An Evening with the New Ulm Battery

On Saturday evening I had the opportunity to speak at a dinner commemorating the 150th anniversary of the New Ulm Battery. This unique organization defies simple categorization. It began as a state militia unit in January 1863, charged with the defense of New Ulm, Minnesota, following the attacks on the town during U.S.-Dakota War of 1862. Of course, we know the rest of the story — that no attack ever took place — but they did not.

No guns were ever fired by this unit in any conflict. After 1871 it no longer held any official connection to the military, but remained an organized and active unit. You can see them at Civil War reenactments (although they are not strictly a Civil War unit), parades, and other special events. Their participation in a performance of the 1812 Overture is certainly unforgettable.

Josh Moniz, a reporter for the New Ulm Journal, asked me why this local organization endured over 150 years while so many had their moment and then faded away. It wasn’t an easy question to answer. New Ulm loves its history and the Dakota War has been a touchstone of community experience. It’s also great showmanship to see the horses pulling the cannons into place, followed by the rituals of firing a round. Thanks must go to a few dedicated people like Frank Burg and John Fritsche who dedicated so much to keeping the Battery alive.