It had been two years since tiny Wasioja, Minnesota had held it first Civil War Days. We had attended then and enjoyed the festivities, reenactments and meeting people from all over the country. The event had been such a success the local committee decided a repeat was due given the upcoming 150th anniversary of the Battle of Gettysburg. It was a three day affair and we decided to attend on the second day, which featured the Battle of Gettysburg.
Wasioja isn’t really much of a town. It’s just a few scattered homes from the 1950's. Also, there are some nearby farms and a nondescript business or two. You would begin notice some limestone buildings obviously from the 19th century. This home, for example, built in 1858
There is a sign in front of another small limestone building which begins to tell the tale. When the Civil War began in 1861, brand new Minnesota was the first state to offer and send troops to aid the Union cause. In April 1861, this building, which had been built as a law office and community meeting center in 1855 for the village, became a recruiting station.
Recruits from the Wasioja station numbering over 200 formed the nucleus of Company C of the 2nd Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment. The building was Colonel James George's, a Mexican war veteran, law office who later led the volunteers at the Battle of Chickamauga. Another stop on a wooded hillside told a more grim story. There was a scene which might remind Civil War buffs of a famous photograph of the ruins of Richmond, Virginia at the end of the Civil War.
Sometime after the Civil War this building had been destroyed in a fire. It does speak, however, to a time when Wasioja was a live and vital village. Anxious to promote the growth of the new town it citizens agreed to provide the Free Will Baptists a seminary. A structure of native limestone was completed in 1860. The seminary opened in that year with an enrollment of over 300 students. By 1862 Wasioja had more than a dozen stores, a hotel, a flour mill and was surrounded by farms and quarries that promised a great future.
Then the course of history was changed. The Civil War had begun and men from Minnesota were on the battlefields. Colonel George asked for volunteers. Led by Professor Gilley, many young students from the new seminary and others from various walks of life marched down to the law office and enlisted. Just over a year later, on Snodgrass Hill, near Chickamauga, they stopped the Rebels advance at a very high cost. Of the eighty young men who left Wasioja only twenty-five returned with life and limb intact. The town never recovered from that loss and also the railroad that bypassed the town.
Wasioja and its people paid in the coin of their future, by standing for Union and against the immorality of slavery. Thus the tiny Minnesota crossroads still pays homage to those people and events of long ago. Join us in Part II next.