follows the Third through occupation to war’s end, when the returning men, deeming the citizens of St. Paul insufficiently appreciative, spurned a celebration in their honor. In this first full account of the regiment, Fitzharris brings to light the true story long obscured by the official histories illustrating aspects of a nineteenth-century soldier’s life—enlisted and commissioned alike—from recruitment and training to the rigors of active duty. The Hardest Lot of Men gives us an authentic picture of the Third Minnesota, at once both singular and representative of its historical moment.