Column: Remembering a Civil War hero, 150 years later
WORTHINGTON -- Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, July 1, 2, 3. I think most of us heard something this week about the United States observing the 150th anniversary of the Civil War battle at Gettysburg. C-SPAN 3 did a full day of broadcasts from Gettysburg, beginning at 8:30 Sunday morning and continuing into the evening.
There might be some at Worthington with a thought that this doesn't concern us. There was no Worthington in that year when the armies of the Union and the Confederacy fought in Pennsylvania. It is a stretch to say Worthington is in any way involved with this battle. It is a curious fact, however: There is the equal of a full infantry company of Civil War soldiers buried in the Worthington cemetery. At one time Worthington had Minnesota's largest post of the Grand Army of the Republic, the GAR, the Union veterans of the Civil War. The brick business building at 223 10th St. was the GAR Hall.
Looking back only half-a-century, Wayne Bassett was just home from infantry service in World War II. There are not many any longer who recognize Wayne Bassett's name. Wayne was appointed Worthington's librarian in the classic Carnegie Library on Fourth avenue. Bob Vance, co-publisher of the Daily Globe, was chairman of the library board. Wayne and Bob together spearheaded the successful campaign that created the Nobles County library system, the Nobles County branch at Adrian and the now-outmoded central library on 12th street. Wayne Bassett was Nobles County's first librarian. He also served two terms representing Nobles County in the Minnesota Legislature.
Wayne Bassett's father was Morton Bassett -- Mort Bassett. While Wayne slogged through an infantryman's winter in Western Europe, he sometimes thought of returning home to take up the family farm north of Rushmore. Wayne knew farming. He grew up on that farm. Mort was thinking of retiring, and Mort had a hope the farm might continue as a Bassett farm.
All right -- a Bassett farm. The first owner of that land was Edward Bassett, Mort's father and Wayne's grandfather. From all those Civil War veterans buried in Worthington's cemetery, it is certain only that Edward Bassett fought at Gettysburg. Oh, more than that, Edward was a private in the renowned Minnesota First Volunteer Regiment ("Second to None"), the first contingent of Minnesota soldiers to march off to Civil War combat.
There is a story everyone in Minnesota knew in times gone by. It was taught to schoolchildren.
The second day at Gettysburg, Union soldiers were strung along a two-mile, north-south line on Cemetery Ridge. Suddenly there was a gap in the Union line, just ahead of where the Minnesotans being held in reserve. As many as 1,500 Alabama soldiers were poised at Plum Run, ready to ascend the ridge, plunge through that hole in the Union line and lead a Confederate force behind the Union defenders.
From atop his horse at that gap in his line Gen. Winfield Hancock called to the Minnesotans' commander, "What regiment is this?" Col. William Covill replied, "First Minnesota, Sir!" Hancock ordered the Minnesotans to charge -- plunge down this ridge to Plum Run and stop those Alabamans. The men from Minnesota were outnumbered five-to-one. There was no thought they could win, but they could delay a Confederate charge long enough for reserves to fill the gap in the Union defense.
Although it may be partly boast, the story through decades was that the First Minnesota suffered 82 percent casualties, the greatest percentage loss of any unit at Gettysburg. Whatever the truth, the cost was enormous.
When the war was ended, when Sgt. Edward Bassett was discharged, he returned to the Bassett lands at Faribault (Sept. 27, 1865). Edward counted himself lucky to be among those who escaped Gettysburg alive and unwounded. In 1874, with the St. Paul & Sioux City railroad completed, the Bassetts (Edward and Harriet) relocated to a quarter-section in Ransom Township, one and one-half miles north of Rushmore. Morton took over the farm when his father died -- April 9, 1897, at age 58.
Edward Bassett is the Civil War veteran buried in the Worthington cemetery who we know for certain was at Gettysburg and in that historic, tragic charge.
Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.