Long road home from Gettysburg


The little copse of trees on a slight ridge among the fields southeast of Utica looks like the copse of trees on a similar ridge at Gettysburg, Pa. It's fitting that David Taylor, who lost his life on the ridge at Gettysburg in July 1863, should be buried in a Minnesota cemetery on a similar ridge.

David Taylor, born in Ireland in 1836, emigrated to America with his family and eventually settled on a farm near Utica. In April 1861, he was working across the road from his parents' home when civil war broke out and President Abraham Lincoln called for volunteers to restore the Union. Taylor and his friends Ephraim Burton and James Richardson answered the call. They traveled to Fort Snelling, where on May 23 they were mustered into service and assigned to Company K of the 1st Minnesota Volunteer Infantry.

War was not kind to the Winona County boys of Company K. Burton was killed at Bull Run. Others were wounded, killed or taken prisoner at Antietam, Chancellorsville and Fredericksburg.

At Gettysburg, Pvt. Taylor met his fate. He may have been wounded on July 2, when Gen. Winfield Scott Hancock, buying five minutes of time, ordered the 1st Minnesota to charge a Confederate force six times their number. Or he may have been killed the next day defending against Pickett's famous charge. The regimental roll of July 29, 1863, says only that Taylor died on July 3.

The Gettysburg dead were buried on the field of battle. Most were removed, including 3,500 reburied in a new national cemetery on Cemetery Ridge. Taylor was not among them. His father and brother had traveled to Pennsylvania, found his body and carried it home.


On Nov. 19, 1863, President Lincoln mounted a speakers' platform at the new Gettysburg cemetery to deliver an address in which he honored "the brave men, living and dead, who struggled here." The next day, Taylor was laid to rest in the little cemetery back home near Utica.

The Winona Daily Republican reported that the funeral ceremonies for Taylor were imposing and the largest that had ever occurred in the town. The minister who presided noted that "from the day that he entered the army until he was slain at Gettysburg, he had never sought or obtained a furlough, was never sick or absent from duty and always performed the duties required of him with the faithfulness of a good soldier and the enthusiasm of a true patriot."

Last summer, I joined a crowd of onlookers at Mt. Auburn Cemetery, southeast of Utica, where the remains of Taylor had lain for a century and a half. The Lewiston American Legion provided a color guard for the event on June 22, and members of the Rushford American Legion Riders Post, with names such as Scuffy, Sunshine and Junkyard, set up a wall of red, white and blue, a brisk wind snapping their flags to attention.

State Sen. Carla Nelson represented the government that had called Taylor into service, and a group of re-enactors in Civil War uniforms represented the boys who answered the call. One of them stood guard over Taylor's grave through the ceremony.

The Taylor family was represented by Dick Christiansen, of Newell, Iowa, who had only just learned that he was the closest living relative of an American hero.

After a township official welcomed the assembly, Ken Flies of the Minnesota Civil War Commemoration Task Force told of finding 19 Minnesota Civil War soldiers who had been brought home for burial and how a new stone marker was being placed at the grave of each. Chuck Weissbrodt, of the Rochester Civil War Roundtable, and Dick Krom, a descendant of one of Taylor's regimental comrades, told the story of the battle of Gettysburg and Minnesota's part in it.

A rose was laid on the grave. After a reading of the Gettysburg Address, a solitary bagpiper played "Amazing Grace," the music fading as he marched off. Bugler Bill Crowder played "Taps," while the soldiers fired three volleys in salute.

Feeling the solemnity, the crowd lingered. One of the last to leave was the soldier who laid a wreath on Taylor's grave. As I watched, he strode purposefully back through the cemetery to stand before the new headstone. After a silent, solitary moment, he raised his right hand in salute, clicked his heels in a smart military turn and was gone.


Fight for the Union: Week of Dec. 3, 1863

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