Remebering war veterans from long, long agoAsk people — nearly anyone — who were the earliest war veterans in Nobles County, southwest Minnesota, northwest Iowa. Very many people will say, “Civil War veterans.” Surely there was a ton of these. Thousands of them.
By: Ray Crippen, Worthington Daily Globe
WORTHINGTON — “A thousand Swedes came through the weeds chased by one Norwegian.”
This surely is a grievous ethnic slur. I should not repeat it. Still (truth), it tickled me when I read it.
I got a postcard with no signature, no return address. The message was the line at the top — “A thousand Swedes …”
Occasion for the card (I guess) has been my pursuit of forgotten, pioneer Nobles County Norwegians through their cemeteries and on to their heroes.
The chase of the Norwegians made another problem for me. Most often I would shape some manner of Veterans Day column. Veterans Day has come and gone. Well — do what the U.S. government does. Make this Holiday Observed. There are some area war veterans whose memories have been neglected.
Ask people — nearly anyone — who were the earliest war veterans in Nobles County, southwest Minnesota, northwest Iowa. Very many people will say, “Civil War veterans.” Surely there was a ton of these. Thousands of them.
There were veterans even older, however. William Clark (for one) native of Belfast, Ireland, homesteader in Nobles County’s Ransom Township, was born on Abraham Lincoln’s 11th birthday, Feb. 12, 1820. Clark emigrated to America and became a veteran of the U.S. war with Mexico, 1846-1848.
There is another company of local veterans who served at the same time as many Civil War veterans but who fought in a separate war, the U.S./Dakota War on the Minnesota frontier. These surely are forgotten veterans.
Some of the Dakota war veterans/victims were farmer homesteaders, of course, attacked in their homes by the minions of Chief Little Crow.
There also are the officers at Fort Ridgely. The officers are remembered rather often. Oh, Capt. John Marsh who, with 23 of his soldiers, was killed in the battle at Redwood Ferry, near present-day Redwood Falls. Lt. Thomas Gere, who came to be awarded the Medal of Honor.
It is difficult, however, to find records of the soldiers who fought at Fort Ridgely and survived the attacks to become war veterans. These are the only veterans of a war actually fought on the soil of our region.
I came across an account of Werner Boesch. Boesch was not a U.S. Army regular, but he surely fought as a U.S. Army soldier.
Boesch was born in Switzerland. His father was a manufacturer of linen. Werner Boesch sailed for America in 1857 and headed for the Minnesota frontier. When the Dakota War erupted, Boesch moved to Fort Ridgely with his family. He became one of 200 “armed citizens.”
The Dakota attacked Fort Ridgely with (perhaps) 1,000 men. The margin between having the fort overrun and repelling the attackers was the six cannons inside the fort. Most of the Indian attackers had not seen weapons of this size or this kind. The withering cannon fire was demoralizing for them.
It happened that Werner Boesch had a knowledge of howitzers. Together with J.C. Whipple, he took responsibility for the gun at what is remembered as “the most exposed position.”
From Wednesday morning to Friday night, with almost no significant breaks, Boesch and Whipple fired cannon balls and grape shot at the Fort Ridgely attackers. As the assailants came close, the cannoneers increased their rate of fire.
Werner Boesch was not forgotten. More than 30 years later, when the Fort Ridgely Monument was unveiled, the State of Minnesota presented him a bronze medal. He also was presented a shred of a shell which had been fired by his cannon during the fort’s siege.
In years after the war, veteran Werner Boesch moved to St. Peter and then to New Ulm — he gave up on attempting a homestead. He became a member of the firm of Boesch, Pfenninger & Meyer which purchased the Eagle Sawmill — that sawmill was burned during the Dakota War — and then the Eagle Flour Mill, which for many years supplied flour to settlements across Dakota Territory.
Werner Boesch was one of “about 200” veterans of the assaults upon Fort Ridgely, the defenders of southwest Minnesota.
You know of more of them?
These veterans are hard to identify. Boesch’s “cannon mate,” J. C. Whipple, seems to have slipped completely from history’s record — something like those Nobles County Norwegians.
Ray Crippen is a former editor of the Daily Globe. His column appears on Saturdays.