How a Confederate Shirt Saved a Minnesota Soldier’s Life – Twin Cities



For Julie Rupert of Roseville, something good has come out of the pandemic year of 2020, something that has been brewing for 157 years.

Henry L. Mills came to America from Germany as a child, but he became a Civil War hero and justice of the peace. (Special for the news service of the forum)

“It sat in a box wrapped in good paper in my closet for years. I just didn’t have time to deal with it, but with COVID, I finally found the time, â€Rupert said.

“It†is a bloodstained shirt once worn by a Confederate soldier and will be remembered forever for saving the life of Rupert’s great-grandfather, Henry L. Mills, during the Civil War. Rupert just donated it to the Minnesota State Historical Society.

Tucked away in that stiff, folded box of dried blood and years, it’s more than a home-spun wool shirt. It’s a visual reminder of a Minnesotan who survived the bloodiest battle in the state’s Civil War.


Rupert never knew his great-grandfather. She is descended from her youngest child and only daughter, Alice. It was Alice and her daughter Dorothy (Rupert’s mother) who told the story of Grandpa Henry and his shirt.

Minnesotan Henry Mills was wounded in the Battle of Nashville in 1864. This shirt saved his life. (Minnesota State Historical Society via Forum News Service)

“It’s just passed on over the years,†Rupert says. “His wife told my grandmother, then grandma told my mother and my mother told me.”

Born in Prussia (now part of Germany) in 1833, Mills immigrated to the United States when he was just 5 years old, moving first with his family to Ohio and then to Minnesota. When Civil War erupted at the age of 28, the deeply patriotic young man volunteered for the 7th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry Regiment, Company H.

By all accounts, Mills was a strong and obedient soldier, promoted from private to corporal to sergeant within two years. But the sergeant. Mills, like hundreds of other Minnesotans, would face his greatest challenge fighting in Tennessee for what would come to be known as the “Battle of Nashville.”


The Battle of Nashville took place on December 15-16, 1864. It marked the end of large-scale fighting in the western coastal states and is considered one of the greatest victories achieved by the Army of the Union during the war.

The Minnesotans, nicknamed “snow seekers” by other Union troops, played a central role in leading a decisive charge up to Shy’s Hill and capturing the rebel fortifications. But it came at a cost. Eighty-seven Minnesota men were killed in the December 16 battle, making it the bloodiest day in the state’s Civil War.

“Here in Nashville, we have long recognized the role Minnesota troops played in the battle,” John Allyn, president of the Battle of Nashville Preservation Society, said at the 2014 unveiling of a monument on the battlefield in memory of the fallen Minnesotans.


On the same day as the charge to Shy’s Hill, Mills became one of 54 soldiers in his regiment wounded in action when a bullet passed through his right foot. As he crawled off the pitch – blood was flowing from his wound – he used a rebellious shirt to stop the bleeding.

Minnesota Civil War veterans gathered on the steps of the state capital in 1910. Henry L. Mills’ name is in this photo, but is not specifically identified. However, the man, front and center, third from right looks like other known photos of Mills. (Minnesota State Historical Society via Forum News Service)

In a memo, Minnesota State Historical Society curator Sondra Reierson said it seemed likely that when Mills found the shirt, it was likely still on the body of a fallen Confederate soldier.

“A huge ice storm hit Middle Tennessee a week before the battle and much of General Hood’s Tennessee Army was in short supply of food, clothing and shelter. Therefore, this shirt is unlikely to have been thrown away, especially on the battlefield. Instead, Mills likely removed it from the body of a fallen soldier; a tear in a seam supports this theory, â€she wrote.

The shirt saved Mills from bleeding to death. He eventually had his foot amputated and was sent back to Saint-Paul. He married his wife Isabelle just after the war. Records show the couple had five children from 1866 to 1885. Rupert said after farming near Brown’s Valley, his great-grandparents returned to the Twin Cities where Henry became a justice of the peace.

He remained a patriot who attended meetings of Civil War soldiers when he could, living until the age of 92.

“I think he was pretty amazing,†Rupert said.


Over the years, Rupert’s grandmother, Alice (Henry’s daughter) has donated a few other Civil War artifacts to the Historical Society. But she clung to the shirt, perhaps not quite ready to part with Linsey Woolsey’s crude old shirt still stained with her father’s blood. She then gave it to her daughter, who then gave it to Rupert, who says she believes it was both her grandmother’s and her mother’s wish that he go to the Society. historical.

The shirt will eventually be on display at Historic Fort Snelling. Rupert said that although the shirt has been in the family for over 150 years, there is no temptation to keep it in the family for 150 more years.

“I’m happy to give it away,†she said. “Now more people can learn from it or get interested in it. It’s a much better place for that. Much better. “


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