68 men left Wasioja, only 1 returned
The story of Wasioja is often told in Minnesota, because history remains rooted in this Dodge County town. The wind-swept stone ruins of the seminary survive. A local law office, which became the Civil War recruiting station, has endured over time. A country school stands tall and the Wildwood Cemetery is where many of the early pioneers of this town are laid to rest.
People still come here to reflect on what life was like 150 years ago.
Only three years after Minnesota became a state, Wasioja had sprouted from wilderness. The first building in the community was constructed in 1855 and six years later, 1,000 people made their homes in Wasioja. At the same time, Rochester was developing with its population growing from 50 in 1856 to 1,500 in 1858.
With fertile land surrounding it and available water, Wasioja had businesses, hotels, mills, stone quarries, churches and boasted a seminary with student enrollment peaking at 300. Rooms were furnished for the many seminary students in homes throughout the town. A two-story limestone school was completed in 1860. The town was a main stop for a stagecoach run.
Like many towns across this young nation, Wasioja's citizens were upset with the secessionists. Small talk, opinions and sermons on secession, slavery and the preservation of the union were shared freely and often. Patriotic fever was running high and many saw a job at hand to save the Union and put a stop to the Southern rebellion. In May 1861, three Free Will Baptist Seminary students volunteered for military service and would serve with the 1st Minnesota Regiment. Soon, word was heard that President Lincoln had called for troops.
The book "Wasioja: Rooted – Yet Evergrowing" recounts how Seminary President Williams told students one morning, "This is a moment of high decision for each of you. Each must formulate his own decision."
About a dozen students left their classrooms and walked a few minutes down a dusty path to sign up for a war that would change all who survived. Each stepped inside Capt. James George’s law office and signed their names to serve the Union. Soon they would march away from Wasioja as Company C of the 2nd Minnesota Regiment.
In "The Boys of Wasioja," author Michael Eckers says Minnesota regiments earned great reputations throughout the war. "The Minnesota boys could shoot, were tough and they were used to the elements," he says.
Sixty-eight men from Dodge County would serve in Company C with the 2nd Minnesota. These men would see many battles, including a remarkable stand on Horseshoe Ridge in the Battle of Chickamauga.
Wasioja Seminary professor Clinton A. Cilley was awarded a Medal of Honor for his valor on the Chickamauga battlefield. His citation reads he "seized the colors of a retreating regiment and led it into the thick of the battle."
Company C also saw battle at Mills Springs, Corinth, Missionary Ridge and they would march with Gen. Sherman.
At the end of the war, only 12 of the original 68 Dodge County men would be present during the final discharge on July 20, 1865. Of the 68,17 died of disease, seven were killed or mortally wounded in battle, and 21 were wounded.
A few of the seminary boys lay close to home. Darwin Rossiter is buried in Riverside Cemetery in Dodge Center. Col. James George is buried at Oakwood Cemetery in Rochester.
All but one of the men who survived the war did not return to Wasioja. The lone man who returned was Edmond Garrison. He lived until 1922 and is buried in Wildwood Cemetery in Wasioja.