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Author tells part of Minnesota's Civil War history

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John Christgau
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With a shiny, new "peg leg," John Christgau will return to southeastern Minnesota to talk about his new book.

On Thursday, Christgau will stop at noon at the Mower County Historical Center in Austin and at 6 p.m. at Barnes & Noble at Apache Mall in Rochester to talk about his newest history book, "Incident at the Otterville Station."

The book was released Dec. 1, 2013, but Christgau is just now touring the county to promote it. Last spring, while living in Belmont, Calif., Christgau developed an infection that required amputation of his lower left leg.

"I'm getting along really well right now," said the 80-year-old Christgau. "I'm on the comeback trail with my peg leg."

Along with his stops in Austin and Rochester, Christgau will also appear this month in Wayzata and the Twin Cities. Christgau lived and worked in Dexter and Stewartville as a child before going to college at San Francisco State University.

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While he has spent the last six decades in California, he still considers Minnesota home. He has written several histories with Minnesota angles, including his latest, which tells of Mower and Winona County soldiers in the Civil War. While stationed in Missouri, the young soldiers witness a runaway slave named John racing into their camp, begging for help. His family was about to be shipped to Kentucky and sold on the slave market.

"The soldiers had a tough decision because there were many reasons to help and many reasons to ignore the slave," Christgau said. "For one, the Constitution said that the slaves had to be returned. Union commanders said soldiers were to make no effort to help slaves. President Lincoln said to not help slaves.

"On the other hand, they were good Minnesota boys with good clear consciences, who knew that slavery was wrong," Christgau said. "They were commanders who said if a slave comes into this camp treat them like contraband, protect them, keep them, shelter, keep them from owners. In fact, if slave owners come to to take their slave back, you could shoot them. There were a lot of ambiguous circumstances."

Christgau doesn't give away what decision the soldiers made, or the consequences of their decision. It would ruin the story, he says.

The Rochester stop will serve as a fundraiser for the History Center of Olmsted County. A percentage of the sales of Christgau's book will be donated when buyers identify themselves as supporters of the history center.

Christgau's next book will also tell some southeastern Minnesota history. Currently he is penning a story on his uncle Victor Christgau, who represented the First District in Congress from 1928 to 1932. "Political shenanigans" led to his uncle losing his seat in 1932, but he would go on to work in the Franklin D. Roosevelt administration.

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If you go

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What: John Christgau talks about his new book, "Incident at the Otterville Station"

When: Thursday

Where: Noon at Mower County Historical Society, 1303 Sixth Ave. S.W., Austin; 6 p.m. at Barnes and Noble, 1201 12th St. S.W. (Apache Mall), Rochester

Admission: Free

Related Topics: HISTORY
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