September 5, 2017 at 3:32 p.m.
More than 25,000 Minnesotans served in the Civil War. Iowa sent over 76,000 men into battle, while 91,300 Wisconsinites served.
For the past 50 years, brothers Eugene and Jerold Buelow have been keeping memories of that conflict alive with their extensive and growing collection of Civil War memorabilia.
"I first got interested in the Civil War when I was attending high school in Madelia," said Eugene. "The school library had a 10 volume set of books about the Civil War. Those books were written in the early 1900s and I found them absolutely fascinating."
Sometime around 1960, Eugene obtained his first Civil War artifact.
"I answered a magazine ad that was offering to sell newspapers that were printed during the Civil War," he said. "I got that first newspaper in the mail and was instantly hooked."
A deep sense of history comes naturally to the Buelow brothers, who milk 30 head in the stanchion barn that their father built 50 years ago.
"Our farm has been in the family since the 1870's," said Jerald. "We even found the original deed that transferred this farm to our family from the railroad."
"We quickly discovered how big the world of Civil War memorabilia is," said Eugene. "We came to the conclusion that it could easily get out of hand unless we drew the line someplace. That's why we decided to focus on Civil War memorabilia that was connected to Minnesota."
One of their early finds was a Springfield Model 1847 musket, a firearm that was widely used during the Civil War.
"It was stored for many years in our mother's cousin's granary," said Eugene. "It took us a while, but we finally talked him into selling it to us." The Buelows began to attend estate sales, farm auctions and gun shows, looking for items that would build their collection. They also worked to establish a network of contacts that could assist them in their search for Civil War memorabilia. This has all been accomplished the old-fashioned way, via phone calls, letters and newspaper ads.
"We don't even have an internet connection," said Jerald.
The brothers have several Civil War-era handguns in their collection.
"We purchased a Navy Colt revolver from an elderly guy who lived in Amboy," said Eugene. "He didn't know the history of the revolver, but he had known several Civil War veterans."
The Buelows sent a letter of inquiry, which included the pistol's serial number, to Colt. The company replied with a letter confirming that the firearm had been manufactured during the Civil War and was delivered to an arsenal.
One of the items in the Buelows' collection is a leather ammo pouch they purchased at an estate auction in Vernon Center. Another rare find was a wool blanket that was their neighbor bought at a garage sale in Mapleton.
"We talked to the lady who had owned the blanket and learned that its original owner was Major George Sabine of the First Maine Heavy Artillery," said Eugene. "He was wounded during the siege of Petersburg, Virginia in June of 1864 and died of his wounds the following year."
A unique item in the Buelows' collection is a tintype photo of 14-year-old Private Joseph Burger. His grandson Warren Burger served as Chief Justice of the United States from 1969 to 1986.
"Joseph Burger was originally from Illinois, but was sent to Minnesota as a child on an orphan train after his parents died in a plague," said Eugene. "When the war broke out, he joined the 2nd Minnesota Infantry.
"The 2nd was in Tennessee in February of 1863. On the morning of February 15th, Burger and 15 other members of the 2nd went out on a foraging mission. They were gathering corn from a corncrib when they were attacked by 125 Confederate troops. They successfully held off the attack, although Private Burger and a few others were wounded. Later, at age 16, Burger became the youngest captain in the Union Army. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions during the battle of the corncrib."
Eugene obtained the Burger photo as part of a group he had purchased from an Illinois collector. Eugene eventually sent a copy of the photo to Chief Justice Burger. Justice Burger sent a courteous reply on Supreme Court stationery thanking Eugene and stating that he had never seen that particular photo of his grandfather.
The Buelows have also collected numerous ribbons worn by members of the Grand Army of the Republic during annual encampments that were held at various locations across Minnesota.
"Ribbons deteriorate when not stored properly, so they are special to us," said Jerald.
A tangential part of the Buelows' collection has to do with Fort Ridgely and the Sioux Uprising of 1862.
Fort Ridgely was established in 1853 by the U.S. government on a site located about seven miles south of Fairfax. By the summer of 1862, local Dakota Sioux tribes had become incensed about treaty violations and settlers encroaching on their land. The Sioux launched a concerted effort to drive settlers out of the Minnesota Valley, killing more than 500 settlers and soldiers.
"On August 20 - 22, several hundred Sioux attacked Fort Ridgely," said Eugene. "George Reike, a local farmer who had a contract to furnish hay for the fort, had hurried to the fort after hearing that the Sioux were coming. He then helped man the artillery during the battle. And without effective artillery, the fort would have been lost."
Reike was awarded the defender of Fort Ridgely medal. This medal and a photo of Reike are the Beulows' most prized possession.
"Confederate soldiers who were captured were sometimes given the choice of being sent to a prison camp or swearing an oath of allegiance to the Union and going to Minnesota to fight Indians," said Eugene. "Those who did so were known as Galvanized Yankees. Some of them chose to stay in the Midwest after the Civil War ended because they feared they would be killed if they went back to their Southern homes."
Even with their vast collection of Civil War-era memorabilia, there are still a few items being sought by the Buelows.
"I would really like to find a ribbon that says Defender of Fort Ridgely," said Eugene. "Only 200 were ever made and no one knows how many still exist."
It's been said that those who forget history are doomed to repeat it. History is not only remembered, it's alive and doing very well at the Buelow dairy farm.[[In-content Ad]]
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